Why Does Sony Make it So Hard for Me to Say Nice Things? Memory Card Edition

You might not think so from my posts, but I am really cheering for Sony with the Playstation Vita. I canceled my pre-order of the system, but that was more about the fact that there were no bonus offers … and Amazon tends to be great with those so I figured I would just wait until the new year to see. The system looks great hardware wise, seems to offer tons of gameplay possibilities, and ultimately I think that more gaming options means better competition means better games for all of us!

But this weekend I have discovered yet another thing that makes me sigh and realize that Sony seems destined to repeat the mistakes of the past because they are trying to AVOID repeating the mistakes of the past. Does that make sense? Let me know later, but let me state my case first.

Piracy was an issue that nearly killed the original PSP – very early on a hack was discovered that would allow you to load ‘custom firmware’. So far, not too bad. It also allowed creative folks to put together so-called ‘homebrew’ apps which expanded the utility of the PSP. Again, no issue. But what REALLY happened was that floodgates of piracy were opened, and a seeming never-ending battle between Sony and hackers ensued. In late 2006 people wondered if the PSP was ‘done’ … and while it lived on and had decent hardware sales, developers were never happy with software sales. Because, of course, it had become the #1 piracy destination, making the PC look like a safe haven.

To combat piracy with the Vita, Sony undertook a number of changes to the hardware: they are using a new proprietary game card rather than the UMD disk; they don’t have a removable battery; there is no video output; and they are using a new proprietary memory card format.

The battery is a known source for hackers to target a system. In fact, on the otherwise secure PSP-3000 it was the only way that hackers found a way to get into the system.

As for the memory, Sony said recently that they were going first-party proprietary for a couple of reasons:

Sony Division 2 Software Development Head Muneki Shimada said that they needed a format with “guaranteed performance,” as the read/write speeds of cards across multiple formats and publishers can vary. By sticking with the proprietary route, Sony could “ensure the security” of the platform.

The image above is from GameStop, and shows just how expensive the memory cards are. But should you care? DEFINITELY! Why? Take a look at the description:

Store your game saves, PSN downloads, and personal media with the 4GB PlayStation®Vita Memory Card. Save up to* 1 – 2 full PlayStation®Vita games, 3 movies, 1,142 songs, or 800 photos and take them wherever you go.

The Official PlayStation®Vita Memory Card
Required for most game play on PlayStation®Vita
Store game saves, PSN downloads, and personal media
Provide storage for up to*:
1 – 2 full PS Vita games
3 Movies
1,142 Songs
800 Photos
* Or any combination of the above media. Calculations based on 1.75GB – 3.5GB average for full PS Vita games, 1.3GB average for movies, 3.5MB average for songs, and 5MB average for photos.

So you pretty much HAVE to buy a memory card, as the PS Vita comes with NO internal memory, unlike the PSP Go which had 16GB internal memory. So your $250 initial purchase for the PS Vita immediately turns into close to $300. Also, because Sony is locking out other vendors, what do you think will happen to pricing? Yep – going nowhere! With no Sandisk to compete, Sony has no reason to drop prices.

To put it in context, the 16GB version of the Kingston DataTraveler I recently reviewed is $17 … and 16GB of PSVita storage is $70!

I can understand the argument from Sony – people complained about the anemic library, certainly I did. To get more games, developers need to be assured of sales and returns on investment – we are already losing way too may studios each year. Having a system with very low piracy helps protect the percentage of sales – but cannot ensure the NUMBERS.

So Sony is stuck between trying to ensure that people can afford the system and protecting their profits and those of their partners. I am not foolish enough to say that they shouldn’t aim for maximum profitability, especially since I am assuming they will see price erosion sooner than they hope similar to what happened to Nintendo. But as the saying goes, you can’t buy a sandwich with 5% – if Sony doesn’t bring some serious sales volumes, the profitability per unit will not matter.

What do you think? Do you think that the combined pricing of the $250 PS Vita with expensive memory and games that cost $40-50 will make the system a niche product or a failure? Or do you think the hardware power and touch features will be enough to allow Vita to succeed?

Categories: Editorials, Gaming

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