Sony Says PlayStation Vita Burials Were Premature, Predicts Good Things

The headlines about the PlayStation Vita are often harsh these days, especially the headlines that deem the system is "almost DOA".

That's a brutal assessment of a machine that's been out for only about four months in America and is very likely the most impressive piece of portable gaming technology ever sold.

"I think, unfortunately, a lot of those stories were written before Vita even launched," John Koller, Sony's head of hardware marketing told me last week in Los Angeles.

For those of you who think the Vita's already doomed; for those who are unimpressed with this Sony portable and its $US40 games in this age of iPad gaming and $US1 games, John Koller would like to present his best argument for why Vita's got a fine future ahead of it.

"There's something I want to emphasise because I read a lot of those blog posts too..." Koller said.

"Don't read the comments," I joked.

Laughter. Then back on topic: "You get a lot of questions about 'Where is the content?'" Koller said. "We've seen that. And, first of all, there's a very strong back half coming in physical titles: the Street Fighters, the Maddens, the Assassin's Creeds, the Call of Dutys, PlayStation All-Stars, Sly, those are big games. But the digital side has far surpassed our expectations. It shows the type of consumer who has come into the market. It's a PS3 owner. Almost across the board, the Vita owner has been a PS3 owner."

It's a PS3 owner, Koller said, who buys a physical game and then downloads a bunch more right to their Vita.

The public sees that the Vita has sold about two million units worldwide this year and maybe thinks that's low. Koller and the Sony team see things that don't show up as clearly in sales charts, like the uptake on games downloaded to the Vita from Sony's online store. Sales of those, Koller said, are "several times higher than what we expected." (He declined to state actual sales numbers for the digital games.)

Like the PSP before it, Koller says that the Vita currently "over-indexes" for an "urban" population, which translates, from marketing speak, to the fact that, in America, the Vita is exceptionally popular with black and Latino gamers who live in cities. The Vita is also almost entirely selling to PS3 owners, something Koller kept emphasising as he described the Vita as, more or less, a portable home console.

Koller: "Almost across the board, the Vita owner has been a PS3 owner."

Of the Vita cynics, he says, "we knew better. We knew there was a market. Our research pointed over the last four years of creating it that there was a market. We still absolutely believe that.

"Right now we're on forecast to where we thought the platform would be."

He says that a lot of PS3 owners who don't yet have a Vita say they're simply waiting for a big enough game on Vita to convince them to make the plunge. That's why, despite a lack of huge Sony-made Vita games this fall (there's no Vita-exclusive God of War, for example), Koller thinks that the original game Assassin's Creed: Liberation or the promised Call of Duty: Black Ops II spin-off will trigger those hold-out PS3 owners to buy Vita.

"They're waiting for the content that matters most to them," he said. "It's not a pricing issue. It's not as much about value; it's about let me get the content I want."


There's guy names Ben Cousins who works for ngmoco and advocates for free games, mobile games and the overall idea that $60 games and dedicated consoles may soon be as archaic and marginalised as the arcade cabinets that used to define video gaming in the early '80s. A couple of weeks ago, when the Vita game Resistance: Burning Skies was released, he tweeted a comparison between its Metacritic score and price to that of N.O.V.A. 3, a sci-fi first-person shooter for iPhones and iPads that scored in the 80s to Resistance's 50s yet cost about $US7 compared to Resistance's $US40. Graphically, the two games are not far apart; in most other ways they are. That cherry-picked evidence supports an argument that the Vita way of gaming, the $US40-per-game way of gaming might be on its way out. Koller disagrees.

"I don't think there is an issue vis a vis $US40 games," he said. "I would argue there's an issue when you have a $US40 game that doesn't have the right kind of experience. You have to have the experience that backs up that price point and on a platform-wide level we think — we've seen — there is an absolute demand for $US30 and $US40 games. Uncharted is $US49 and it's [sold to Vita owners] incredibly well. I think that proves that if you have the right game and the right content and franchises, you can price the way you need to, and, by the way, once you get them in, you can start selling them the $US5 to $US10 games that you have on the Network." That, he added, "is what we're showing here and what we're planning to do."

The impression I got throughout my Vita chat with Koller is that Sony is very interested in selling lots of downloadable games to Vita owners. They're popular, he kept saying, and so Sony may ramp up development. The smaller Escape Plans of the world, games that go for just $US15, click with people, as does the back-catalog. Not surprisingly, Koller and co. have high hopes for the pending sale of PS1 games like Final Fantasy VII and Tomb Raider on the machine.

