That’s no secret, PSVita is struggling on the market. It sold an abysmal 3K units in April in the US, 30 or 40 times less than its competitor, the 3DS. In Europe, the situation is a little better, but 3DS still sells 4 times faster.
That said, Sony’s handheld is still resisting the Nintendomination. It so happens that Vita now has more games to come than its powerful competitor. 34 Vita games are scheduled in the West whereas 3DS has only 17. You’ll notice by the way that contrary to urban legends, Sony is pushing its system pretty actively. How to explain this paradox? With an install base 5 times bigger than Vita’s and selling more than everything except PS4, 3DS should get all the games.
First thing is that the pace of localisations has slowed, while Vita gets increasingly more of them. Funny thing is that huge 3DS hit in Japan like Dragon Quest VII, Dragon Quest Monsters 1&2, Hatsune Miku Project Mirai, Yôkai Watch, Attack of the Titan or Fantasy Life ive no sign of being translated, when in the same time some publishers don’t hesitate to bring ultra-niche Vita games like Mind 0 or Akiba’s Trip 2. Nintendo had done much last year to make games cross the oceans. With tremendous success, 2013 has been a record year for 3DS : Fire Emblem Awakening, Ace Attorney Dual Destinies, Project X Zone, Bravery Default, Etrian Odyssey, Professor Layton 6 and many others allowed the double screened handheld to shine. But after a series of operating losses and missed forecasts, Nintendo doesn’t seem willing to make effort to back its 3DS any more. The manufacturer turned around when Rune Factory 4 was canceled in Europe, and it itself crossed off Shin Megami Tensei IV from its schedule. Meanwhile, they live off easy money with Tomodachi Life and the remake of Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire. Nintendo who last year was an example as a publisher is gradually losing that status to Sony, who helped getting games like Tales of Hearts R and Sword Art Online Hollow Fragment in the West.
The other side of the issue lies in the market situation in Japan. Except for indies, Western publishers hardly care about dedicated handheld. It leaves to Japanese publishers most of the job in supporting 3DS and Vita. It so happens that in the very source of handheld gaming, PSVita is also more attractive despite 7 times more 3DSs on the market : 51 Vita games vs only 27 3DS games scheduled. All this despite Nintendo constant scheming to undermine Vita’s performance : again recently, the big N bought timed exclusivity of One Piece Red World, released for 3DS in November 2013 and suddenly announced for Vita and PS3 in June! Despite those evil practices, PSVita keeps gaining ground in Japan.
The heart of the problem is that it’s very difficult for 3rd parties to exist alongside Mario, Dragon Quest or Monster Hunter. I have compiled data from the highest selling 3rd party games released in 2014 in Japan, by adding digital sales when available. The average is twice as high on 3DS. However, the standard deviation, which measures the dispersion from the average is four times higher on 3DS. In others word, the risk to flop (or bomba, like we say in gaming circles) is much higher. And if you take off the first of each column (Sword Art Online and Dragon Quest Monster), the average of Vita games sales overtakes the of 3DS, while the standard deviation remains inferior. Consequently, publishers have more to gain by developing on Vita than on 3DS, all the more that they can ask a higher price and achieve a superior digital sales ratio. But in that we are still far from the economic reality, because PSVita games often have a PS3 port releasing as well. I therefore compiled such data, and the conclusion can’t be clearer : the standard deviation jumps but is still under 3DS, and the average of the PS3/PSVita couple surpasses the one of 3DS by far. If we bear in mind that Playstation games are traditionally 10-20% more expensive than 3DS games, Sony platforms are then much more interesting for publishers in terms of revenue.
The standard deviation also reveals that Vita gamers are more predictable, more homogeneous than the mainstream audience which follows fleeting trends. Developers and publishers know that the otaku audience is fond of their Vitas, and that they won’t accept inferior 3DS version, graphically poor and lacking trophies or screenshots. The two only known JRPGs that have been released on both systems (Conception II and Exstetra) turned out to be a 70-80% market share for Vita.
If this trend continues, 3DS could very well end up like Wii : a system that wins the market but loses on the gaming side. A fallen idol outshined by a new one.