Throughout the history of the games industry, one thing I’ve found fascinating is the way that different territories reacted to different gaming platforms. Not only that but the way platform manufacturers and software publishers treated the systems themselves varied so greatly that it effectively determined the fate of system. The PS Vita is a prime example of a console that was treated differently in its native Japan to the rest of the world, but it wasn’t the first…
The Video Games Crash
The games industry has grown to record levels and shows no signs of slowing down. Even the online gambling side of the industry is predicted to see a record turnover of over $70 billion this year according to spincastle.com. But it hasn’t always been that way. While I won’t talk about the entire history of the video games industry in this article (we’d be here for ever if I did that), there are some notable differences between areas of it that are worth looking at. One that is still talked about to this day is the fabled video games crash in 1983. While many consider this to be a global event, this was actually something that primarily affected North America more than anywhere else.
Essentially, the games industry had expanded rapidly in the early part of the 1980s lead by Atari with their 2600 console. Games were being produced at a phenomenal rate and in such large quantities with publishers and manufacturers believing that they were sitting on a gold mine… but the market had reached it’s limit at that time. There were only so many consumers wanting consoles, and those gamers could only buy so many games so supply effectively outstripped demand. Publishers were left with hundreds of thousands of unsold games in warehouses and it brought many to their knees and commercial ruin.
But as I said, this wasn’t a global affair. In the UK particularly we had embraced the home computer explosion. Thanks to the innovations of the late Sir Clive Sinclair, affordable computing had been delivered to the masses thanks to the ZX Spectrum. Any home that wanted to own a computer finally could. By 1983, when people in the USA were talking about consoles, their counterparts in the UK and across Europe were talking about what computer they owned… and we had a huge selection to choose from. And with them all using games that loaded from standard cassettes, they were a lot more affordable than game cartridges as well.
It wasn’t just about the crash though. As the 8-bit systems took hold across Europe, different countries took different machines to heart. The UK warmed to the British designed Spectrum. Spain became the stronghold for the Amstrad CPC, while the rest of mainland Europe was the homeland for the Commodore 64.
At the same time, when consoles finally made a return to the market in the US, it was Sega that dominated the 16-bit era with the Genesis (Megadrive to the rest of the world), whereas it was it’s rival at the time the SNES/Super Famicom that dominated the market everywhere else. While there’s no clear reason why this was the case, perhaps the type of games being release was an initial factor. The more family friendly approach for the Nintendo system helping it establish a stronger foothold in Japan.
Where Sony Failed The Vita
We all know how Sony let the PS Vita struggle globally, but there were a few territories where it absolutely thrived. Not only was the Vita a huge success in Japan, but it managed to perform well at retail both in terms of hardware and software sales long after it had disappeared from stores in the West. The console was actively promoted by Sony, publishers and developers warmed to the system and it was given an incredible amount of display space at retail. There had even been known to be entire stores dedicated to the machine.
Granted, it helped that portable systems were known to do well in Japan when compared to tradition consoles. That explains the success of the DS, 3DS and market dominance of the Switch, but at least in the case of the Vita Sony respected the audience and reacted accordingly.
But the same also happened in Spain. Just like the Amstrad CPC series, Spain took to the PS Vita and it remained one of the strongest countries in Europe to support it. With strong sales of the console and games, as well as a number of exclusive game releases including the movie tie-ins based on the Tadeo Jones series it was an exciting place to be as a Vita owner.
A Global Disaster
As for the rest of the world… Sony simply didn’t quite know what to do with it. I’m sure they hoped that it would promote itself, or it would thrive on word of mouth alone. Certainly the Vita Island community rallied around the system, but that really wasn’t enough despite our best efforts. When gamers were under the misconception that the Vita had no games available for it, Sony should have made efforts to tell people but instead it was left to Vita owners to tell people – including those working in retail – about the Vita’s huge library.
Even Sony’s own marketing representatives that went out to stores were geared up towards promoting the PS4 when it launched. When challenged about the Vita’s range, they didn’t even want to acknowledge the Legacy titles (PSOne and PSP) that were available. This mistake must have cost an incredible amount of sales. Truthfully, someone should have made an effort to contact the support team at Sony to persuade them to make a few changes in marketing the Vita (and PSTV) and take advantage of this. Imagine a PS Vita with Final Fantasy X/X-2, a memory card and download codes for the PSOne and PSP versions of Final Fantasy I – IX. It could have been a phenomenal seller.
But it’s clear that Sony either didn’t understand what information gamers needed to know about the Vita or simply didn’t care. In all honesty, while the final sales figures were okay for the console, they could have been a LOT better with a little more effort.