Sony, stop trying to make Vita happen

September 9, 2013
(Sony)
The thing on the left is the PS Vita TV. (Sony)

Sony announced a new version of its handheld gaming system, the PS Vita, on Monday. The update is smaller than its predecessor and geared toward more casual handheld gamers. Sony also released a new member of the PS Vita family, a cigarette box-sized TV accessory called PS Vita TV. That device will allow set-top streaming to televisions from services like Hulu and allow users to play some (but not all!) PS Vita games with a dual shock controller. A future update is planned to enable Vita TV to remotely stream videos from PS4 consoles.

Creating a casual set-top media streaming device doesn't seem like a bad investment for Sony. But tying it to the Vita brand doesn't make much sense. For that matter, the entire Vita line of products doesn't make much sense: Sony's not very good at making handheld gaming devices, and the market for those is likely to shrink in the coming years.

I'm not alone in thinking that. An executive during the Sony Q1 2013 earnings call acknowledged as much, saying: "PSP continues the decline. And PS Vita, as you know, are not performing that well."

All-in-one devices like smartphones and tablets make much more sense for the future of mobile gaming. And Sony makes phones. (In fact, they've released an attempt at a Playstation phone.)

The only part of the traditional handheld market that seems likely to have a future is devices for younger children whose parents might not want them to have a full-fledged smartphone. But PS Vita games aren't generally made for that target audience. And even if they were, Nintendo is so well entrenched that it seems unlikely Sony can make inroads.

So, it seems like a significantly better option for Sony to invest in its own smartphone lineup or develop remote play capabilities for more popular mobile platforms. The company should stop waging a losing battle in the shrinking handheld gaming market. And, there's nothing wrong with building a mid-market media streaming device like Apple TV -- but why not tie it to something that's actually been successful, like Sony's traditional consoles?

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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