yARN: Does Sony have the Vita-logy to keep handheld gaming alive?

yARN: Does Sony have the Vita-logy to keep handheld gaming alive?

At $60 a game for premium titles, gamers are rapidly going to feel the pinch

The video games industry is big business. According to the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (iGEA) earlier this month it was worth more than $1.5 billion in Australia alone in 2011. And that figure doesn’t even include digital downloads, apps or in-game transactions.

With that in mind it’s hardly a surprise that Sony – one of the leaders in the competitive world of gaming consoles – has just released its latest handheld console, the PSVita, to the Australian market.

Armed with a massive 5-inch touchscreen OLED, dual analogue sticks, a rear touch panel and integrated social networking, the PS Vita has launched to critical acclaim from gamers and gaming journalists around the world. With the exception of one small thing, that is… The price of its games.

New premium titles cost around $60 each, which is a standard price point for handheld console games historically. But things have changed significantly since Sony dropped the original PSP on the market seven years ago. Most handheld gaming these days is now done on smartphones, where the cost of premium games is a tiny fraction of the $60 PSVita game asking price.

The problem is amplified when you look at the smaller bite-size games known as Minis, which are often just ports of gaming apps from iOS and Android anyway. Plants vs Zombies, the popular tower defense game, costs $7.49 on the iTunes App Store, and yet the same game (with a few minor tweaks) costs $17.95 on the PSVita.

With this in mind – and the relatively high price of the console itself at $350 for Wi-Fi only and $420 for a 3G version – it’s not overly surprising that Sony has decided on a limited retail strategy for the launch of the Vita.

Rather than distribute the console through the discount department stores like Big W and Kmart, Sony has decided to only offer the PSVita through specialist games and electronic retailers, in order to target the “active gamer” community Sony sees as its early adopters.

The catch is that the distribution applies to not just the hardware, but the software too. Which means that in most cases, getting any game for less that the RRP will be significantly more challenging than the home console market, given the discount department’s stores penchant for buying in bulk and selling on a small margin.

And that takes us back to the pricing. At $60 a game for the Vita compared to $10 a game (for a premium title) on an iPad, it’s not going to take too long for gamers to realise the growing hole in their wallets, no matter how much they enjoy the Vita’s physical controls.

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