Sony is intensifying its push in handheld gaming with a gadget aimed at hardcore players looking for something with a bit more punch than "Angry Birds," "Words With Friends" and other smartphone pastimes.
The PlayStation Vita, already available in Japan, debuts in the U.S. and Europe on Wednesday. A basic, Wi-Fi version will retail at $250, while one that can access 3G cellular networks will go for $300 plus monthly service fees from AT&T.
Sony Corp. is promoting the device with a $50 million marketing blitz "everywhere gamers are and where the general population is," said Jack Tretton, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America.
Tretton acknowledges it won't be an easy sell.
People have grown accustomed to playing games on handheld devices that also make phone calls, shoot videos, connect to the Internet, play songs and send text messages. The devices do practically everything but wash your socks.
Why buy a gadget that does only one thing?
"Ultimately, if you consider yourself a gamer, you are going to find yourself migrating up the food chain to dedicated gaming consoles and the Vita," Tretton said.
Don't tell that to Christian Thomas, a 20-year-old New York University student who tried out the Vita at a temporary lounge Sony set up to promote the system. At the "social club" in Manhattan's trendy Lower East Side, players were able to try out Vita before it goes on sale.
"I don't see myself carrying it around," Thomas said, while playing "Marvel Vs. Capcom 3." "I'm content just picking up 'Bejeweled' on my iPhone."
That's even though he called the Vita beautiful and said it's easily the best handheld gadget he's played with.
The Vita launch is an important one for Sony, although it likely won't be as big as the debut of a new gaming console. Sony has not announced the next PlayStation, but Nintendo Co. is planning to come out with its Wii U late in the year.
As a device, the Vita is sleek and powerful, melding the console-like controls that gamers are used to with touch screens common in mobile devices. Its dual analog sticks are a first for a handheld device and a must-have for shooter games played from a first-person perspective. Not only does the Vita's main screen respond to touch, but it also has a touch screen in the back that offers gamers an entirely new way of controlling gameplay.
The Vita has a 5-inch screen, front- and rear-facing cameras and a quad-core processor, which is used in the fastest tablet computers. The Vita also connects to the PlayStation 3, so players for the first time can play the same game regardless of whether they are using a console or a handheld system.
"It's a very good video game platform," said Colin Sebastian, an analyst at Baird.
That said, he believes the market has "largely moved beyond this type of experience."