Sony’s says its PlayStation Vita gaming handheld topped 1.2 million units sold worldwide as of Feb. 26, following its U.S. launch on Feb. 22 and Dec. 17 in Japan. The company says sales have “exceeded expectations,” and adds that global software sales have surpassed two million units, including both retail purchases and software downloaded via the company’s PlayStation Network.
“PS Vita was designed to deliver the ultimate portable entertainment experience, and we couldn’t be more thrilled with the reaction we’re seeing from consumers and the pace at which PS Vita is selling,” said Sony Computer Entertainment president Andrew House in a statement. “The market has responded and there is clear demand for a mobile device capable of providing a revolutionary combination of rich gaming and social connectivity within a real world context. To sustain momentum, we’re working closely with 3rd party developers and publishers to ensure the best games and franchises possible will be available on PS Vita, and our software line up for the remainder of 2012 will have something for everyone across the globe.”
How do Sony’s figures stack up against the competition? Sony’s traditional opponent in the games handheld race is Nintendo (we’ll talk nontraditional in a moment). The 3DS, which launched in Japan on Feb. 26, 2011 and in the U.S. and Europe in late March 2011, had sold 3.61 million units by the final week of April 2011 (and note that’s while the 3DS was still $250 in the U.S.). While Sony says the Vita “exceeded expectations,” it has its work cut out if it wants to go neck-and-neck with the 3DS’s preliminary numbers — to the tune of two million or more units it’ll need to move between now and the end of March.
Of course 3DS sales plummeted after that initial surge in early 2011, prompting Nintendo to do something unprecedented: drop the price of the 3DS from $250 to $170 not six months after it debuted (the price drop went into effect Aug. 12). That drop rejuvenated 3DS sales, bringing Nintendo’s life-to-date totals (through the holidays) to over 15 million units shipped.
Prognosticators like Strategy Analytics have said the Vita could top a respectable 12 million unit sales for 2012, but only if the system experiences a price cut sometime in the next 12 months. Whether that’ll happen is impossible to say. Sony’s reportedly in a better situation with the Vita margin-wise (based on teardown speculation) than it was with the PlayStation 3, where it was taking significant manufacturing losses when that console was still selling for between $400 and $600. At risk of stating the obvious, it’ll depend how well the handheld does through the summer, as well as how software sales pan out — Sony’s advantage at the moment is that its launch software lineup is world’s better than Nintendo’s.
What about the smartphone/tablet threat? Some analysts believe Apple’s iPhone could ship over 100 million units worldwide in 2012 alone (and that’s on top of the well beyond 100 million units Apple’s shipped since the iPhone’s launch in 2007). iPad sales are up past 55 million globally, and — iPod Touch numbers aside — that’s just iOS device sales. Google’s own Andy Rubin wrote yesterday that its partners “have activated a total of 300 million Android phones!” and are on average “activating over 850,000 phones and tablets per day.” From a units-shipped vantage, then, Nintendo and Sony’s dedicated handhelds look dead in the water.
But now we’re back to the million dollar question: Is there a sustainable future market for dedicated gaming devices, be they set-top consoles, handhelds or full-on PCs? A large enough global population segment to make it worth whatever-company’s investment (along with publishers/developers) to build and support devices that aren’t all-in-one phone hybrids? I’d like to think so, writing from the perspective of a late thirty-something gamer who dislikes touchscreens for controlling third-person games like Dead Space, and who couldn’t imagine a serious, console-style version of a game like Modern Warfare that didn’t employ dual joysticks. That’s the Vita’s promise, anyway (and the 3DS’s, once Nintendo ships a version with a right-hand thumb-nub). So far, I’d say it’s delivering in spades.