The Vita's price cut couldn't have come at a better time

Today's price drop announcement for the PS Vita comes near the end of a long road to recovery for Sony's powerful--and powerfully passed-over--handheld. Many journalists and industry vets have been clamoring for a Vita price cut for months, but Sony has waited until now to make the portable $50 cheaper. Some still think Sony waited too long, but I feel that now is just the right time for it.

When the system was first announced, the Vita’s $249/$299 price (Wi-Fi and 3G models, respectively) seemed fair, but it was clear early on that consumers weren’t hot on the system. Sales were sluggish around the world, with 4.3 million systems sold from December 2011 to March 2013. In Sony’s most recent sales quarter, fewer than 600,000 Vitas were sold worldwide, and it’s exceptionally rare to see a Vita game appear in the top 10 sales charts. While Sony of Japan cut the price for Vita in February, the US and EU branches kept the price unchanged. From the outside it seemed Sony was ready to give up on the handheld.

The good news is that Sony hasn’t been idle--in fact, it appears as if Sony’s strategy has been to first get its other problems dealt with before pulling the trigger on today’s price drop. 

First, to that lack of big games issue. Last fall, Sony paid big money for exclusive Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed games. You can argue about the quality of those games (well, Call of Duty was junk no matter who you ask), but it’s a fact that the expensive third-party exclusives didn’t sell all that well during the holidays. In the New Year, sales slowed even more as releases dried up, and retail titles that were exclusive to the system became increasingly rare.

This year, the fix is in. PlayStation Plus expanded to include Vita, giving players access to numerous free Vita titles using the same subscription they already had to PS+ on PS3. Major PS3 releases like Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time and Jak & Daxter HD came to Vita with cross-buy, and the Vita is being positioned as a second screen for a host of upcoming PS4 games, or even for remote play. These are all things we previously mapped out in this prescient editorial, and today was when Sony made those intentions particularly clear. We didn’t get the rumored PS4/Vita sales bundle (yet, anyway), but the two systems were continually working together during the GamesCom press conference. The last game played on stage was Assassin’s Creed 4, and part of the demo was controlled remotely with a Vita.

Beyond the AAA titles, the GamesCom stage saw Sony further explaining its commitment to indie games, which have enriched the Vita significantly. Purchasing most indie games on the PS3 or PS4 will unlock a free copy for the Vita: when PS3 owners bought an indie title like Guacamelee, Thomas Was Alone, or Retro City Rampage on PS3, those console gamers ended up with a bunch of Vita games without intending it. May as well get the handheld anyway to play those free games on the go, huh?

And the price drop is what completes that line of thinking for consumers. Imagine this: You already own all this content for the Vita via PSN, you intend to get a PS4, and just as you’re thinking of buying the Vita to go with it, <i>BOOM</i>, it’s $50 cheaper.

One of the only flaws in Sony’s plan is that a new Vita needs extra free space to download the new owner's instant collection of games, but Sony is starting to address that as well. The system’s proprietary memory cards were once exorbitantly priced. Today they’ve been reduced by 20% across the board. It still doesn’t match the cost of most SD cards of similar size, but the change makes it easier for new owners to download all the free games they’ve amassed.

When Sony of Japan slashed the Vita’s price back in February, many were confused when the US and EU divisions didn’t do the same. However, the company’s strategy became clear today. Instead of lowering the price when there were almost no major titles to benefit from the discount, Sony spent the last few months making Vita as great a value proposition as it could, and <i>then</i> cut the price to capitalize on the excitement. This was the smartest way the company could've slashed the price, so this might finally sell the Vita to the gaming masses. And if this strategy doesn't revive the handheld's fortunes, we’re not sure anything will.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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  • crosswords - October 5, 2013 8:24 p.m.

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  • winner2 - August 22, 2013 4:14 a.m.

    I have one but personally I think the Miley card drop is the highlight here. I might be able to justify playing more games on it soon.
  • GOD - August 21, 2013 4:56 p.m.

    I think for anyone who got all the free games with PS+, the Vita is really worth it right now (I'd get one but I only recently got my 3DS, need a WiiU, and want a PS4, and I don't have that much money to throw around), but for people who already own a Vita there doesn't seem to be much on the horizon....
  • rcarrasco121 - August 21, 2013 5:58 a.m.

    I have a vita and use it way more than I use my 3ds. I have 32 games loaded onto it, and yes, a majority of them are indie titles. However, I still find use out of it by playing games I missed during the psp years. I've been happy with what Sony's offered with the Vita, even with the ports and Indie focus. It's never really bothered me if I play a game that came out this year or five years ago because as long as its entertaining, I'm happy. Concerning the price cut: I agree with Henry. All these months have been spent talking up the value of the Vita to prepare for a price cut that could bring some new customers. However, if I were someone considering buying a vita, I would have been happier spending $250 last year on vita, than spending $200 + $400 dollars for a new console this year.
  • Scoob - August 21, 2013 4:25 a.m.

    I think the price drop came at a bad time. With two new consoles on the horizon, along with the need to buy a few more peripherals, dropping $200 on a handheld, and for this one, the need to buy expensive memory cards (yes, even after the 20% price drop, they are still expensive as hell) seems to cut into the money I would want to spend in a next gen system. I couldn't give a rip about indie games when it comes to my console buying decisions, as my two PCs, and other portable devices run the games just fine, as do my current gen systems. I would have been more likely to buy one if the price was dropped the same time as Japan's though. Back then, I was working in the middle of nowhere. I really don't see much of a market for the whole second screen functionality. It's cool and all for sure. But what family these days doesn't have two TVs? And if a family can only have one TV, they're probably broke as hell, and a PS4/Vita combo is a long way off. Well I suppose it works well for Asian markets with their small overcrowded housing situations. On top of that, how will the Vita handle as a controller when it has differences from the PS4 controller?
  • SnakeinmyBoot - August 21, 2013 6:45 p.m.

    Yeah, those damn cards are still too expensive. An equivalent high speed SD card is still $20 to $50 cheaper, and I don't even think its necessary to go with the 95 MB/s beasts for most games. Sony should gave done what you said; dropped the price before everyone started holding out for the next gen. They are once again competing with their own systems.
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - August 20, 2013 6:43 p.m.

    The death of the Vita might be the most overlooked story out of Gamescom 2013. They didn't announce ONE new retail game for the system. I thought at the very least they would reveal AC: Liberation 2 or Gravity Rush 2. NO ONE GIVES A FUCK ABOUT INDIE GAMES! People aren't buying a $200 dedicated gaming handheld to play $5 iPhone quality games. You know why? BECAUSE THEY HAVE AN IPHONE ALREADY! I love games like Guacamelee and Dokuro but they can't deliver the experience of a full-fledged retail title. Sony dedicated 30 minutes of their fucking E3 press conference to a slew of games the vast majority of people could care less about. Octodad? Ray's The Dead? I'm sure systems will fly off the shelves thanks to those games. What happened to a time when indie games would come out on Tuesday and if it got good reviews you'd check it out and be pleasantly surprised? You can't be the type of person who talks shit about Wii and iPhone games and also be excited for something like Transistor. Oh, and P.S.: If Sony thinks people are going to buy a Vita for PS4 remote play, then they are in for one hell of surprise this Christmas.
  • Cyberninja - August 20, 2013 7:24 p.m.

    This so much. I have a Vita and I am still waiting for something new the only game I have that is not a port or on another system is Gravity Rush, plus they had a sale with literally all the games worth getting like l rolled my eyes hard when he said they had over 100 retail games.
  • Rash86 - August 20, 2013 6:32 p.m.

    Totally agree Henry. Vita is an awesome handheld. Thanks to plus I have way more games than I can play, and now thankfully I can afford a better memory card. It's about bloody time. :P