The Vita's really going to shine when it launches in the west according to SCE Worldwide Studios head Shuhei Yoshida, who claims Sony expected less enthusiasm in Japan.
"When you look at each title, not many of them really catered toward the Japanese market. Not something where Japanese gamers would say, ‘I have to have that.'"
"What’s potentially working for us for PS Vita in the United States, the kind of games that work really well on PS Vita, the double analog sticks, great graphics on the screen, are the kind of games that people love here," Yoshida told VentureBeat of the upcoming launch.
"Action-adventures, shooters, FPS. We are betting that games like Uncharted or sports games like FIFA, Madden, Call of Duty, these are games that will lead people to look at the features of portable gaming on PS Vita, to have a great experience even compared to console games."
By contrast, the Vita launch line-up didn't really fire up Japanese gamers.
"When you look at each title, not many of them really catered toward the Japanese market. Not something where Japanese gamers would say, 'I have to have that,'" the executive said.
"Uncharted, it’s a great title, one of the big franchises, but it doesn’t really work in Japan. SCE Japan marketing is making an effort, so the awareness is going up, but still, Uncharted 3 sold about 200,000 units. It’s very small sales compared to [other titles]. Call of Duty did like 300,000 or 400,000? And that’s the biggest-selling game made outside Japan," the executive said.
"That’s a hard market, when you see something like Monster Hunter selling like four million units, just in Japan.
"I’m really looking forward to the initial sell-through of PS Vita [in the US],' he added.
Yoshida acknowledged that the Japanese Vita launch had failed to sell through available stock, but said sales are on target for the Japanese market, still dominated by the PSP.
"The sales numbers are within the range that we’ve been expecting," he said.
"Looking very objectively at the market situation there in Japan, especially on the portable, PSP is still very popular. You can see, when you see the new software calendars, every month publishers are launching good product, new products on PSP. And also, they’re still announcing new products coming later this year. PSP is still very alive, still a viable business platform for third-party publishers."
The Worldwide Studios boss admitted the 3DS's sudden splurge of popular titles at the end of the year also hit the Vita launch hard, calling the combination a "perfect storm".
Sony is confident the portable market isn't going anywhere any time soon, despite competition.
"In Japan, portable gaming is actually bigger than the console market."
"Smartphones and tablets are as popular in Japan. Very, very popular," Yoshida said.
"But the key difference when you look at the portable game market is, in Japan, portable gaming is actually bigger than the console market. You all must be very aware."
The executive said Japanese developers struggled with the PlayStation 3 and as the portable market benefited, coming to dominate this generation.
"They really struggled and stayed behind compared to the U.S. and European developers. So they’re not able to produce as many great console titles in this generation as they used to. Instead, they opted for the PSP or the DS, or now the 3DS, because these platforms, at the core level, the hardware, tech level, were much more familiar and comfortable. People started to see the latest, newest iteration of their favorite games coming to portables. Not on the console.
"The result is very predictable: gamers opted for more portable games. It’s a positive cycle that happened in Japan. Publishers saw it and poured more effort into portables. So that’s totally different, as you know, in the states. It’s very difficult to predict or transfer what we’ve seen in Japan to what’s going to happen in the US or Europe."
Yoshida revealed that Japanese sales of the 3G-enabled model were higher at launch as core gamers bought the fanciest option available, but that the two models are beginning to equalise now.
"That’s how, in the US and Europe, we’ve tweaked it a little bit to sweeten the deal for the 3G SKU. Instead of keeping on saying that 3G is good for you, we added some content that people can immediately see the value of, like adding the memory card, adding free game content to download. The hardware is a bit lower now, so they’re willing to try it," he said.
The Vita launches on February 22 in the US and Europe, and February 23 in Australia.