Plugged In

Sales tepid for Sony’s Vita handheld

Plugged In

Sony's next big hope for the handheld gaming market has made its debut in Japan, and while the numbers aren't awful, they aren't exactly stellar, either.

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Playstation Vita (Sony)

More than 321,000 Vita units were sold in its first two days on store shelves, according to Famitsu. That's a bit shy of launch figures for Nintendo's 3DS (371,000), though it nearly doubles what the original PSP boasted when it went on sale seven years ago.

While some will find the decent numbers encouraging, the launch wasn't entirely smooth. Sony reportedly shipped over 700,000 Vita units to retailers, selling under half of them. Further, a number of early buyers have complained about technical problems with their Vitas, ranging from unresponsive touchscreens to system freezes. Sony quickly responded with a software update and an apology.

U.S. gamers can only sit and watch from the sidelines right now. The Vita is loaded with bells and whistles (a 5-inch OLED touch-screen display, a rear touch panel, WiFi and 3G wireless connectivity, motion sensors, rear and front-facing cameras and dual analog sticks), but it's not scheduled to go on sale here until Feb. 22 of next year.

That gives Sony some time to dial in its launch plans in a bid to avoid the fate of the 3DS. Nintendo's 3D system was a stronger seller out of the gate, but once enthusiasts and early adopters (who tend to buy any new technology) had grabbed the device, sales plunged. It wasn't until a significant price cut that the 3DS began to sell in notable numbers.

Sony has hopefully learned a little from Nintendo's misfortunes. While the 3DS launch lineup was paltry, the Vita will hit the States with an array of titles from gaming's biggest franchises backing it up in the launch period, including Uncharted, Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty. (Sony hasn't yet announced which games would launch concurrently with the Vita in the U.S.) Over 100 other titles are already in development for the system.

Of course, the looming threat to the Vita and the 3DS remains multi-function systems like the iPod Touch, which offer significantly cheaper titles as well as the ability to easily do more than play games.

"We believe Vita will serve as key litmus test as to whether consumers still want a dedicated handheld in a world increasingly dominated by smartphones and tablets," says Edward Williams of BMO Capital Markets.

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