If gaming corporations were toddlers in day care, Sony would probably be in timeout right now. At least, that would be the case if I was in charge of the kids.
See, Sony used some profanity. SCE President and Global CEO Andrew House talked a bit about the PlayStation family at Sony's 2015 Investor Relations Day. It was there that he totally embarrassed his parents and lost his favorite toy for the weekend.
He called the PS Vita and the PS Vita TV legacy systems. More specifically, he called them "legacy platforms."
Andrew, you sit down and think about what you did.
What is a legacy system?
It's not that I necessarily blame Sony for slapping the legacy qualifier on the PS Vita. The system, as much as I genuinely love it, simply hasn't sold as well as Sony would like. Counts put it above four million by 2013, though Sony's been less than forthcoming with solid numbers. It's doing all right in Japan, I suppose, but other countries seem to be ignoring it en masse.
Calling it a legacy system, though, means that it's just about dead. It's antiquated. It's old news. It's done with the spotlight. I'm not the only one with this impression of the term. I took to the interwebbings to hit sites like Wikipedia for a general consensus on what "legacy" meant when it came to computers, software and such. Maybe I was misinterpreting this term, right?
No. I was spot on. Straight from Wikipedia by way of the Googles.
In computing a legacy system is an old method, technology, computer system, or application program, "of, relating to, or being a previous or outdated computer system." Often a pejorative term, referencing a system as "legacy" often implies that the system is out of date or in need of replacement.
"A pejorative term," indeed. I figured I'd ask a few co-workers as well.
Our own Sean Aune offered this when I asked for a definition: "A legacy system means something that is outdated and no longer supported."
Eric Frederiksen, a writer in our gaming department, tossed this at me: "Legacy hardware is hardware considered to be past its life but may still be receiving nominal support from the manufacturer as an obligation."
I really liked Eric's. It sort of stings, right? Like, "Gee, thanks Sony for launching your system three years ago, deeming it outdated but continuing nominal support because, you know, you have to."
Yeah. Three years ago. You read that right. The PS Vita launched in North America in February of 2012. Japan got it in the late fall of 2011. It's almost four years old in its home country.
Sony's in the midst of holding a viking funeral for a handheld system it launched three/four years ago. They're aiming their flaming arrow at the kindling filled floating funeral pyre as I type, and they've got great aim. Keven Butler's been practicing for years.
What went wrong with the PS Vita?
I feel like I need to qualify my stance here once more lest I find myself mobbed and figuratively beheaded by folks in the comment section of this post. I love my PS Vita. Love it. I've played tons of games on it, and it continues to earn use on a regular basis in my household.
But, what went wrong?
It seems silly, but I place a lot of the blame for this system's low sales rate on the cost of memory cards. The PS Vita has very little storage within, so you absolutely must get a memory card in order to play more than a handful of games. The memory cards are proprietary, so Sony's the only one making and selling them.
The issue? We covered this before the handheld launched. These were the starting prices of the memory cards for the PS Vita, as per that article I linked just a sentence ago.
For American consumers, here are the price points for each available memory card:
- 4GB — $29.99
- 8GB — $44.99
- 16GB — $69.99
- 32GB — $119.99
Things haven't changed much since then. A quick trip to Amazon and GameStop for memory cards reveals the following price points.
- 4GB — $17.97
- 8GB — $21.99 (pre-owned)
- 16GB — $39.99
- 32GB — $79.99
- 64GB — $129.99 (pre-owned)
Prices dropped, make no mistake. Let's compare that to the 3DS' SD card. The 64GB is selling for $30 and less, and you can buy any brand you like. Have a New 3DS? Fine, the 128GB Micro SD cards are moving for $80 and less. That's double the storage of Sony's 64GB card for shy of half the price.
Those prices wouldn't be so bad if Sony wasn't pushing the digital gaming space so hard. I love PS Plus, but I need tons of space on my card in order to accommodate the games released. Heck, even physical games require memory card space. Even better? As of last year, 48% of all PS Vita software was sold in digital form.
"It seems silly, but I place a lot of the blame for this system's low sales rate on the cost of memory cards."
Sony asked consumers to pony up well over $300 just to get gaming when the PS Vita launched. There was a lot of promise on the horizon with stuff like Uncharted: Golden Abyss standing as AAA first-party efforts. Die-hard fans were in, others were waiting for more games and a price drop.
The price drop came, but the games sort of petered out. Let's not mince words here; there are tons and tons and tons of PS Vita games. How many of them, though, are of the Uncharted ilk? I'm talking about experiences that can only be had on the PS Vita. Not a port or a remake, but a pure PS Vita game through and through. We have a Killzone, Gravity Rush, Tearaway, LittleBigPlanet, ModNation, and one absolutely terrible Resistance game.
From there? The system is all right when it comes to third party games, but the vast majority are games that have been ported down for handheld play. I've played some incredible games in that space, like Persona 4 Golden and The Swapper. Even those are ports and remakes.
It's seems to me that, in hindsight, the trend moved sort of like this …
- Sony revealed the handheld with a solid price, but they wanted too much for proprietary memory cards.
- First party and third party support at launch was great.
- The cost of the system and accessories kept consumers away.
- The lack of consumers hindered software sales.
- Lack of software sales pushed first and third party support away.
- Sony dedicated platform support to ports and remote play.
- Consumers noticed and dismissed the PS Vita as a handheld worth owning.
- Sony called it a "legacy system."
Notice we're missing our "???" and "profit" lines.
Is the PS Vita dead?
At this point, I'm not sure what all this means for Sony's handheld. I imagine they'll continue the course of providing limited support in the way of ports and remote play, but I'd be absolutely shocked if we see anything on the scale of Killzone hitting the PS Vita any time soon. Sony's obviously decided the handheld isn't worth major developer support from studios that could and should otherwise be making them breakout PlayStation 4 games.
If Sony was aiming to revive the PS Vita, we'd hear about it at E3. We'd see FromSoftware, Naughty Dog and others making PS Vita games. I doubt that's going to happen, but I'd be positively pumped if it did.
The PS Vita will likely fade out at this point. I'd be shocked if it had much presence at all during Sony's E3 conference. Calling it a "legacy platform" puts it on the same level as the PlayStation 3.
The real question, in my mind, is where does Sony go with the handheld market now? Do they try again? The PSP was huge for Sony in Japan. The PS Vita? Not so much. Is it worth taking the risk and trying again with another PlayStation portable gaming device? I really don't know.
Being dubbed a "legacy platform," as nice as the term sounds, isn't a good thing. For Sony, the PS Vita might as well be pushing up daisies. One has to wonder if it's costing the company more to support the system than it's earning them. If that's the case, the PS Vita isn't long for this world at all.