The past couple of weeks have brought pretty good news for the frugal gamer. Nintendo slashed the price of their 3DS by $80, and while its current library is lacking you can always count on a Nintendo handheld to deliver in the long run. This past week at Gamescom Sony gave the PS3 a global price cut, a system that already has a fantastic library of games and even more coming down the pipeline this holiday season.
For some reason, though, both of these announcements have undercut the value of Sony’s upcoming Vita handheld. Considering the positive buzz that Sony had built after they announced the $249 price tag for the machine, seeing some of the same people that were once excited by the Vita — especially analysts — rail against its price now is especially confusing.
In each case, though, there are major differences in hardware that make this kind of mindset unfair. While people are certainly free to decide whether they’re willing to pay $249 for a gaming handheld, these comparisons simply don’t make any sense.
Let’s begin with discussing the price differential between the Vita and 3DS. There are obvious reasons to compare the two systems, of course. In fact, I already did in the article linked here, well before we knew what the price of the then-NGP was going to be.
When the price of the Vita was revealed, everyone was excited. The 3DS was $249 at the time, too, and seeing how much more capable the Vita was really drove home how much value packed into its machine. Considering that the 3DS is only slightly more powerful than a PSP while boasting 3D, Nintendo’s handheld suddenly seemed downright overpriced. At its new price point of $169, it’s become reasonable again.
Yet people are suddenly calling for Sony to lower the price of the Vita as well. When you consider the raw hardware — the near-PS3-level graphic capability, the dual analog sticks, a 5-inch OLED touchscreen, a rear touch-pad, and 3G for the $299 model — such a proposition becomes ludicrous. At the price announced at E3, Sony will certainly be selling the Vita at some sort of a loss. Meanwhile, Nintendo makes money on every 3DS sold, even after slashing the price by a third.
If analysts really want Sony to do something to up the perceived value of the Vita after the 3DS price cut, they should be calling for something much simpler: Games sold on the cheap.
The handheld market has changed considerably, with Apple’s iOS platform and Android phones offering many great gaming experiences for just a few bucks, and sometimes for free. Meanwhile, Nintendo has the gall to charge $40 a pop for their games. While a game like Ocarina of Time 3D is a beefed up version of one of gamings greatest accomplishments and merits such a price, mirroring that for Super Monkey Ball 3D is obscene. Not only can the game be completed in no time at all, but its iPhone equivalent, which has more content, can be had for just $3.
Ideally, Sony would have the foresight to sell big-time releases like Uncharted on the Vita for just $30, and convince publishers of smaller scale games (similar to those found on iOS) for even less. If they do, they would go a long way into swinging favor in their direction when the portable market is shifting away from Nintendo.
Meanwhile, the recent PS3 price cut has also raised questions for the Vita. Namely, why would someone want to pay as much, and maybe more, for a Vita as they would for a home console? Once again, people are simply reacting to what they see on the surface.
Obviously, the PS3 is the superior machine in terms of raw power and options. While the Vita seems to come close in terms of visual fidelity, it’s not quite there. The Vita also has fewer buttons than a DualShock 3, and you can’t enjoy its games on a 1080p screen with surround sound like you would with a PS3.
However, that doesn’t mean the price isn’t justified. Simply put, putting the technology you enjoy at home into a shell that you can carry with you anywhere doesn’t come cheap. For example, take a look at Apple’s line of Mac computers. For $1199, you can buy an entry-level iMac desktop or an entry-level MacBook Pro. The iMac is superior in every technical sense — its screen is 8.5 inches bigger, its CPU is way better, and it has a bigger hard drive. That doesn’t make the MacBook a bad purchase by any means, though. It may not be as big or powerful as the iMac, but it has much of the same functionality and is extremely portable.
To bring this thing around full circle, think about the 3DS’s price in relation to the Wii; it has always been the more expensive of the two. When it launched in late March, it was $50 more than Nintendo’s home machine, and $100 more when the Wii’s price dropped in May. Even after getting a price cut of its own, the 3DS is still $20 more than a Wii. While I’m not going to bail on the point that I made just one paragraph above — both of Nintendo’s machines are fairly priced — it’s interesting on what people will focus on or ignore when they want to argue a point.
To reiterate an earlier point, people absolutely have the right to argue that something is too expensive. After all, $250 is a lot of money to spend at any one time, and everyone values these things differently. Instead of making comparisons that aren’t totally there, though, why not decide something’s worth on its own merits? As it stands right now, the PS Vita is an extremely capable piece of tech, and is reasonably priced. Unless the 3DS and PS3 are given away for free, I think that it will do just fine.