With E3 behind us, we now have a much clearer image of what to expect from the PlayStation Vita and this year’s lineup of 3DS software. What that means is we can start debating over whether or not the DS vs. PSP outcome will remain the same for the 3DS vs. Vita war that’s slated to start later this year. If you remember anything from the DS/PSP war it’s that no one knew the outcome before the war began. Virtually everyone thought Sony had the upper hand, but by the time Nintendogs hit the market it was already game over.
The PSP has sold over 70 million systems worldwide, whereas the DS in all its various versions has sold more than 130 million and counting. Let’s just say the DS has outsold the PSP by a factor of 2:1. That’s pretty amazing. What people don’t typically look at though is that the PSP sold 70 million systems. That’s more than the NES! One of the only reasons why the system is seen as a failure in some people’s eyes is because it was outsold 2:1, but will history repeat itself with this next generation portable war?
Let’s start by talking a bit about the 3DS. It offers much the same gameplay experience as seen with the previous DS portables, the one exception being its inclusion of glasses-free 3D. I know there’s a gyroscope in there now, but the big appeal is the 3D. The device is also significantly more powerful and has access to a really great eShop digital download platform. All great assets if you ask me. The one problem with the 3DS has been the somewhat lackluster amount of quality software releases since launch. That changed yesterday with the launch of Ocarina of Time 3D, but the truth of the matter is that’s a remake. The upcoming release slate looks impressive with great titles like MGS3D, Resident Evil: Revelations, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Super Mario and many more. The big problem is we don’t have firm release dates on virtually any of these games. Most are scheduled for holiday 2011, but that could just as easily turn into early 2012.
Games are obviously a huge factor in winning console wars, but what else does Nintendo do? Why did the Game Boy outsell Game Gear? Not just outsell it, but flat-out murdered it. Was it only the games? Well that’s arguable because the GG was significantly more powerful and had a ton of franchises on it that looked almost on par with SEGA’s Genesis games. Could it have something to do with the fact that the original Game Boy took four AA batteries and cost $89.99 when it launched in North America back in 1989. It also had the pack-in game Tetris. The Game Gear on the other hand was released in 1991 for $150 and took six AA batteries to run. The batteries ran out up to three times faster than on the Game Boy. Couple these factors together it becomes clear that sometimes games aren’t everything.
In fact Nintendo has always had the upper hand thanks to their low introductory prices. Their hardware has almost never gone toe-to-toe with a competitor’s machine at the same launch price. We all know Nintendo mixed things up when they revealed the 3DS would be introduced at $250 in North America, making it the most expensive portable they have ever produced. Nintendo has said on countless occasions they do not sell hardware at a loss, they’re the Apple of the gaming industry.
So what about the PSP? Sony introduced the system at $250 and $300 configurations, making the system a minimum of $100 more expensive than the DS, which launched at $150. Once again Nintendo had the pricing edge. Sure the PSP had tons of developer support and could do all sorts of multimedia functions, but there was also a lot riding against the device. For starters its battery life was significantly lower than the DS thanks to the UMD drive. Most of the early games were straight ports from the PS1 era and developer support quickly turned away from the system leaving large periods where no games would be released for months at a time. Software often featured lengthy load times because the UMD-based games as well. All of this taken together was a lot for any company to deal with, but the system still sold 70 million units worldwide.
Moving forward things aren’t so black and white. For one thing the 3DS no longer has the upper hand with neither pricing nor battery life. The Vita has the same 5-hour play time as the 3DS, and both machines ring in at $250 (There is a $300 3G-enabled Vita though). This is interesting because it’s a first for Nintendo. It doesn’t stop there either. Nintendo’s system doesn’t have all the bells and whistles. The 3DS’ biggest new feature is the inclusion of glasses-free 3D, but with the Vita there’s a multi-touch screen, there’s a back trackpad, two cameras and the strongest processor ever placed inside a portable device. That’s on top of a fully features PlayStation Network including cross game chatting, friend lists, the works. That sure makes the two devices seem much more on an even playing field.
Even though I said games aren’t everything, they do play a critical role. That’s where Nintendo has always crushed the competition. Sony has learned from their mistakes though as is evident by their E3 showing. Not only does the Vita have the full backing from their Worldwide Studios, but also from hundreds of third parties. I’ll admit we have yet to see incredibly stunning third party software right now, but we have seen Uncharted: Golden Abyss, which looks significantly more appealing than any hardcore title released for the 3DS at launch. This game isn’t a port, but an all-new adventure in Sony’s flagship series. One question posed to us has been why would any hardcore gamer want a Vita if they own a PS3? That one’s easy to answer, trophy support. By adding trophies to their games Sony’s sure to get millions of trophy addicts onboard. Just yesterday I was having this conversation with AppetitePat and we both see the future potential with this move.
Does this spell doom and gloom for Nintendo’s latest portable, not at all. If history has shown us anything it’s that we can never be sure of the outcome. The most powerful hardware had never, ever, won the portable war. What I will say is that coming out of E3 a lot more people are taking this next portable war far more serious than they thought they would. The more competition we have, the better it is for gamers all over the world. Right now it’s looking like the portable market is going to have the biggest war it has ever had, so that means it could very well become the best time to buy these two devices.
What do you see happening in this new portable war? Based on what we know right now, do you think Nintendo and Sony are on more equal footing? Will Link, Mario and the gang be able to offset Nathan Drake, Cole, and Sony’s new crew? We want to know what you think!