Farewell, Vita? Production of Physical Games To End in the West, Trouble Afoot in Japan

As Kotaku learned earlier today, Sony has decided to end production of physical games in Europe and North America for their portable console, the PlayStation Vita. But that decision is merely the reflection of numerous flaws in the console that have plagued its success from launch, which is now also coming to affect its performance in the traditionally supportive market of Japan.

Firstly, on launch there was a significant amount of confusion regarding the network capabilities of the device, as two models were available to buy, but with only one able to support a 4G SIM card. Many were also not aware that this SIM card was sold separately, and were unsatisfied, to say the least, when they learned that along with the device’s hefty initial price point of $300, they would have to pay for a 4G data plan. Considering that now, you can get a PlayStation 4 for around the same amount, it certainly put people off.

What further confounded the problem was the proprietary memory cards. Sony actually decided to manufacture them exclusively in-house, instead of allowing third-party companies to make them. In theory, this would allow them to make memory cards that worked better and faster with the firmware, but in reality, allowed Sony to operate a monopoly on the market as they were able to inflate the prices and exploit the fact that players had no choice but to buy the Sony-made memory cards. Even now, a 32GB Vita memory card will cost you around $60 (down from an initial price of $99), and you can easily get a regular 200GB micro SD card for the same price.

These problems, along with many more, meant that the Vita had a rocky start in the West following its launch in 2012, to say the least. It far undersold initial projections, and beyond a couple of first-party developers such as Naughty Dog, failed to get developers on board with the platform. Within a year, it was nearly devoid of exclusives, but it wouldn’t be until 2015 when Sony finally decided to bite the bullet and cease first-party development for the platform altogether.

Even with this dire situation in the West, the Vita actually continued to sell well in Japan, in fact being one of the only markets in which the device was turning a profit for some time. It’s predecessor, the PSP, also sold well in Japan, so it’s no surprise that Japanese consumers were equally eager to support the new device in Sony’s portable line-up.

Yet, the very same things that drew Japanese consumers to the console itself, mainly being great third-party support from Japanese developers and the market’s general preference for gaming on the go, have now come to adversely affect the device’s performance. With the rapid advance in smartphone technology, the PS Vita’s hardware specifications increasingly look and perform like a dinosaur in comparison to the mobile games of today. Furthermore, the accessibility of mobile games means that Japanese developers are far more likely to turn a better profit than if they developed for the Vita.

Confounding the problem even further was the launch of Nintendo’s hybrid console the Switch, which has a lot of the same points that attracted Japanese users to the Vita in the first place; portability and great games. It’s excellent technology that allows it to perform well despite its small form factor, and more and more developers are looking to develop for the Switch, many of whom previously developed for the Vita. Most notably in this list is Marvelous, developers of the Senran Kagura franchise. This, among other reasons, means that sales for the Vita have been consistently dropping while Switch sales have been consistently on the rise – one week in April saw the Switch selling nearly 50,000 units and the Vita merely 5000.

So while Sony seems to have completely given up on the Western market, it doesn’t exactly seem like they have much to expect in the Japanese market either – one can only expect the further downturn of Vita sales in Japan as the year goes on, and although it’s doing too well to expect them to announce stopping production of physical Vita game cartridges in Japan any time soon, it may come sooner than you think.

That being said, the Vita is now entering into six years since it’s launch, so it’s no surprise that a newer, more advanced console in the Nintendo Switch has quickly overtaken it. Yet the catastrophic failure of the Vita in the West probably doesn’t give Sony much hope for their future portable consoles – meaning that the Vita could very well be their last.

If you want to want to buy any physical games for the Vita, then you have until February 15 next year to order them, as Sony will stop stocking them after that. The online store will remain open, however. Although I’ve fallen out of using my Vita in recent years due to the excellence of Japanese mobile games, I definitely enjoyed my time with the flawed console. Here’s to you, PlayStation Vita.

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