Is PS Vita Discouraging Downloadable Games?

Sony's pricey proprietary memory cards could be considered a gouging of gamers, a retail partner pacifier, and a calculated business strategy all at once.

It has been a week since the PlayStation Vita officially launched, and I'm pretty smitten with the system. Hot Shots Golf is as pleasingly approachable and addictive as ever, Touch My Katamari breathes new life into a series that has been stale ever since its second installment, and Rayman Origins and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 offer tantalizing reproductions of console titles I never really devoted sufficient time to the first time around. Also, twin analog sticks! Finally!

Touch My Katamari's King of All Cosmos reacts to Sony's PS Vita memory card pricing.

Despite that, there's one aspect of the system that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and that's the proprietary memory cards. Rather than rely on inexpensive industry standard SD cards for data storage, Sony saddled the Vita with its very own memory cards that don't work with anything else and aren't made by anyone else. Sony told Joystiq the reason for the proprietary format was to fight piracy. Sony told GameSpot that the proprietary format lets it better control performance and quality to "make sure that the gamer has the best possible experience." What Sony isn't telling anyone, but what should be readily apparent to everyone, is that the proprietary format cuts out competition and lets Sony charge grossly inflated prices for PS Vita memory cards.

What Sony isn't telling anyone, but what should be readily apparent to everyone, is that the proprietary format cuts out competition and lets Sony charge grossly inflated prices for PS Vita memory cards.

What bothers me most about this isn't that Sony's proprietary pricing is essentially anti-consumer; it's that Sony is hurting its customers for little gain to its bottom line (possibly none at all). The memory card pricing may bolster Vita peripheral sales in the short term, but it will stifle software sales in the long run. By putting a premium on memory cards, Sony is forcing customers to overcome multiple intent-to-purchase hurdles every time they buy something. They have to consider whether or not the actual asking price of the content they want is worth it, and then they have to ask whether the amount of space it takes up is worth it. It's hard enough convincing someone to download Uncharted: Golden Abyss for $50, but when they realize that game will take up 3.2GB of a $20 4GB memory stick, that's bound to give a person pause. Maybe not a long enough pause to actually download a 3.2GB game, but long enough to reconsider making a purchase.

If Sony is lucky, those who think twice about downloading the game will still buy the retail version. That puts $50 in Sony's pocket, but with a slimmer margin than a download due to the cost of the physical goods, distribution, and the retailer's cut. And that's Sony's best-case situation for Uncharted, a system-selling game that people will jump through a few hoops to seek out. Consider what happens to sales of all the other games, music, and movies that Sony offers only through the PlayStation Network, when players are forced to consider their available memory card space as a resource just as finite as their money. Those transactions, all of which put money in Sony's pocket, might never happen at all.

Sony's proprietary memory card pricing discourages digital sales, which means gamers are more likely to buy retail versions, which means there will be more copies of the game that could show up used in GameStop, undermining new sales and driving prices down prematurely. Considering the lengths to which Sony has gone to try to undermine the used game market (an online pass for Patapon?!), this points to an embarrassingly muddled corporate strategy.

I suspect the real conflict here isn't between Sony and gamers; it's between Sony and its retail partners. The PS Vita is the biggest threat to the brick-and-mortar distribution system to date. Every single game released on the system will be available digitally on the same day as it appears in stores. In many cases, the digital version will sell at a discount (slight though it may be) from a physical copy. And this isn't a fire-and-forget experiment like the PSP Go. This is Sony's flagship portable for the next seven years or so, the bigger and better follow-up to the 75-million-selling PSP. No system before this enabled players to cut the retail tether so easily.

That said, Sony still needs the GameStops, Best Buys, and Wal-Marts of the world to carry its games, systems, and accessories, because digital distribution of games isn't accepted or easy enough just yet for the company to justify a complete switch-over. So how does Sony release a system designed to make its retail partners obsolete without alienating them while they're still useful? Pushing gamers to brick-and-mortar stores for expensive high-margin accessory sales is one way to do it, and there are no more expensive Vita accessories than the system's memory cards. It also helps that memory cards are mysteriously mandatory for a number of titles, that save data can't be stored on the retail games themselves like they can with 3DS games, and that even devoutly digital gamers who want nothing more than to avoid retailers will need to drop considerable money at those same stores for memory cards.

