This has been a tough year for traditional games handhelds.
3DS has taken its time to find its feet, with Super Mario 3D Land last week the first game to make it a must-have. Six months after release. The new kiddie-priced PSP effectively snuck out to market as that platform faces its twilight years.Meanwhile, the popularity of iOS devices and rival smartphones – and even stuff like Kindle – have grown and grown, blurring the lines and creating confusion about how best to price, deploy and promote pocket-sized content.
In that environment, is there hope for PlayStation's Vita? I certainly think there is.
Because while much has been made about how the delivery of content has changed, the big problem facing any kind of portable device that plays games is content itself.3DS simply hasn't had enough, and the PSP eventually ran out of games. Meanwhile, the new and sexy smartphones are awash with games. Yes, there are lots of impressive hits, but floods and floods of trashy apps, too.
Sony's answer this week, in unveiling 11 – count ‘em! – first-party launch games, is a move to balance both quality and quantity. Classic brands and new IP. Upcoming exclusives such as FIFA and Call of Duty add further promise.
Retailers will find this a huge relief when it comes to launch on February 22nd – they need content to sell, and as GAME CEO Ian Shepherd says elsewhere in this issue, stores want it outside of the usual Q4 season.
Vita, as its name suggests, could keep this part of the market alive.
A SORRY TAIL
But as GAME said to investors last week (and MCV this week), there's an awkward story this side of Christmas.
Games are coming out and hitting the high notes at week one, and then dropping off in sales terms at an alarming rate by week two. It's such a problem GAME singled it out in its trading alert last week.
This is no ‘not our fault' excuse – anyone who checks Chart-Track numbers can see it happening.There are a number of titles that have arrived at full price only to be bargain bin material a few weeks later.
Is it driven by over-enthusiastic shipping forecasts at the top of the chain, or unchecked expectations at local levels?
Publishers and retailers need to address this. Because putting a brave face on it, and selling in or taking on loads of stock won't help consumers' faith. They'll expect high prices day one, and lower ones a few weeks later. More and more are waiting. And they might not come back at all.