Why PS Vita Digital Games Failed On The High Street


One thing that always surprised me with the PS Vita is the lack of space that was given over to it at retail. Despite having a vast library of games available, even in its prime it seldom had more than a few shelves devoted to it. Understandable in the early days of the Vita’s launch, but why was this still the case when the Vita had hundreds of physical games and well over a thousand digital games available? Perhaps Sony’s approach to selling digital games on the Vita may have had an impact…

Going Digital

The launch of the PlayStation 3 and XBox 360 marked a huge chance for the console market. Up until that point games were sold almost exclusively on physical media. But that generation introduced the concept of consoles having integrated storage, digital downloads and digital only releases. It brought budget gaming to consoles in a way that computer owners used to enjoy back in the 80s and 90s. Game sales were still predominantly physical and in-store though.

When it came to buying a new console, people weren’t interested in how many digital games they could buy. They wanted to see titles on shelves to get an idea of what was available. And that games line-up was usually the selling point for a new console for many.

Enter The Vita

By the time the Vita came along, digital games had taken a firm foothold on the industry. With the majority of its library likely to be released that way, Sony needed to promote those games just as much as it did the physical games to the average consumer. But instead, Sony chose to promote a small selection of their digital games and release them at retail as cards that could be purchased over the counter and redeemed at home.

Truthfully, this was a huge gamble for Sony at the time. With such a small range of games at launch, they couldn’t afford to take risks. They were taking chances with the future of the Vita and betting on just a handful of key titles. They were either over confident or thought that they had a better chance of success with the Vita than scoring a big win choosing from a list of non GamStop betting sites at www.nonukgambling.com. That was their biggest mistake…

Resembling PlayStation Store vouchers, there was a limited choice of PS Vita, PS3 and PSOne Classic titles on offer. And rather than having an ample amount of space given over to promoting them, they were often hidden from view in stores. Seeing a card voucher on a shelf didn’t make them a particularly attractive purchase, especially when they were located next to store vouchers of varying denominations giving you access to a much wider range of content. It wasn’t long before they disappeared completely.

Code In A Box

Nintendo’s approach with the Switch is very different. As well as selling physical games at retail, they also sell a large number of their digital titles that way. They are still presented in full retail packaging, but instead include a card with a code that needs to be used in the eShop to enable the game to be downloaded, similar to the top-up vouchers sold in stores.

The Code In A Box approach is widespread and virtually every retailer that caters for the Switch stocks them. It could be argued by some that it’s misleading. Making you think that you’re getting a full game when you’re only getting a piece of card for your money. But it’s a lot more than that when you look at it more closely.

The Benefits

As a Vita owner, I thought that this was an absurd idea selling games this way. Who would want an empty box in their collection? But now as a Switch owner as well and having bought titles this way I’m beginning to understand the logic behind it. Regardless of whether they are fully-fledged physical games or not when you walk into a games store and look at the Switch section the shelves are FULL of games. As a potential owner that would make you think just one thing about the platform – that it’s well supported and that you won’t struggle to find something that you like on it. In contrast, I’ve never seen more than 30-40 games on display for the Vita in a video game store in the UK, even though my personal collection has around 250 physical games.

But why buy an empty box though when you could just buy a voucher? Or even easier, use a debit card to top up your eShop wallet? First, unlike the Vita, many Switch games have brief instructions on the inside of the case. And this also applies to the digital only titles. While it’s not the same as a full manual, it’s better than no manual at all.

Looking Good

Many of us also like the look of our video game collections. Having something we can put on the shelf to display, even if it’s an empty box, can be important. That’s why so many retro game collectors prefer boxed games and consoles over loose systems and cartridges. There’s something about packaging when it’s sitting on show as part of a larger collection.

At the same time, most of us with friends and families tend to send and receive games as presents for birthdays, Christmas etc. For me, I’ve been in that position for over 40 years as a recipient. Even if the box only has a code, it just looks better giving someone a game code in a physical box than it would an envelope. We’ve all received cash or gift cards as presents at one time or another, and while we can’t be dismissive of the gesture and certainly not appreciate the gift itself, it’s one of the easiest and quickest gifts to give but they don’t look all that exciting to open on the day itself!

Money Smart

There’s one other thing that many overlook when it comes to the sale of individual titles. As gamers, we don’t always want to pay for store top-up vouchers and just want to buy a single title. It’s not often that we want to add £20 to an account to buy a £15 game. So the idea of paying the exact price to buy a game makes sense to most. Even if that does mean waiting a little longer after making an in-store purchase and redeeming the voucher at home.

Unlike their digital counterparts, these in-store versions aren’t subject to reductions in sales though so there is that trade-off to deal with. It does make it far easier to budget when buying digitally, rather than spending more than you need on top-up cards then buying games or DLC that you weren’t originally interested in. Saying that, from the Nintendo Switch market at least, there have been both digital and physical versions of some games made available with the digital ones being priced lower than the physical equivalents, proving that lower prices for digital can be done.

Vita’s Saviour?

In hindsight, could boxed digital codes have made a difference to the Vita? Personally I believe so. In the formative days of the console it would have seen a huge increase in the perceived number of games available amongst potential buyers. Seeing just a small selection on display in shops certainly helped grow the myth that the Vita had no games. As Vita owners we all knew differently – the fact that we can create top ten lists for genres like arcade games proves this – but the non-Vita owning public didn’t and Sony didn’t promote the fact either.

But what if people saw the sheer volume of games that were on the PS Vita? Or even just some of the best digital titles at a price point that could justify physical packaging. Nintendo has managed that with a £9.99 price point so that would certainly have included a huge Vita selection.

It’s all a moot point now sadly, but for one change in the way digital games were marketed the PS Vita audience could have been much bigger indeed…

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About Simon Plumbe 1077 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe