Will Bundling the Borderlands 2 With the New PS Vita Slim Boost Sales?

Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) PS Vita handheld has never enjoyed the success of its more popular full-sized brothers, the PS3 and the PS4. Although the PS Vita has sold 8 million units since its debut in December 2011, it has been crushed by Nintendo's (NASDAQOTH: NTDOY  ) 3DS, which has sold 43.8 million units since February 2011. The PS Vita is also a major disappointment compared to the PlayStation Portable (PSP), which has sold 80.8 million units over the past decade.

In an effort to boost sales of the PS Vita, Sony rolled out a slimmer and brighter Vita, known as the PS Vita Slim, across Japan and Europe over the past few months. The PS Vita Slim includes 1GB of internal memory, has two extra hours of battery life, and is 20% thinner and 15% lighter than its predecessor. However, it swaps out the PS Vita's OLED screen for an LCD one.

Sony's new PS Vita Slim. Source: Sony.

Sony recently confirmed that the redesigned Vita will be released in the U.S. on May 6, in a special bundle that includes Take-Two (NASDAQ: TTWO  ) /2K's Borderlands 2 and an 8GB memory card for $200. The bundled version of Borderlands 2 will also include six DLCs, and be released before the stand-alone retail version, which hits stores on May 13.

That bundle seems like a great deal for gamers. The original PS Vita costs at least $200, the console versions of Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition cost $30 to $40, and an 8GB memory card costs another $30. Unfortunately, customers looking forward to owning one of the brightly colored PS Vita Slims might be disappointed -- the bundled version only comes in black.

Borderlands 2 for the PS Vita. Source: Sony.

Will the PS Vita Slim matter?
Sony has a long tradition of releasing "slim" versions of its home and handheld consoles a few years after their original releases:

Original version

Release date(s)

"Slim" version

Release date

PlayStation

1994

PSOne

2000

PlayStation 2

2000

PlayStation 2 Slim

2004

PlayStation Portable

2004-2011
(4 main revisions)

PSP Go

2009

PlayStation 3

2006

PlayStation 3 Slim

2009

Source: Wikipedia.

The original PSP (PSP-1000) was modified three years into its life cycle -- in 2007 with the PSP-2000 and again in the following year with the PSP-3000. The main upgrade was the addition of several features such as a microphone, headphone jack, more memory (32GB to 64GB), and updated system software. However, the size and form factor of the PSP remained roughly the same.

Sony's big changes with the PS Vita are clearly aimed at tackling Nintendo's 3DS. However, a console redesign doesn't address its key weakness against Nintendo -- its lack of blockbuster titles.

The PS Vita needs better games, not slimmer consoles
The four best-selling PSP games all belonged to Take-Two/Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto and Capcom's Monster Hunter franchises. Those games -- Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, and Monster Hunter Freedom 3 -- have sold a total of 22.8 million units worldwide.

By comparison, the top four games for the PS Vita -- Sony's Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Ubisoft's (NASDAQOTH: UBSFF  ) Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, Activision Blizzard's (NASDAQ: ATVI  ) Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified, and Sony's LittleBigPlanet PS Vita -- have only sold a combined 3.7 million units.

Those sales figures highlight Take-Two and Capcom's importance to Sony. Take-Two's Borderlands 2 definitely isn't a blockbuster on par with GTA, but it's still a popular game that has shipped 7.5 million copies over the past two years. Rockstar also recently released its iFruit app, which interacts with the console version of GTA V, for the PS Vita.

Meanwhile, Capcom recently announced that a PS Vita sequel for Monster Hunter was in the works, while its MMO, Monster Hunter: Frontier G (which was released last year on the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, and PC) will be released for the PS Vita later this year.

Monster Hunter: Frontier G. Source: Gematsu.

The PS Vita is a graphical beast -- its processor is twice as fast as the 3DS and it has four times as much RAM as the 3DS. Unfortunately, the 3DS crushes the Vita in two critical areas -- form factor and games.

The 3DS' stereoscopic 3D screen and dual-screen setup are its killer features. The concept of playing a 3D game without 3D glasses on a portable screen appeals to the masses in the same way the Wii appealed to non-gamers. The PS Vita is equipped with a touch screen and motion sensors, but to many gamers it's just a pocket-sized PS3.

The PS Vita's not down for the count yet
But that doesn't mean that the PS Vita is doomed. Rolling out the PSP Passport in North America (which was canceled in February 2012) to enable backwards compatibility with UMD PSP titles could be a great start. Sony could implement better Cross-Play and Remote Play in PS3 and PS4 games to convince gamers that the PS Vita can substantially enhance the gameplay. Last but not least, the PS Vita TV, the new home microconsole version of the PS Vita, could spark renewed interest in Vita games.

For now, the Borderlands PS Vita Slim bundle is a great deal for gamers looking for a new handheld, but it's unlikely to be a magic bullet to solve Sony's problems. For the PS Vita to truly matter, it needs more appealing games and better connectivity to new PS4 titles.

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