Sony, your retail partners are not really helping you.
So as Vita owners in the west start to celebrate the first anniversary of the console’s release, I thought it might be an idea to look at how some of the retailers in the UK have set their stall out to promote the Vita.
Concrete Vita sales are very difficult to come by, Sony’s only official acknowledgements of sales were the 1.8m in March and 2.2m in June, since then it has been lumped in with PSP sales, but according to this article, the UK was the biggest market in Europe for the Vita (marginally ahead of the French) and since that is where I am from, I went around a few of my local shops to assess what Vita games and accessories were available, and the general situation and how this can grow.
2012 was not a good year for high street video game retailers in the UK, we had the near collapse of GAME and HMV, our biggest stores for games. Gamestation, which was owned by the Game Group was completely absorbed by the parent company and died out altogether as a result. And as we hit 2013, HMV collapsed again and it still faces an uncertain future despite the new owner, with reports that many stores are to close. With the rapid rise of the supermarkets in all areas, but in particular their approach towards gaming, it is certainly very viable that high street games retail could die out and we be left with only these mutli purpose behemoths and online, and specialist toy retailers as the place to get our fix, and that’s not a situation that I personally am looking forward to. A lack of competition cannot be good for anyone, especially a games company that is struggling to get their console to be accepted by the masses.
I am not a business analyst, nor a complete expert by any means, but I do know how important marketing and advertising are to promoting a product. But how much follow up is being done? Who is setting the prices? And where is the direction to ensure that these “partners” are doing their best for you?
As I went around the stores, I did notice that they all do share a similar layout, but nothing that screams out “you must buy me”. When you compare it to the other platforms, most of the spaces were noticeably cramped in comparison.
So starting with GAME, how were they set out? There are a few stores in my area, with about 4 sites within a 15 mile radius. Some unquestionably have a better selection than others, which raises concerns of consistancy somewhat, but my local is easily the best of the bunch. They offer three different bundles starting at £199.99 and had a reasonable selection of titles available. But they only had the stand as shown, the 3DS had almost three times the store space. Many of the games shown under the top five were pre-owned and it was by no means a full selection of titles available. When the Vita launched, nearly every GAME had a demo pod. Where are these pods now? They would probably come in quite useful.
HMV have had their troubles, as it has been well documented. My wife went into our local store earlier this month to use our gift vouchers which they are now accepting, but couldn’t get what she wanted. She was advised that due to the current “issues” they are having difficulties in obtaining new products from suppliers. Whether this was just the individual at the store or the general state of play, I do not know. But what I do know is that their display for the Vita was probably the second best that I had seen on my journey around.
They had a selection of around 14 different Vita titles on display but only one Vita pack, which was the Assassin’s Creed bundle, priced at £250. Many of the games were priced “reasonably” but others were just crazy. But nothing on here is screaming out to be purchased, it’s just sitting on the shelf. There was no information around the stand itself to try to inform you what it is about, and again the Nintendo section dwarfed this.
Toys ‘R’ Us is a well known toystore with over 60 stores nationwide. I seldom use them though, as they are very dated, and although they seem to stock a wide variety of toys in general, their gaming selection is very basic. The Vita section was actually better than the Wii U section, and I have often wondered if anyone that works there actually knows what they are doing, no offence to any potential staff reading. But having noted that the Vita section was better than the Wii U, that is not saying it was great.
Two bundles on offerwhich included a game, a 4GB card and an accessory pack, one for £250 and one for £280, neither of which being the 3G model and very little information, and 9 games on display. What was interesting was that they were the only place I found selling the PSP-e model, for £90 with a game and that had a free standing cardboard advertisement. It was like they are trying to push that more.
Argos is the biggest retail and catalogue based store in the UK, and they change their selections frequently through new catalogue launches or additions, so although they don’t adapt to change immidiately, they do refresh their products. As they have just issued a new selection of goods, it would be a great time to see what was available, right? No, not quite. 7 games in total, nothing from the upcoming selection (bearing in mind the next catalogue will be out after many games have been released, including Soul Sacrifice) and one bundle. The Vita barely scrapes a page.
We will be moving on to the supermarkets now, and as they consume every industry in their path and force space in their aisles for every new line they add, could they ultimately be the only place for gamers to buy their experiences from in the future? If this is the state of things for the Vita, then I hope not as collectively they have a very poor collection overall between them. Morrisons didn’t even have any Vita stock at all.
Sainsbury’s selection was pitiful to say the least, but at least they had something. Although having the Little Big Planet bundle that they were selling at £189 before Christmas for £230 and two games doesn’t really amount to very much.
The games available were priced reasonably as you would expect from arguably the cheapest supermarket, and some were priced similarly to some online price points, Most Wanted was £23 for example compared to £35 nearly everywhere else. This indicates that they do seem to react better to online habits as well as other retailers, but the selection still suffered.
Closing this of with Tesco, the biggest of them all, so you would expect a decent selection there, wouldn’t you? Not quite. My local is one of the largest “Extra” style stores in the country, yet they had just three games in total, FIFA 13, Assasin’s Creed and these were mixed in with the PS3 section. There were two bundle offers, The Black Ops Declassified and Little Big Planet ones, both for £219 and a 4GB card. But the board advertising it was sideways! It hardly suggests a level of care to a product that they are selling, and to be honest I was quite disappointed with it.
One thing that all of the stores featured suffered with was clear direction. Nothing here tells you about the Vita, how powerful it is, what the best games are, the PSN and online experiences. I have said for a while that the Vita is struggling with its identity, and whilst I have no doubt that 2013 will finally help the Vita to realise what it can do, especially with the potential connectivity with the recently announced PlayStation 4, but the public still need to know what it is.
I also know that retailers cannot stock every single game, that would be silly too. But since the vast majority of these games also share a PSN release, some clever placement of this information would sell PSN codes in stores perhaps, and shift units from the digital collection but you would be informing people of a far larger library, especially if you spin it to hundreds of games with the Minis, PS Ones and PSP titles in addition to almost 100 Vita titles. All the stores are doing is suggesting that you have not much to offer, as is quite often the general assumption.
I don’t know what resources Sony have to push at these shops pushing their products, I do know that when you are setting an RRP for the PS3 at cheaper than the Vita, it is either devaluing one, or highlighting an over inflated price on the other, and these siblings being next to each other in the shelves, although logical, will not help either. People will determine that the PS3 has more to offer than something with a limited selection of games (as would understandably be assumed, given the selections available) and the price.
Fergal Gara said ahead of Q4 2012 that we would be seeing a price cut in 2013. The Japanese market just received this, but the is no immidiate indication that this will be repeated here this quickly, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later. Bundles need to be looking more attractive, and an 8GB card should be the memory card of choice, as a 4GB is relatively redundant especially if the bundle packs a download code instead of a physical copy.
You have much excitement with the already announced titles of Killzone Mercenary, Tearaway and Soul Sacrifice, and the aforementioned potential link up with the PS4 – where the intention is to have ALL PS4 games running on the Vita, the true realisation of remote play – but you really need to be ramming this down everyone’s throats. We do our bit here, as do a few of our friends, but come on, you do need to help yourselves. And sort these shops out.
Before it is too late to gain some momentum.