Confident Sony revels in PS4’s lead over Xbox One – but Vita must turn goodwill into sales

PS4 and Vita

While PS4 continues to outstrip its rival Xbox One, the same certainly can’t be said of Vita and its contemporary, 3DS.

PlayStation Vita is loved by many, but owned by relatively few. While 3DS is a very different proposition, the fact remains that in the handheld space it has outsold Sony’s handheld significantly, and with almost nonchalant ease.

So this morning’s PlayStation Breakfast Briefing was an attempt to enliven Vita’s fortunes a little. While the announcements made atop London’s Centrepoint couldn’t match the spectacular views of the capital, they will go some way to improving Vita’s appeal, though it is difficult to see a complete turnaround for the handheld.

The expected new Vita model was confirmed for a UK release on February 7 at around £180, sporting a cheaper screen, slimmer form factor and built-in 1GB of memory. A £20 indie bundle including ten games, including Thomas Was Alone, Velocity Ultra and Limbo, represents another shot in the arm for indies on the handheld. It’s a highly seasonal console, said Sony, with sales “exploding” at Christmas and boosted by the arrival of PS4. But it still can’t touch 3DS for sheer sales volume, and the forthcoming slate lacks a true system seller. Family-friendly titles like Invizimals: The Alliance, PlayStation Vita Pets and the LEGO movie videogame will all cater for a younger audience, while Hohokum, Big Fest, Helldivers, Destiny of Spirits, Murasaki Baby, Final Fantasy X / X-2 and Football Manager Classic 2014 are each aimed at more dedicated players.

More intriguing was the preceding string of graphs which, happily for Sony, all went up and up. UK boss Fergal Gara had been told by his superiors last year that PlayStation must reclaim the UK market, and through a strong year for PS3 and the launch of its successor, it had made great strides in that regard. Sony’s volume share of the console market – including handheld – has gone up from 23 per cent two years ago to 40 per cent. On home console, PlayStation has moved from a “humble” 32 per cent to 47 per cent and reclaimed its place as market leader, said Gara.

Sony took great delight in confirming a hardware sales ratio in PS4’s favour.

PS3 is still behind its great rival 360 in the UK, and Gara revealed that the hardware ratio last gen to date between PS3 and Xbox 360 was 1:1.51. “That’s pretty damn disappointing,” said Gara. “We’ve been chipping away at that, and it was worse than that a couple of years ago,” he said.

That turned around with the arrival of PS4. Sony’s combative approach to pitching the console was described as if the platform holder were squaring up to Microsoft in a prize fight – Gara spoke of “behaving like the challenger” and wanted to “rediscover some grit.”

It has worked so far. “We’ve absolutely reversed that position,” said Gara, revealing hardware sales ratios now in Sony’s favour. For every sale of Microsoft’s new box, 1.5 PS4s had been sold so far and Sony re-iterated its lead by repeating that previously-announced 4.2 million global sell-through figure. “Sales surpassed all of our dreams,” said Gara. “Our biggest job in the opening weeks was securing volume. We’re still not in stock at retail and we continue to work on that and we’re very, very pleased with the results.”

For 2014, deals with Ubisoft and Activision will see PS4 effectively become the ‘lead’ platform for Watch Dogs and Destiny, and Sony’s support of indies will continue. PS Plus’ spectacular growth has seen it transform from a “small subscription service to be a pretty damn big one,” said Gara, naturally kickstarted by the arrival of PS4. “Of course, we haven’t launched in Japan and we haven’t got anywhere close to fulfilling demand in many major territories so that [4.2 million] is a surpressed number, and one that will grow considerably from here. The UK is a big chunky part of that and we’re very proud that we got our fair share of stock, but it’s still not enough. We want more and we need more.”

So PlayStation’s home console business is in rude health and PS Plus goes from strength to strength. Sony has retained its air of easy confidence, too, and relished showing off those relative home console sales ratios while Microsoft remains relatively silent. Vita remains a challenging prospect, though. Sony’s handheld has plenty of goodwill from dedicated players and indie developers alike, but that hasn’t translated into all that many sales. Even with today’s announcements, that looks unlikely to change.