Opinion: Economic slump no excuse for PS Vita's sluggish start

Smartphone surge proves there's cash to splash

Opinion: Economic slump no excuse for PS Vita's sluggish start
"Tough economic conditions". It's a convenient get-out clause when a launch doesn't quite live up to the pre-match billing, but seems to be one that the games industry seems willing to wheel out to account for the PS Vita's slow start in the UK.

Is it really a slow start? Well, to put things firmly in context, you only have to take a look at the bullish declarations of Sony's UK managing director Jim Ryan at the back end of November. 

Talking to Eurogamer's Johnny Minkley, he not only felt that launch quantities would sell out, but that "it is our belief that we will beat [the PSP's 185,000 week one UK sales] with Vita.".

The fact that Sony not only fell short of the PSP's UK record by somewhere in the region of 130,000 was perhaps bad enough, but to only sell approximately half of the amount Nintendo managed almost a year ago with the 3DS will have really smarted on Great Marlborough Street.

And the smart money is on...

Theories abound that it's the wrong time of year to launch, and that Vita is a totally different audience to 3DS, and that, actually, the figures are actually pretty good considering how skint everyone is.

But what seems to be consistently overlooked is how many consumers are willing - in these same tough times - to rush out and buy millions of iPads, iPhones, and Androids every time there's an incremental revision. 

Although you could justifiably say that a lot of the success of smartphones is down to the fact that you don't have to spend all your money all at once, you can't say the same about tablets like the iPad - a device that makes the Vita look positively cheap by comparison.

Sure, not everyone's buying an iPad to play games on it, but a hefty proportion of its owners clearly are using it for that purpose - if the proportion of games sold on the App Store is any indication.

The real competition

And it's this disruptive muddying of the waters that makes a dedicated handheld gaming system like the Vita slightly less compelling - especially when even the cheapest games available on it cost about seven times as much as most of the big hitters on iOS.

With a vast amount of rumours of the iPad 3 spec appearing in the weeks leading up to Vita's launch, an awful lot of potential Vita owners will have been sitting on the fence to see just what Apple can come up with next, and scraping together every last penny to make sure they get it day one.

But the current sluggishness in the UK games market is hardly restricted to the Vita.

Publishers across the board are looking at boxed software sales in general with a degree of resigned horror, as major league franchises chart in the Top 10 with combined sales of just 10,000 - figures that would have been considered a flop just a couple of years ago.

Playing the priorities game

The important thing is, of course, to not focus on the bad news at retail, while ignoring the many good news stories in the industry.

The truth is the market is changing at a pace faster than many could have ever anticipated - and in the absence of reliable data for the digital market, a lot of commentators are left fumbling around for a clear picture. 

But let's not fudge the issue here. Vita has serious competition all over the place - not just from Nintendo, but from smartphones and tablets that offer fantastic portable gaming experiences. They might not quite do gaming as well as the excellent Vita can manage, but for most people they do it well enough, and offer games at a price that is impossible to resist.

The problem for Sony is that as impressive as Vita is, it is possible to resist.

There's no such thing as 'not enough time' in Kristan's world. Despite the former Eurogamer editor claiming the world record for the most number of game reviews written before going insane, he manages to continue to squeeze in parallel obsessions with obscure bands, Norwich City FC, and moody episodic TV shows. He might even read a book if threatened by his girlfriend.