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Sony Unveils PlayStation Vita Amid Sales Doubts

Game on for Sony. The Japanese tech giant kicked off domestic sales of its new handheld machine, the Playstation Vita, over the weekend.

But amid the celebrations a major question: Can the new device really compete in a market increasingly dominated by smartphone games?

Sony certainly won’t lose out in terms of functionality. Buyers get a five-inch organic LED touchscreen, motion sensors, 3-G connectivity and even a camera.

The company’s games unit chief, Andrew House, also plays up the product’s social networking abilities.

“We think Playstation Vita is a wonderful combination of the latest network features, the ability to communicate, to link people together and connect them through their gaming experience.”

But the Vita faces some tough challenges – not least a $319 price tag for its basic model.

That could be a tough sell in a bad economy. Rival, Nintendo 3DS, was forced to slash prices this year.

Here’s a bigger problem: Consumers are moving to cheap and even free games played on their mobile phones.

Not promising, especially when Sony is facing a $1 billion loss and badly needs a hit product.

That means it’ll need plenty of people like this. Hardcore gamers prepared to queue for hours to be the first to get their hands on the Vita.

One of the first in line was college student, Yu Kato.

“I got the numbered ticket to wait in line at midnight and spent the last several hours at an internet café. It’s 5:00 AM now.”

Hardcore fans at the event were also raving about the handset’s image quality and the 24 addictive game titles available.

Edward Budge, an analyst at Pelham Smithers Associates, says they’re a breed apart from smartphone gamers.

“What this isn’t is a product that competes with the casual gamer who likes to use Angry Birds on the way to or from work. It’s certainly not the same thing. And the pricing is clearly in any way not compatible.”

Sony has often been the hardcore gamer’s preferred choice. With the Vita, it’s betting that there are enough of them out there not to be seduced by cheap alternatives for their smartphones.