An 8GB memory card was fine for the PSP, but PS Vita games and media will eat that space up awfully quick.

The somewhat counterintuitive strategy seems to be working immediately out of the gate, Electronic Entertainment Design and Research analyst Jesse Divnich told GameSpot.

"Certainly the reliance on memory cards is an olive branch to retailers, which receives more profit on accessory sales than any other category," Divnich said. "For a $100 memory card, Sony only receives $40 to $50, the rest is all retail margins…Fortunately for Sony, we are seeing memory card attach rates above 85 percent, so this shouldn't hinder digital sales for those that bought a Vita; however, it could hinder sales from consumers who have decided not to purchase a Vita due to the total cost of purchase."

Divnich speculated that Sony could get around the memory card issue by either including internal memory in a future configuration of the system, or tossing memory sticks into the hardware packages in lieu of a price cut. The current $250 version of the PS Vita doesn't come with a memory card, although for a limited time, the $300 3G-enabled version of the hardware will pack in an 8GB card.

The most frustrating thing about Sony's proprietary PS Vita memory cards is that they are more an intentional flaw than a simple oversight. Paying $100 for a memory card instead of a handful of games is bad enough, but Sony is sticking it to consumers to stay in good graces with retailers. And it's downright infuriating to see two places we players support with our money show their gratitude by joining forces to bend us over a barrel.

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Discussion

301 comments
WillyChong
WillyChong

PS Vita with Uncharted Golden Abyss package was sold for RM800 included a 4gb memory card slot. Around 200USD, which is pretty good, sadly my budget was tied for the upcoming iPhone , and along with its Infinity Blade series, I felt that I no longer a hardcore gamer I once was , and due to the fact my tuition students, who's are kids prefer using a small phone game compared to my PSP, which make their parents unimpressed, and I simply love game that simple, yet cool in overall design.

SicklySunStorm
SicklySunStorm

Well I'm loving my Vita, particularly since I got it free with a new mobile phone, and it came with a free 4gb memory card to get me started, so all is well. From what I've seen, many retailers have been packing in the 4gb stick themselves and even discounting the RRP of the item (whether it's due to sale numbers or not, I don't know, but either way, those who are going to possibly buy one with some of their hard earned cash should be pretty happy that they should be getting a good deal, despite what the news and the RRPs out there say. Yes, the memory cards ARE expensive, and when I want another, it's gonna suck, but it seems the initial hurdle of requiring one for operation has been met by many retailers that I've seen in the UK at least. Anyone with any doubts just needs to get one in their hands, fire up Uncharted and watch that beautiful gold amulet spinning in the lbottom right hand corner and tell me that isn't awesome. There will be so many more awesome games for this system, that I just can't wait for them. Once we have GTA, Killzone, Yakuza and God of War on this, my life with it will be complete. All the other great games will be just a bonus.

HeroKane
HeroKane

I dont like the cost of PS Vita memory cards either, But when you look at the market they are not that different from from other price models. Android tablet with 16GB = 299.99 same tablet with 32GB= 399.99. Apple IPAD with 32GB= 599.99 same Ipad with 64GB= 699.99. and Ipod touch is not that much better. So quit trying to make a big deal about it and get over it.

Purify
Purify

Guess what system sales just dropped to floor, that's right the PS VITA is a complete failure!!!!!JAJAJAJAJA, why not making a complete article about that. It more than clear now that it takes more than a 1000 ARM processors to make good games.

dman123_1
dman123_1

But if someone was to buy a 32 gb memory stick and couldn't afford some games to go with it, wouldn't that make them want to look at alternative options (ie pirate them)?

mav_destroyer
mav_destroyer

well if they provide an itunes like software where gamers can back up their games and saves to a computer and and swap them around on the memory card when its full then it might be worth it. but knowing their fears of piracy and the like that probably won't happen... at the moment deleting and re-downloading your game interchangeably to manage space on a tiny memory card might not be the most convenient thing for all gamers

Thirdrail1
Thirdrail1

I agree completely. These memory cards are all tactics, and no love. Despite the fact that we're the 1.2 million people who just kept this launch from being a complete disaster for both Sony and Gamestop. Considering the apathetic shrug the system has received so far, you'd think we'd be considered valued customers, and be treated accordingly.

Craigslist is our equalizer. Sell your used games directly, buy other used games directly. Neither Gamestop or Sony make any money on a CL deal. Even if it only put a 10% dent in their Vita profits, it's enough money to make both of them rethink their strategy.

Philly04
Philly04

C'mon Sony! At least few hundred MB for game save space. Without a network connection it's just a fancy touch screen paper weight + two joysticks. In the future I bet the 32GB won't be enough, with memory cards going up to 320GB, discontinuing the others. If Sony made shoes it'll be in "Sony measurements" with specialized "Sony laces." If we're lucky maybe the future outdated memory cards (4-16 GB) could be used in the shoe ლ(ಠ_ಠლ ).

I'll wait for the update to allow full backwards compatibility then I'll tackle the lil' sucker. If the Sony God hears me, maybe the PS2 downloadables can be a feature (maybe I should wake up now).

RoadBlockDriver
RoadBlockDriver

So they want me to spend 249$ plus tax for the system then spend another 99$ plus tax for a memory card? LOL eat my shorts Sony.

DrHyde
DrHyde

I got the 8 GB card with the 3G version, but I still plan to get a 32 GB card in the future. For me, the choice to get the card was not for PS Vita games, but PSP/PS One/Minis. This way I can carry a large assortment of games on the card(s). I'll always buy hard copies of the Vita games because I prefer it and in the future I can buy pre-owned and clearance titles on the cheap. The memory cards are only a barrier to entry if you let them be. As it stands at the moment, only two Vita games are download only: Plants Vs. Zombies and Super Stardust. Both those games take up less than 500 MB. So I really don't see the big deal. If you're going to pay $250-$300 for a portable system, you're obviously not going to be too disturbed by investing a little more.

OmegaAK47
OmegaAK47

I agree I got a 32GB card for my Vita. I wish it wasn't so much because of that I wasn't able to buy uncharted because I wanted to save money. I knew that I would fill up smaller card up fast so I went with the 32GB. But if the card wasn't so much money I would have been able to buy more games and fill up the card.

Megavideogamer
Megavideogamer

I'm happy with PSvita and I did get that 4GB memory card that came with the Limited first edition bundle. 4GB included with the PSvita is way better than the Tiny 32mb memory stick duo that came with the Value pack way back in 2005. Thus far the only game I have downloaded is MotorStorm RC which is something like 386mb. I have 4 retail games and mostly plan to use my PSvita memory card for game saves.

mrmad2012
mrmad2012

People forget that when the PSP launched MS pro duo was about the same price, sure we had fakes not long after but even then I would still opt to buy the genuine ones just because with fakes keeping your data safe was like a lottery. I'm sure the prices will come down soon enough. And Physical Vs Digital? regardless of the memory prices and file sizes I would always opt for Physical copies, I dont like to give the console makers any reason to drop physical media from future gens.

Vaev
Vaev

Man screw the downloadable games... you can always fit another Mini or Classic game on even the itsy bitsy 4GB if you wanted, and besides, unique physical media (and hardwarez) is what Sony does best lol. I feel we should be grateful be can still utilize the luxury of extra GB on the Vita, albeit with an initial price surge. Backwards compatibility, remote play, and cross play make the Vita the (handheld gaming!) universal controller I've always wanted. This is coming from a non biased, former Nintendo DSi and glacier GameBoy Advance owner. Vaev Pro Tip: Listen to ' Del the Funky Homosapien - Proto Culture '

samedizombie
samedizombie

I got a Vita at launch and I am really glad I did. The issue over these cards though makes my blood boil. It's bad enough that I actually expect this sort of treatment from Apple, ('cos they sure do love to rip off their customers don't they?) Now Sony are at it and I think it's disgusting, (especially when you consider that I bought a Sony camera last year and it takes both Sony and SD cards.) To answer the question though, in my view, that's going to be "yes."

The_Keyblade99
The_Keyblade99

I have definitely been letting my 3ds collect some dust since this thing came out. Don't get me wrong I love that thing, But if the Vita prices drop, and the games just keep getting better, I can see why you might want one over the 3ds.

twizzickle
twizzickle

COMPARE TO APPLE HARDWARE! Look at all of Apple product's pricing, they seem to get the most money FROM MEMORY UPGRADES. just for comparison: 8 gig itouch 199 32 gig itouch 299 64 gig itouch 399 does 32 gigs of memory really cots $200 to make, NO. its just a pricing model to attract people with the low starting price. and the itouch has less powerful hardware and a worse screen. I think sony is spot on, they have to make money somehow. People who own a vita are gonna buy the memory cards either way. it does't really hurt the downloadable market.

elite22
elite22

@niklev83 You said something about Sony not having any worthy competition? The fact right now about Sony is that although its console sales are doing just fine, the company overall is seeing a pretty significant profit loss for the 2011 year, a 3.2 billion dollar profit loss, specifically losing ground to Microsoft and Xbox 360 (worthy competitor). Even though \$268 million of that is due to the earthquake that hit, another \$170 million has to do with it's PSN security breach which was said to be the largest data leak in history. But the rest contributes to the fact that it's losing popularity due to its lackluster array of main titles. There aren't enough. Yes Sony "strives to create an innovative and quality product", but it's arrogant to say it's the only company that does, because it's not. The PS Vita might be an impressive piece of technology, but like everything else that comes out (iPods, phones, etc.) it still needs to iron out the kinks. Especially the issues this article tackles. And they'l probably have a new Vita version out in a year. And before anyone starts retaliating, I'm not arguing against Sony, just niklev83, know the facts first.

mat989
mat989

Fanboys, STOP thumbing down everyone that says "3DS is better than Vita" and vice-versa and do a little of research instead of saying lies and what-you-think-it-happened. Look, both portables are awesome. Only thing is the 3DS came an year before Vita and it's focused on a different public range. Both portables have their flaws, but hey, Vita had 1 year to analyse the 3DS and make a better portable, just like when Xbox360 came an year before PS3, they had time to not make the same flaws on their console and add different features on it. Sony ought to make something about games pricing, sure...Vita won't survive only because of Uncharted and Wipeout fans, just like the 3DS wouldn't survive just with Mario, Zelda and Star Fox... Don't like the 3DS? Don't buy it....Don't like the Vita? Don't buy it....it's simple, yet you guys waste your time debating who's the best and who's the worst...

crazydavey
crazydavey

as soon as i brought me vita and saw the size of the memory cards i thought how much space would it have took to build inner memory within the vita itself, not alot but sony is all about taking our money. so, do we buy the games at 40 quid or download for a few quid less and fork out for these expensive cards? tell u what im going to do, im going to stick to the 5games ive already brought and then buy all my games 2nd hand off ebay, all i will use the cards for is for my game saves. if sony want me to buy my games online then they will have to cut the cost of downloadable games by alot more. so sony, the choice is yours, if you want to continue taking my money then you will have to cut the costs and stop robbing us, otherwise all my games will be brought 2nd hand and once in a blue moon i may by the odd memory card here and then. hope you all follow suit, im sick of being ripped off.

ClaudiusCaesar
ClaudiusCaesar

As long the price for a downloadable game is the same as for the retail one, there is only one reason to buy it: have more than one game in one card. But, it's not physical collectible and it's not resalable.

lamech777
lamech777

Very informative article, gives a lot of insight and makes you consider all aspects carefully before jumping on this new $ony product.

salty500
salty500

correct me if i am wrong but am sure when the psp first came out a decent sized sd card was about $100, the only reason we are all shocked now buy the price of the new prop card is because sd cards are so cheap now.

niklev83
niklev83

I know I will definitely sound like a 'fan-boy' when I say this but here goes: I love Sony, for many reasons most people are not aware of. It's one company that strives to create an innovative and quality product for consumers. I've always respected them for this and will continue to support the company till the end of days! ...Why?, because honestly I haven't seen a rival company worthy of being Sony's competition. This topic has turned into a discussion on how expensive the new memory media is... well despite if you go the digital download way or decide to buy the games off of shelves, I would actually be more interested in finding out if higher capacity memory cards are in the works (like: 64gb, 128gb)... Because as surprised as I am at seeing a "nail" sized memory stick hold 32gb's (which is another great achievement by Sony), I want to get an even larger capacity memory card, to hold all those games i will be buying for my PSVita! One thing the PSVita does seem to really lack is a hefty sum of internal storage built-it. But it's ok, if they produce those higher capacity cards down the road. I am happy for Sony more than ever this time around, and hope that people will see Vita's amazing potential and create the need for developers to build us many beautiful games, all for us the gamers! :)

Kenshin0011
Kenshin0011

@Intellips: Yes, I have heard the term and it does not apply to me. Why? Because I still play the system as much as an owner. I haven't just merely tried it out at the demo station at gamestop, I play it several times a week with more than one game.

ChrisBlaze00
ChrisBlaze00

I completly agree with this whem I got my vita 3g with memory stick I planned on geting a game from the psn but why bother if it takes up half my card if for 5 bucks more I get a real copy and then sell it for a little money later. So how big of a price drop will the cards get.

Intellips
Intellips

@kenshin0011 So you don't OWN a Vita. Have you heard of the term "cognitive dissonance"? It's the crux of fanboyism. Look it up.

Intellips
Intellips

@liquidsolid The power of the device is very much relevant to this discussion, as it directly influences the price, and that is what we are talking about. As I said before, you get what you pay for, hence why I get annoyed at all this Vita bashing around the price, and it's constant comparison to the 3DS. They both provide distinct experiences, and as such should not be directly compared. Would we expect a PS3 to cost the same as a Wii? They're both gaming consoles aren't they?

anybodykilla15
anybodykilla15

wait a minute my laptop has more ram and dedicated graphics memory than the vita. but no 3d, nintendo still innovating, sony still replicating

poncho174
poncho174

I want a psvita but i am not going to pay around 350 dollars(after buying a memory card and game) just to play one game. I am going to wait until the price comes down, and sony feels they have stuck it to consumers long enough.

Kenshin0011
Kenshin0011

@Intellips: No, I am not kidding you. (btw I also own a 3DS and play my roommate's Vita) But I guess I should rephrase, the 3DS isn't as "powerful" as the Wii because it doesn't have to be to have better graphics. It does not need to consume as much power or output larger resolutions because of its size, but can still pack a graphics punch with its specs. You can currently see this with the smart phones out there that have games with current gen graphics. There is no "vast superiority" in graphics between the 3DS and Vita this time around. There WAS a huge difference back in the day with the PSP and DS, but that is NOT the case now. Just look at resident evil and super mario 3D land. They are very comparable to the console counterparts. And just wait until Kid Icarus hits, it's going to blow critics away with its crisp graphics and MOST IMPORTANTLY amazing gameplay, it's going to be a huge hit! Especially because it's a lot more like SSB than people realize (which is also expected because the creator is the same).

deathblow3
deathblow3

funny if they had not added a 8 gig mem stick with the psvita wireless model i would not have bought one at all. because of the price of memory when the prices drop i will get another mem stick

itchyflop
itchyflop

@shadowhunter0 dude i wasn't being flippant i welcome your advice and input, i just wanted to know how the next gen phones achieve it now ?? Surely Sony have to add something so we can, or will they market and keep it as a hardcore gaming device only ?? I mean you can share video's on the Sony social vita only sites, i was inquisitive on how they do that too, thanks for the reply :)

liquidsolid
liquidsolid

@Intellips the power of the device is irrelevant, that is if you are willing to look at the games industry from a business perspective rather than debating power or making it more personal than it should be. Besides I don't see the point in worshiping something that is essentially bits of circuitry encased between metal and plastic. (that is not the issue here) Both are designed for delivering games on the go. the true deciding factor is not power but the quality of games available and since its portable, how efficient the system makes use of the finite battery life they have on offer. History has shown that the most successful devices in the games industry are usually the ones that were considered underpowered compared to their respective peers. the fact remains, the 3ds and vita both need each other, why, because competition is healthy without it things start to stagnate when there is little to no opposition.

slippship
slippship

@Intellips Well said, but I must admit the 3DS is little more than an ornament at the moment. Mainly because of my VITA. Even though they are all different they are all good in their own right, and I have them all.

Intellips
Intellips

@kenshin0011 Are you kidding me? The 3DS is more powerful than the Wii? From where did you pull this from? I've yet to see a game on the 3DS that looks as good as say Mario Galaxy, or the new Zelda. As someone that OWNS both a 3DS and a Vita, the superiority of the Vita is so vast that comparing both systems is absurd. Because one is clearly better than the other doesn't take away merit from either. Again, as someone that purchased a 3DS at launch, the Vita is much better value at launch especially for someone like me that paid the same price for each machine. Regarding mentioning the eshop etc, these are points that you originally brought up, hence why I'm refuting them.

captainwonton
captainwonton

Excellent article, no personal opinions, facts and legitimate complaints that in the end gets you so involved you can feel that very same anger against sony and retailers; and about the issue at hand I think Sony always thinks gamers will just keep showing the money as long as you give them a big powerhouse and a great amount of games, but in reality buying a console these days is not that simple, since you know you are going to have fun with whatever system you choose, it's really a matter of money, so you might wanna get the vita, but if you can't afford it chances are you are going to buy something else that will forever make you forget the vita, so better pricing, better sales bottom line.

KingOfTheNubeis
KingOfTheNubeis

I got my Vita As a Gift.When my sister purchased it from Amazon they were bundling it with a 8meg card for free.They soon stopped that. You will prob'ly see something like that from the big suppliers after a few months again. Like all things when they 1st come out,it always cost a bit more.

DemonsWrath11
DemonsWrath11

Welcome to sony, the world's stupidest technology sales company and the one fueled by the most greed. Enjoying having your unwillingly ripped from your pockets, have a nice day. I have to say I agree with crazy N4 there. Anyone who has a vita is really only going to need a 8 gb card, we should boycot everything higher than that until sony lowers its prices. Also if you just want a 4 gb card you should boycot the 8gb and up.

anybodykilla15
anybodykilla15

PS Vita Is the past, camera? touch screen? next thing you know they will have a 3d display of some kind, luckily i chose right with the 3ds, true future tech.

N4o7A
N4o7A

BOYCOTT THEIR MEMORY CARDS!!! :D

DarthRevan
DarthRevan

Why does Sony need to make money on the card? Isn't it enough to make money on the games, right? Isn't that the reason that FIFA costs $50 for the PSVita compared to $5 for the iPad? Sure charge $100 for the memory cards but then charge $25 for games. No complaints here:-)

wowwow27
wowwow27

Sony is large enough to not give a damn if its costly at launch, if you don't like it buy one next year. They will sell them either way. This is how cutting edge tech works (intel launches all of the cpu's for a grand, and eventually they lower to about 250-300 bucks, nothing new).

hugart
hugart

I've been thinking about this for awhile. I understand the move to proprietary tech from their perspective. From ours, we just see it to make piracy harder and a way for them to attempt to make more money. As shoddy as it is, if we want a PSV, then we have to put up with it. On digital copies, I prefer them over hard copies; at least for now. There is nothing saying that you can't finish a game and delete it to free up space for more games since they allow you to re-download a previous purchase at any time. Yes, that may be a hassle for some, but personally, once I finish a game, I rarely go back to it in the immediate future so it really is negligible. In the grand scheme of things, there are always pros and cons to whatever system you choose. So really, either play it or don't and worry about the stuff you can change rather than the crap you can't. It's unfortunate, but Sony isn't going to look at this thread and take anything constructive from it. Start a petition, maybe.

blackman232
blackman232

Me get a PS VITA and a VITA MEMORYcard 32gb and then get GRAVITY RUSH. All other games for PS VITA and for any of these ps3s or 360s or Wiis not even worth my time playing, I hope SONY fails Vita so I can get all for cheaper.

Kenshin0011
Kenshin0011

@Intellips: There is not a massive disparity between the techs. The screen and second analog stick are technically better, yes, but it is not massive. They still both perform dual analog, and they still both have a great screen. PSVita graphics are better, but not by as much as you're saying. The gap between the 3DS and Vita is not as big as it was between the DS and PSP. The 3DS graphics are better than the Wii's, and the Vita's graphics are about the same as the PS3's. So they are pretty close and not different enough to say one is better, especially when it's the games that matter. The PS store may be a bit easier to use, but all that's just a shopping interface. Not a definitive attribute to say one system is a better GAMING system than the other. The eshop still has several great games, that's what matters. The online is also decent this time around, and will be proven to show its muscle when Kid Icarus comes out.

Intellips
Intellips

@liquidsolid Hmmmmm both a BMW M3 and a Hyundai excel are automobiles, designed to be driven around, hence offering essentially the same service.....do you honestly think they are offering the same consumer proposition despite both being cars? Same goes for the Vita and 3DS. You get what you pay for.