Sony bets gaming market still has room for handheld Vita


Electronics maker seeing increasing competitive pressure from smartphone, tablet games.

Sony Corp. has had its share of challenges of late, but one of its biggest may come this week when the company launches a high-end, handheld game console into the U.S. market.
For Japanese electronics giant Sony, the PlayStation Vita represents a sizable bet that there is still room in the market for a premium, dedicated device you hold in your hands, even with the explosive growth of smartphones like the iPhone that have proven to be popular game platforms of their own. For videogame publishers, they too must assess how much of a market remains for games that can carry a retail price of $40 against a growing raft of titles that cost just $1 — or free, in many cases.
Sony will launch the Vita in the U.S. on Wednesday, though some units were shipped Thursday to those who prepaid for the device.
“I would argue that we’re not blind to the world, and if we didn’t fully believe that there was a great opportunity there, we would not have invested probably the most significant investment that the corporation has made in a dedicated handheld,” said Jack Tretton, chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, which runs the PlayStation business.
Tretton added that videogame players now total more than one billion, with 163 million in the U.S., and those numbers are growing “exponentially.”
“If there are more people in gaming, why wouldn’t there be more people interested in a dedicated gaming device?” he asked in an interview Friday.
The device was first unveiled last summer at the E3 industry trade show. It was launched on the Japanese market on Dec. 17, selling about 350,000 units in its first few days. More than 500,000 have sold in that market to date, according to figures from Sony.
In the U.S., the Vita carries a starting price tag of $250 for a version that connects only to Wi-Fi networks; another version that can also access 3G wireless networks starts at $299. Many of the initial game titles available at launch are priced in the $20 to $40 range.