Earlier this week, Wired had a question-and-answer interview with Sony’s President of Worldwide Studios, Shuhei Yoshida. The Q&A session was focused primarily on questions about the new Vita platform that was released on Wednesday.
The Vita is capable of running the PSP’s failed UMD format, but this feature has been confirmed for use only in the Japanese market. Sony has said that it has no current plans to bring it to the U.S. but left hints that it might come one day.
Unfortunately during this interview, Mr. Yoshida confirmed that this will never happen:
I’m sorry we are not doing it in the States, but there are two factors that contributed to the decision as I understand it. I’m not in a position to make that kind of business decision. The system has been introduced in Japan, where there is a much larger demand for PSP games. When you look at the release schedule of new titles there are still lots of PSP games being released in Japan and being announced for release. Lots of people who are interested in trying Vita are also interested in playing PSP games that they might purchase before Vita comes out, and will not necessarily choose the digital version.
So there is a lot more demand … to introduce a program like that. The other point is that when you look at PSP titles sold digitally in the States or Europe, games are sold for a really reasonable price. You can buy Final Fantasy Tactics for $10. That’s a great price. There are many, many games that are sold at an affordable price. Because people in Japan are not getting the digital copy for free, because it costs us money to develop and maintain the system so we are asking people to pay somewhere between $5 and $10 to receive the digital copy in addition to what they have on the UMD. When you compare that to the price of games here, PSP games in Japan are sold at a much higher price, so people see the value in spending the $5 to $10 to get the digital copy. But when the games are already sold at a lower price in the U.S. we see less value in introducing that kind of system. The combination of the new titles available, or the lack of, and the price difference, the company decided to do that.
The lack of UMD support outside the Japanese market wasn’t the only subject discussed; there was also talk about PS1 titles to coming to the Vita:
The goal was, we get all PSP downloadable games to work on PS Vita, and the PS1 games to work on PS Vita. From a PSP emu standpoint, we are almost there. Ninety-plus percent of PSP PSN games are already on the Japanese store to download. And the team is focusing on getting the U.S. and European launch as good in terms of coverage of the PSP titles on the store. So that’s the focus. Because of that, we are really trying for a high percent of the PSP games to go on the PS Vita for launch in the U.S. and Europe. After that we will shift focus to get PS1 games on PS Vita.
Mr. Yoshida also explained his thoughts about why developers would still focus on the Vita despite the growing competition from mobile phones and the like:
The market is growing and the barrier to entry is so low you see thousands of games coming in on those platforms, Facebook, iPhone or whatnot. It’s not easy to get your game in the mind of consumers. It could be a very small fraction of winners taking all the money. When you look at it that way, it could be riskier to go that way unless you already own the consumers on those platforms and you have an internal way to communicate and cross-promote those games. Compared to a new platform, with still a limited number of titles and there are people who spend money, a good amount of money to purchase new hardware, it’s very likely that they want to get content for those shiny new machines. So there are some publishers who see that as an opportunity as well. While there are still a limited number of titles on a new platform, it may be the best chance to introduce some new [ones].
Analysis: The fact that they’re not going to support UMDs outside the Japanese market still feels like a sucker punch to those who did support the PSP and its UMDs right off the bat. This may cause those people to never buy the Vita, and if they do, it probably won’t happen for a very long time. That they’re bringing many games from the PSP to the Vita for download is a good gesture, but it’ll still be more costly for those who have an extensive UMD library in the long run. I’m sure this is the primary factor as to why the adapter isn’t coming to the U.S.
This is the first time I’ve heard from someone this high up in Sony’s hierarchy say that PS1 games are coming soon. Sony has lost a great deal of money in the hardware market from other divisions, as reported here at Gaming Bus, so it’s no surprise to me that they’re using these creative tactics to generate extra revenue.
I may not agree with their not supporting the UMD format in the U.S. However, I do agree with Mr. Yoshida about his view on games on these social networking and mobile devices in that there definitely seems to be a close niche group of developers in these markets. It’s mainly those who have a lot of money to throw around who do well with new titles, making it almost impossible for new companies to break into this market. This is the name of the game in any market, though it does seem that Mr. Yoshida is trying to make it sound like the Vita will be divine intervention when it isn’t. It’ll likely suffer from these same problems after the front-runners have been established.
The Vita is a powerful handheld device, no doubt about it. However, it seems that Sony is taking a page from the Nintendo playbook here and selling their old games to generate profits. This makes me wonder if Sony’s interests won’t drown out those trying to get ahead on the virtual store and negate everything Mr. Yoshida said the Vita is trying to be. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and it seems to me that the Vita is well on its way there.