All eyes may be on the upcoming PS4 announcement right now, but meanwhile Sony's other game system is fighting for all the attention it can get.
Two days ago, Sony Computer Entertainment announced that both the 3G and Wi-Fi versions of the PS Vita are being discounted to 19,980 yen (about $214) in Japan, a 33-percent drop for the 3G version.
The new price, which goes into effect Feb. 28, comes after Sony missed its initial Vita sales projections by a longshot in 2012, especially worldwide-the system took just under a year to sell a million in Japan, with only a million-and-change more in gamers' hands elsewhere.
"The biggest reason [for the price drop] is that we simply want to have more people playing the PS Vita," Sony Computer Entertainment Japan president Hiroshi Kawano told Famitsu magazine. "Based on our research, there are two broad reasons why people who may want to try the Vita aren't purchasing it. One, they want to wait until there's a game they want to play on it. Two, the price is a little out of reach for them. What we also learned in this research is that people who do own a Vita have tremendous satisfaction with it; it's the kind of platform where you get a feel for how good it is once you touch it. But we found that the price was too big an initial hurdle for this, and this sparked a long internal debate within SCE."
When asked his honest opinion about the Vita's first year in the market, Kawano, Sony's top marketing guy in their home nation, was frank. "Certainly, at the present time, maybe we're a little behind the numbers we originally pictured," he told Famitsu. "I feel we have a ways to go in terms of getting across the good traits of the PS Vita, along with everything the software has to offer. Also, I want to keep pushing for more games that people want to play, since like our research showed, that's one thing blocking customers curious about the Vita from making a purchase. There are about 100 titles released [in Japan] in a year's time, and I want to get across that we've got a lot of really good games. Like with our other platforms, we're developing the Vita system with the idea that it'll have a lifecycle of ten years and change, so I think we need to do everything we can to flesh out the service going forward."
Why make both the Wi-Fi only and 3G/Wi-Fi models the same price? "Our impression was that some customers felt the whole thing was too complicated," Kawano replied. "They didn't really follow the difference between the 3G/Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi models, and they didn't really get how 3G worked. So maybe it's a forceful kind of approach, but we thought we should keep it simple. You can use the 3G/Wi-Fi model in nothing but Wi-Fi if you like, and that's okay, because they're both the same price. The main aim here is to get that 19,980 yen price point in the public eye; after that, customers can pick the model that best suits their lifestyle and play style."
Kawano didn't seem too concerned about the potential revenue loss these cuts would generate, key for a company that's had almost nothing but gloomy financial news for the past year and a half. "Maybe this will cut down on the revenue we get for selling hardware," he said, "but the trend among PS Vita users is high connection rates and usage rates for the PlayStation Store. We believe that the more users we can get, the more that'll connect to revenues in the future. More than that, though, we want to have our users be more satisfied with what they're getting."
Nor, it seemed, did the rise of smartphone gaming-often pegged as the reason PS Vita has experienced trouble gaining traction outside of Japan-keep Kawano up at night much. "These days," he said, "there's a wide variety of portable experiences, from the sorts of games only a dedicated platform could produce to business models like free-to-play that open up more play opportunities on smartphones. However, if we completely commoditize games, I don't think that's going to lead to the further development of the game industry. Instead of that, we want to leave behind a public forum of sorts that lets creators do whatever they want. I want the PlayStation platform to constantly take up that mission."
When asked about the upcoming year for the Vita, Kawano was more characteristically upbeat. "We have the new price down; now it's time for software," he said. "Just with what's been announced so far, we'll have more games coming out this year than last, and they're being launched on a regular basis throughout the year. I think that'll make users feel they're always getting enough, and we're prepared to push these titles as needed. We're going to be actively on the offensive in 2013."