Sony has reportedly sold 321,407 units of its new handheld gaming system, the PlayStation Vita, in Japan within 48 hours of availability. That roughly constitutes half of Sony's initial shipment of the console, and falls short of the Nintendo 3DS's Japanese launch figures by about 50,000 units.
Having perused Ars Technica's list of 2011 gaming joys and disappointments yesterday, I found it interesting that iOS games have become such accepted members of such lists. Apple has, of course, famously pivoted its iPod Touch marketing to emphasize gaming, but it is interesting that they have been able to penetrate gaming's highest honors in a relatively short period.
With mobile devices -- and tablets for that matter -- gaming has been redefined. Just as Nintendo tapped into a new audience of casual gamers with the Wii, iOS and Android devices have fostered a community of casual, commuting gamers. Rarely do you get on a train, a bus, or a plane, and not see people playing Angry Birds or catching up with Words With Friends (just ask Alec Baldwin). Games are cheaper, accessible, upgradeable, and expandable. Development is even much more straightforward.
As such, dedicated handheld gaming devices like the Vita face an uphill battle.
Although the Vita's graphic prowess may be impressive, are other devices so far away from such capability? Perhaps, with chips like the A5 we're already at a level of parity. I am unsure.
The form factor of handheld gaming devices like the Vita and 3DS have a leg up over touch-only interfaces, but I doubt that's enough to encourage any casual gamers into a purchase. Sony must offer a truly compelling library, and some forward-thinking features to remain relevant. While I think they are working hard to do that, I am unconvinced that they'll have much long-term luck.
Dedicated handheld gaming devices are a dying breed.
The Vita is a compelling, attractive piece of hardware, but I cannot help but feel it might be the last of its kind. With Sony actively pursuing the PlayStation licensing on Android, and with rumors of the company building a larger, seamless, Apple-rivaling media experience, I see the portable PlayStation brand being folded into its mobile offerings, not existing as a standalone piece of hardware.
At the end of the day, people don't want to carry multiple devices around unless they have to, and the luxury of carrying a dedicated gaming device is likely set to die out sooner rather than later.