All of us make mistakes; it’s one of those charming little quirks that make us oh-so-human. But while most of us offer pity or irritation when we watch someone bung something up, we also feel forgiveness and even warmth when that person says, “I’m sorry. I messed this up, and I learned my lesson. I’ll do better next time.”
Mistakes happen in the games industry, and the lessons that follow are oh-so harsh. Since 2004, for instance, Sony has endured a long, long reminder that a handheld game system will not fly off the shelves simply because it boasts a lot of power and some pretty graphics. Though the PlayStation Portable (PSP) has a pretty solid user base, especially in Japan, there’s no question that it came in a distant second to the slower, clumsier Nintendo DS, even though Sony seemed confident that serious gamers would choose their slick piece of machinery over a “toy.”
But the PSP proved a bit costly to buy, a bit costly to develop for, and a bit lacking in killer apps as a result. The DS prevailed. The next generation of handhelds is already underway. Now that we’re all aware of the Nintendo DS’s record of success next to the PSP’s, will history repeat? Will the PS Vita be overlooked in favor of the Nintendo 3DS?
It’s not going to be that easy for Nintendo this time around. Sony has made it clear that it has learned from the mistakes it made with the PSP.
“What we didn’t do right with the PSP was where we started when we began the development of PlayStation Vita,” Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida told GamesIndustry.biz in a July interview. “We were very happy with having something very close to the PS2 experience in a portable format with the PSP, but we didn’t do a good enough job creating the proper interface to really play games with graphics in 3D. The lack of a right analog stick, for example. That’s something we wanted to attack with the PS Vita because we wanted to enhance the portable core gaming experience and we have to do it right.”
Indeed, the PSP’s superior horsepower landed the system more 3D games than the Nintendo DS, and PSP owners lamented the handheld’s lack of a second analogue stick. Sony has remedied that with the Vita, whereas the Nintendo 3DS is stuck with one analogue stick.
Sony has also stated that the cost of developing a PS Vita game will run a figure that’s pretty close to the pricetag of game development on the PSP. Developing a Nintendo 3DS game, however, costs two to three times as much as it did to develop a Nintendo DS game.
Finally, there’s cost. The Nintendo 3DS is $250 USD, which some gamers are still hesitant to dish out for a portable game system. It’s speculated that the the PS Vita will also cost something in the neighborhood of $250–but it’s also a more powerful system than the PS Vita.
Does all this number-crunching add up to a definite second place for the Nintendo 3DS and victory for the PS Vita–a total reversal of how the last handheld war played out? Not necessarily, but a humble opponent can be a dangerous one. Sony learned some hard lessons in the latter half of the aughts, which has made it a little sharper and a little hungrier. It’s not simply assuming that it’ll best Nintendo: It’s taking clear action to make sure it does happen. From the sidelines, we can appreciate Sony’s humility, especially in the face of Nintendo’s seeming arrogance over the runaway success of the Wii and the DS.
On the other hand, Nintendo’s slow start with the 3DS has taught it a lesson about software distribution, and the company now knows that it can’t hang back and let the name “DS” perform sales magic. The second half of 2011 already looks to be a busy time for the 3DS.
The next few years certainly won’t be dull for fans of handheld game systems. It’s like they say in the Street Fighter games: “FIGHT!”