Koller: "I don't think there is an issue vis a vis $US40 games. I would argue there's an issue when you have a $US40 game that doesn't have the right kind of experience."

Sony has a weird message with the Vita, though. Koller himself says that Sony's approach with PSP had a flaw in that they initially tried to sell gamers PSP games that were too similar to console games. "Ports tended to be very difficult to message," he said. "Consumers go, 'I've got it on console. Why do I need it on this and spend $US40 on this and spend $US40 for exactly what I have on console? That doesn't make any sense.' I think that's a very relevant position." Relevant position that it may be, Sony and its partners are now pushing the idea that you can get copies of Street Fighter X Tekken and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time on Vita that are so similar to their PS3 counterparts that you can share content or even, in the case of Sly one save file between the PS3 and Vita versions of the games. The games are, more or less, identical. In the case of Sly, Koller said, there will be some sort of offer that means that if you want the game on both devices you'll at least get a discount (maybe even get one for free; he didn't specify, details TBD, etc).

Koller also said that Vita games should emphasise what they can do on that machine that doesn't happen on other portable devices. "This is something we've been driving to the development community, ensuring that touch, motion, mutliplayer — those kinds of things that are ingrained into what you could envision from other platforms — comes to Vita and comes in a unique way. Something we're excited about is Call of Duty, which is going to be a rich multiplayer experience. You don't find that on a lot of handhelds; you don't find what we're going to have on Call of Duty at all on handhelds."

Koller never said the Vita was for the iPad gamer, the iPhone gamer, the Facebook gamer, the 3DS gamer nor the Android gamer.

It was clear to me, as we wrapped up, that Sony is targeting one key audience for the Vita: those of you who have a PS3. "Let there be no mistake," he said. "This is console gaming on the go. And that's what almost every consumer has said when they come in: I need to see a game that to me makes me feel as if this is a console game on the go. And that is really how it will be sold as we go forward."


    I love my PSV.

    I'm an early adopter, and haven't bought all the release PSV games sure - but there are more than enough games in the pipeline to keep me interested.

    If they were to truly make it standard to buy-on-PS3-get-PSV-free, or at the very least let you "transfer" activation of the game from your PS3 to PSV and back again, I'd be a seriously happy user.

      I'm hoping they figure out some kind of bundle deals, like activate the online pass for a PS3 game and get the Vita version of the game for $10 or something.

        ^^ this
        That would be a great idea, and make it cheaper for people who want to take their game on the go, though you'll get people complain about the online pass.

        An alternative is to do something similar that Sony have just done, and that is to bundle it as a digital purchase (they bundled assassins creed liberation + assassins creed 3 recently), and as there is two licences, Sony don't need to worry about piracy, and we'll get the benefit of being able to transfer to either device. Only problem is though, pricing will still be an issue, so it may be cheaper to buy physical copies, unless the Gamestop/EB psn store voucher partnership allows for sales. As for physical+digital people, the online pass system would allow for that to happen, but as already seen, people aren't happy about it.

    I take my PS Vita with me everywhere, it's good to see some positive comments about the thing... It rocks!

    "Koller himself says that Sony’s approach with PSP had a flaw in that they initially tried to sell gamers PSP games that were too similar to console games."
    “Let there be no mistake,” he said. “This is console gaming on the go."

    Uhhh... these are competing, contradictory statements, folks.

    "It was clear to me, as we wrapped up, that Sony is targeting one key audience for the Vita: those of you who have a PS3."

    So they intend to sell an expensive thing with expensive games only to people who already have an expensive thing with expensive games... Further, it's the most expensive thing with the least units on the market, too?

      Targetting a core market is par for the course when you launch new hardware. Of course you aim it at your existing customers - they're the ones who have bought your other stuff. Later on as it gets cheaper you can then broaden the scope to more casual users. That's pretty much how every console ever made has gone. Except the Wii which skipped the core part and went straight for the casual and did very well early, but by doing so it lost the core market, resulting in sales falling off a cliff once the fad wore off and the casuals got sick of it.

      The Vita has been out for less than 6 months. How many people bought a PS3 or 360 in the first 6 months on sale at launch prices who weren't already owners of a previous gen console? My guess would be not many, except maybe people who bought the PS3 because at the time it was also the cheapest BluRay player going around.

    Pretty good interview I thought. I absolutely love my vita. Amazing piece of hardware and with serious games that make me feel like I am playing my PS3 on the go. I also own an iPhone, iPad and laptop. None of them come close or will ever come close to the experience my vita provides. Sony is right to target PS3 owners. The majority of them are serious gamers who love sony products. With the right games, Vita will succeed. In the short term though I don't see it moving huge numbers without a price cut.

    I'd buy a PSV if only I didn't have to buy their priority data storage system.

      So you're willing to forgo gaming experiences all because you didn't want to fork out an extra $50 for something that'll last you until the end of time.

      Most people tend to consider the console first, not the accessories.

    Yeah I must admit I really like my Vita. Looking forward to more games tho.

    I travel a bit and I get excited that its a good excuse to play the Vita when I go!

    Don't own a Playstation but I bought a Vita the day after it came out. I love it to death. And just because it doesnt have the game that someone loves, they label it as DOA.

    No interviewer who gets time with Playstation people ever asks about what happened to remote play.

    Kotaku were 'asked' to do a positive article to try and help balance out the other articles.

    With the Vita, Sony once again threw a console out there without a real launch range, What moron decided should NOT to offer 3-5 top quality games developed in-house to be ready for Vita launch?...

    I love my PS Vita. I dismissed it at start because of the price tag in Australia but managed to get a bargain from Amazon Germany and I am glad I took the plunge. Dual analog sticks and the gorgeous 5" display are two major wins for me. So far I have played super stardust delta, GOW:Ghost of Sparta and now playing Uncharted on it. I think they should include a game or 8GB memory card for around $300 which will make it tempting for gamers to try it.

    I expect to see more people picking up one for Gravity Rush. I played the demo on an in store demo machine and if I could afford it I would get a PS Vita for it. But as it is it is too expensive and the memory cards are too expensive (I'd maybe reconsider if you could get free copies of all your psp games you have on umd on the Vita).

    i want one but my main problem is there are no games that make me want one so i dont miss it... they need a decent release of games otherwise i wont buy one.. i got a 3ds on launch for nothing cuz i traded in a heap of my old xbox 360 games and lets see ive bought ghost recon shadow wars, street fighter and resident evil revelations.... nothing else has made me even look at buying another game for it let alone pick it up again.... without games i want to play im not making the same mistake

    I see nothing that makes me want to get a vita, it's basically the same design as the psp which I had for a period of time and hated. The size of it and the screen not being a clamshell makes it far less portable, not to mention the battery life and just in general it's start up times. Sure the NDS or 3DS on the other hand doesnt have graphics up to par, but usually the gameplay is up to par. The NDS really pioneered the touch screen gaming industry and as a result, most of those original uses appear on the 3DS in droves.

    I see a certain appeal in the psp being a portable console, thats why I honestly don't see why sony included these weird things like a back touch panel, 3g with no phone and didn't redesign the body/give it a clamshell screen cover and slightly reduce the size. Those are the kind of changes that would have sold it to me.

    So what's the story on the Japan sales front then where the Vita has consistently been selling less units (Currently hovering around 6 - 7k per week) than any other handheld, including the PSP? Is it due to the fact that Japan is still recovering? Or is it a focus on Western markets over Eastern ones?

    I want a PSV. I really do. I want to believe that it will provide great games, have a long lifespan and be completely worth the money I would pay for it. Unfortunately, I have a PSP, which is pretty much completely outdated except for Disgaea 2 and Persona 3 Portable, which is really the only reason I played that PSP for as long as I did.

    If Sony can convince me, in the upcoming gaming season, that they can provide quality games and secure development of games for their platform, by no means would I mind forking out $60 AUS for a premium game, even better, if you can provide good premium games cheaper by download, like steam, I would be much more confident in their handheld system.

    Although, they could catch me the easy way by porting Disgaea 4 and Persona 4 straight to PSV. For some reason, I'm a real sucker for rpg's on handhelds. I tend to play all my actiony stuff on my PC.

    Borderlands on ps vita.... now that would be epic, cell shading should have relatively low requirements, co op, possibly some innovative use of the psv unique controls to do the special attack thing. i would pre order it if it existed, plus the semi-non-serious gameplay should make it perfect for mobile gaming?

      I should also say that I love my PS vita, I particularly like that trophies (in specifics, platnium trophies) are relatively easy to obtain. I bought it purely to play uncharted and intended to resell it after, but the other games are starting to capture me...

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