In the wake of E3 in June serious questions were being asked about PlayStation Vita.
For all its whizz bang technology, high-end games and control schemes, the portable has yet to find its audience. And not just in the UK, but in Sony’s homeland of Japan, too.
So retailers looked to E3 to discover what Sony would do to transform the platform’s fortunes. Yet outside of a Call of Duty teaser, Vita was sidelined in favour of PS3. The trade wasn’t getting the answers it needed.
“At E3 we took a fairly deliberate decision to focus on PS3,” explains SCEE president Jim Ryan.
“I think with hindsight we should have probably spoken more about Vita because we had things to say.”
SCE UK chief Fergal Gara adds: “There’s definitely been an expectation that we should do more. I’ve picked up different reactions from retail over recent months. Some have been reasonably calm, cool and collected and saying: ‘You know what? The sales curve looks like the 3DS from last year. No panic. We expect a bigger spike into the peak season.’ Meanwhile others were saying: ‘You need to tell us more’.”
Sony’s Gamescom showing focused heavily on Vita. There were hardware bundles, big brands and even a new IP in the form of Media Molecule’s adorable new adventure, Tearaway.
Best of all, Sony revealed more ‘cross-buy’ games. Consumers who pick up Ratchet & Clank: Q-Force, Sly Cooper or PlayStation All-Stars can own them across both PS3 and PS Vita for one price.
But the big focus was on the third-party brands due over Q4, including the power three of Call of Duty, FIFA and Assassin’s Creed.
“There’s been a certain amount of comment that third-party support hasn’t been what has been expected, and we wanted to lay that to rest,” says Ryan.
“And wheeling out FIFA and Need for Speed, and putting more emphasis on Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. When you have got IP like that, and then added to LittleBigPlanet coming next month, it puts the platform in a good place.”
“If you were looking at peak season and you were saying what would be the list of IPs we’d love to have, the dream list would look quite similar to the real list,” continues Gara.
“And they’re not necessarily just replicas of PS3 versions, there are parallel storylines and complementary experiences that are not available elsewhere. So it’s not enough to own a PS3 version of it, or dare I say an Xbox 360 version of it. If you want that new and additional experience, there’s a real incentive to go down the PlayStation Vita route.”
Third-party support for Vita has come under some scrutiny, but the backing the device has achieved from Ubisoft, EA, Activision, Capcom, Warner, Konami and so forth has been significant. These firms have not just rushed through ports onto the platform, but carefully re-worked games or created exclusive products purpose built for Sony’s portable.
“We wanted to create a game from scratch from our biggest franchise and be able to launch at the same time as the PS3 version with links between the two,” says Ubisoft Europe boss Alain Corre. “Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation itself is a huge project for us and it brings a totally new experience to the gamers.
“I think this game can give a boost to the Vita when it comes out. It’s a flagship game and it’s an exclusive product and it will use all of the technological capacities of the Vita to become a fantastic product. In terms of state of the art handheld games, it will be one of the best ever made and I think we can help the Vita go into the next level as Metal Gear Solid did for the PSP when the PSP came out.”
Capcom’s US and Europe marketing VP Michael Pattison adds: “It made perfect sense to do Street Fighter X Tekken on Vita. I think we are probably one of the first companies to leverage most, if not all, the feature sets of the actual handheld within the game.
“Vita is important to us, we know it is a slow burner at the moment but I do expect Sony to rally around. It is a great piece of kit.”
Sony is putting its third-party support at the centre of its campaign this Christmas. Vita bundles featuring Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, FIFA 13, Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, LEGO?Lord of the Rings and Need for Speed: Most Wanted are being prepared, while these games will be central to Sony’s marketing campaign.
The UK team has pledged to spend more on marketing Vita this Christmas than it did during the platform’s launch in February earlier this year.
“We’re currently putting the finishing touches to our campaign that’s been created locally in the UK which allows us to focus on the unique challenges we face in this territory,” says senior product manager Ian Vinten.
“We’re backing this with the biggest ever spend for a Vita campaign. Our comprehensive TV plan kicks off in September and will run in key bursts throughout peak to Christmas, focusing on the brand new titles that are releasing for the device. Our first ad will feature FIFA 13 and LittleBigPlanet, both of which are great examples of the growing catalogue of Vita software.
“We will also be using the same creative template for our software campaigns on PS Vita, starting with LittleBigPlanet. This means that we’ll have one campaign look and feel rather than disparate campaigns maximising our visibility in a crowded marketplace.
“Digitally we’ll continue the education job online, highlighting all the innovations PS Vita brings to gaming. This also provides the platform for us to really push the value message of PS Vita, driving traffic to our retail partners and the great bundles they’ll be offering.”
Coming out of Gamescom, and the trade finally has some answers to how Sony plans to revitalise Vita. The platform holder won’t call it a ‘relaunch’ but in many ways this is what this is. Big brands, expensive marketing and clever retail bundles, all designed to give Vita the momentum it has arguably lacked until now.