Video game news site Joystiq has done some homework and revealed the latest sales figures for Sony's high-tech new handheld game device, the PS Vita, and the numbers are pretty grim. Only 2.2 million Vitas have found their way into gamers' hands since the Japanese launch in December 2011 and the worldwide launch in February 2012.
At first glance, 2.2 million units might sound like a respectable figure, but the more context you add, the worse and worse it looks.
At the end of February, the handheld's launch sales were officially announced by Sony as 1.2 million units. This might seem like a decent launch, until you remember that Japan, the heart of Sony territory and the territory in which its predecessor the PSP sold most strongly, had already had it on shelves for three months, shifting almost 600,000 units.
This means that the worldwide launch, focusing on Europe and the USA, only shifted another 600,000 or so, roughly 300,000 each for each of those two territories. The US population is almost 300 million people, meaning that literally one person in a thousand bought a Vita during its launch, and Europe's population is double that.
Compare these figures to Nintendo's 3DS, which was also criticised for selling poorly early in its life. By the end of its launch period in Japan and the rest of the world, the 3DS had sold around 3.6 million, and Nintendo was disappointed that it failed to reach their launch sales goal of four million.
You read that correctly: 3DS launch sales were triple Vita's lifetime to date sales, and yet the its early sales were disappointing enough to Nintendo that they slashed its price by almost 30% less than six months later. This makes it all the more bizarre that Sony has recently said that "it's too early" to be considering a price cut for the Vita.
Sales are only slowing down, too. The last time we saw any official sales figures for the Vita was back in March, when worldwide sales had inched up to 1.8 million, a month after launch. This puts March sales at only 600,000, and even worse,
So what's the problem? Why is the Vita selling so badly? It's certainly not the hardware itself, as its build quality, feel in the hands, bright display, and excellent controls are praised by almost everyone who gets their hands on one.
No, the problem is almost certainly a lacklustre library of games. While the Vita has plenty of enjoyable games, it has few highly desirable exclusives, and Sony is still desperately seeking a "killer app" that will drive hardware sales. Most of the best games currently available are either remakes of older games or simply straight ports that shoehorn in some tilt or touch screen controls. The Vita's top-rated game is a genuinely excellent version of Rayman Origins, and probably the best version of it you can buy, but it's a title that most gamers have already played on other systems.
The handful of high-quality Vita exclusives released to date have been greatly appreciated by early adopters, but have not made a strong impression on those who have no yet committed their dollars. Gravity Rush is fantastic, but its quirky nature means you really need to get your hands on it to appreciate it. Mutant Blobs Attack is great fun, but being a download-only title means it doesn't have the chance to catch a consumer's eye from a store shelf. The list goes on.
Sony has worked hard at both of the two recent video game expos, E3 in Los Angeles and Gamescom in Cologne, to reassure the public that it is working hard on strong first- and third-party games for the Vita. The upcoming line-up certainly looks great, but it is yet to be seen whether any will be true killer apps.
Assassin's Creed III: Liberation is a faithful recreation of the popular series in portable form, boasting the same visuals and gameplay as the console version, but with more bite-size missions suited to commuting. The Vita edition of perennial favourite Little Big Planet is just around the corner, and its inclusion of full touch screen, tilt, and rear-touch support promise to make it the most creative version yet. Even Call of Duty is coming to Vita, with exclusive Black Ops Declassified giving players the same fast and furious CoD multiplayer they are used to, but in handheld form. Sony is also looking to hook fans of the Killzone series with Killzone: Mercenary, a fully-featured first person shooter telling a new story in that familiar universe.
I doubt the Vita story is over yet. Sony has successfully played the long game before, with the PlayStation 3 being called a failure due to its high price and slow early sales. Despite that, the PS3 has gone on to catch up with arch-rival Xbox 360, and soundly overtake it in some regions.
Will the Vita recover from its stumbling start and end up sprinting to victory over the next few years? It's possible, though it's unclear whether Sony can afford to have it underperform for much longer. A much stronger software line-up will certainly help, though.
Now I want to hear from you, Screen Play readers. What would convince you that the Vita is a worthwhile purchase? Do any of the upcoming games have you feeling tempted? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
- James "DexX" Dominguez
DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez