After the massive success of Nintendo's Game Boy line of handheld game consoles throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, with little in the way of market competition, and Sony's massive success with its PlayStation and PlayStation 2 home video game consoles around the same time, Sony decided to enter the handheld market as well. In 2004, it released the PlayStation Portable (PSP) to compete with the Nintendo DS as part of the seventh generation of video game consoles. After a slow start in the worldwide market, it was invigorated in Japan with multiple releases in the Monster Hunter series. With the series being less popular in western regions, it failed to revive the platform in the same way. The PSP ended up being a mixed result for the company. It was seen as a success in that it was the only handheld video game platform that had ever significantly competed with Nintendo for market share in a meaningful way, selling almost 80 million units in its lifespan, roughly the same amount as Nintendo's Game Boy Advance had during the sixth generation of video game consoles. Despite this, it had still only managed to sell a little over half of what its actual market competitor, the DS, had sold, which was over 150 million units by the end of 2011.
Rumors of a successor to the PSP came as early as July 2009 when Eurogamer reported that Sony was working on such a device, which would utilize the PowerVR SGX543MP processor and perform at a level similar to the original Xbox. Through mid-2010, websites continued to run stories about accounts of the existence of a "PSP 2". Reports arose during the Tokyo Game Show that the device was unveiled internally during a private meeting during mid-September held at Sony Computer Entertainment's headquarters in Aoyama, Tokyo. Shortly after, reports of development kits for the handheld had reportedly already been shipped to numerous video game developers including both first-party and third-party developers to start making games for the device, a report later confirmed by Mortal Kombat Executive Producer Shaun Himmerick. By November, Senior Vice President of Electronic Arts, Patrick Soderlund, confirmed that he had seen that the PlayStation Portable successor existed, but could not confirm details. In the same month, VG247 released pictures of an early prototype version showing a PSP Go-like slide-screen design along with two analog sticks, two cameras and a microphone, though the report mentioned that overheating issues had since caused them to move away from the design in favor of a model more similar to the original PlayStation Portable device.
Throughout 2010, Sony would not confirm these reports of a PSP successor, but would make comments regarding making future hardware. Shuhei Yoshida, President of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios revealed that his studio, despite usually being more involved with software, had a continued role in future hardware development at the time. In December, Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Kazuo Hirai stated that Sony aimed to appeal to a wide demographic of people by using multiple input methods on future hardware; buttons and joysticks for traditional handheld game system users, and touchscreens for smart phone users. The device was officially announced by Sony on January 27, 2011, at their "PlayStation Meeting" press conference held by the company in Japan. The system, only known by its code name "Next Generation Portable", was announced to be a handheld gaming device that aimed for PlayStation 3 quality visuals, which was later clarified to not be taken at a literal level because, according to David Coombes, platform research manager at Sony Computer Entertainment America, "Well, it's not going to run at 2 GHz [like the PS3] because the battery would last five minutes and it would probably set fire to your pants". Its power was later described by Sony engineers as about halfway between the PSP and PS3. As rumors had suggested, the device was designed to present "the best of both worlds" between mobile and handheld gaming, including a 5-inch OLED touchscreen, a rear touchpad coupled with physical buttons and dual analog sticks. Sony also revealed that the device would be using a mix of retail and digital distribution of games. Further details were announced at Game Developers Conference 2011, including that Sony would be dropping the PSP's UMD disc format in favor of small game cartridges of 2 GB or 4 GB size variants. along with two cameras, facial detection, head detection and tracking capabilities.
Launch and early years
On June 6, 2011, at E3 2011, Sony announced that the device's official name would be the PlayStation Vita, with the word "vita" being Latin for "life". Despite reports of the 2011 earthquakes in Japan delaying the release of the device, Sony reconfirmed that it was on track for a late 2011 release in Japan and a February 2012 release date for other major regions of the world. The release date was later narrowed down to a December 17, 2011, release in Japan, and a February 22, 2012 release date for America and Europe, although a limited edition was released a week earlier in North America on February 15, 2012, which included the 3G/WiFi model of the device, the game Little Deviants, a limited-edition carry case, and a 4 GB memory card. The Vita launched with 26 titles in Japan, with Sony announcing that there were over 100 titles in development prior to the system's release overall. The Vita launched in the west with 25 titles, including original titles such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048, and ports of games such as FIFA 12 and Rayman Origins.
The sales of the Vita started strong at launch, but then stalled and greatly underperformed. The Vita had a strong launch in Japan, selling over 300,000 units in its first week of availability, though figures shortly afterwards shrunk down 78% to under 73,000 sold in its second week, and then settled into about 12,000 sold per week in the following weeks. Similarly, in the United States, the system debuted with 200,000 units sold in the first month, before slinking down into an amount of about 50,000 a month. 1.2 million units were reported as sold as of February 26, 2012 – after it had launched in most regions. The system continued to get high-profile games over the course of 2012, including Gravity Rush, LittleBigPlanet PS Vita, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, Persona 4 Golden, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, and Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified. Despite this, the system still only managed to sell 4 million units worldwide in its first 10 months on the market, and estimated by analysts to only be at 6 million units sold after two years of availability. After 2012, Sony ceased releasing direct sales figures of the Vita, instead opting to release combined sales figures with it and the PSP. Still, the system under-performed; while Sony projected selling 16 million units of combined Vita and PSP systems, it had to slash its forecast twice in the same year—down to 12 and then 10 million units sold.
With higher profile games not pushing the system sales enough in 2012, big third party companies like Ubisoft and Activision started reducing or eliminating support for the system, especially in the West. Additionally, while the Monster Hunter series had significantly boosted the sales of the PSP, its absence instead hurt the Vita. Its developer, Capcom, had decided to release Monster Hunter Tri and future Monster Hunter games exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS, where it would sell millions of copies for Sony's main competitor. With support diminishing, Shahid Ahmad, Sony's Director of Strategic Content, instead began a new approach to software, through directly reaching out to, and making accommodations for, smaller, independent developers who were previously release games for mobile and PC platforms. While not completely reversing the sales trends of the Vita, the lower costs of making or porting smaller-budget games made it easier for developers to make a profit on the systems's smaller userbase, and in turn, increased consumer attention on the console, keeping the device afloat. Fez, Spelunky, Hotline Miami, and OlliOlli all found success with releases on Vita. Ahmad also maintained interest in the device by directly interacting with consumers on social media; the game Tales of Hearts R was localized into English only because it was number one in a survey of game's desired on the platform. Sony continued to support the system with games through 2013 as well, albeit lesser so, with titles such as Killzone: Mercenary and Tearaway, along with a handful of other Western-developed ports such as FIFA 13 and Rayman Legends.
While the focus on indie games kept the device afloat in the West, in Japan, no such measures were necessary, as the Vita maintained moderate hardware sales. While it was routinely outsold by its main competitor, the Nintendo 3DS, the Vita still managed to be one of the top consoles sold overall, partially due to Japan's preference towards handheld gaming. Strong support by Japanese developers also helped, with companies such as Bandai Namco, Falcom, Koei Tecmo, 5pb, Compile Heart, Spike Chunsoft, and Atlus releasing many games in the JRPG and visual novels genre to help kept a steady flow of mid-level releases coming to the system. Additionally, big games such as Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster sold well and roughly in-line with their home console counterparts. The heavier support from Japan, in turn, also helped support the system in the West as well, with many games in the Atelier, Ys, Danganronpa, Persona, and The Legend of Heroes series localized into English on the Vita, or made playable through the system's backward compatibility with digital PSP games.
While the system managed to stay afloat as a minor success, other issues continued to persist, including the high price of the system in comparison to its main competitor, the Nintendo 3DS, and its sibling device, the PS3, the high price of its memory cards used for game and data storage, and the increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets. In August 2013, Sony addressed the first two, dropping the price to $199 in North America and €199 in Europe, and cutting the suggested retail price of the memory cards as well. The price cut also coincided with the release of a slight redesign of the system, the "PS Vita 2000" model. The redesign included making the system 20% thinner and 15% lighter, while adding 1 GB of internal storage, and an extra hour of battery life. However, the redesign did remove the OLED screen in favor of a cheaper LCD screen.
Towards the end of 2013, around the launch of Sony's next video game device, the home video game console the PlayStation 4, Sony began making comments in regards to the change in focus with the Vita. Yoshida stated that Sony would be releasing fewer first party games for the platform. Sony Computer Entertainment’s Product Planning & Platform Software Innovation Director Don Mesa stated that the "economics simply don’t work with the traditional process". Sony addressed the "economics of Vita game development" issue with beginning on focusing on the fact that almost all PlayStation 4 games could be streamed and played through a Vita through Remote Play. Sony attempted to attach the device to the PS4 due to its extreme popularity; it took only a few weeks for the sales to surpass the sales of the Vita over the course of almost two years. In July 2014, Yoshida stated that the company would focus on it less as a dedicated handheld video game console, and more on its combination of uses, stating "it's not about individual Vita games any more. It's more about how Vita can have multiple uses – with PS4 Remote Play, PS3 games with PS Now, and the dedicated games. The whole ecosystem with PS4 at the center, the Vita's a part of that." Sony later announced that the Vita will have PlayStation VR integration in the form of a second screen as well. Open beta trials for PlayStation Now functionality on the PS Vita began on October 14, 2014 in North America. The PlayStation TV, released across late 2013 and 2014, also aimed to expand the system's userbase by allowing for Vita games to be played on a television like a home console, though the device was discontinued in the West by the end of 2015, and did not fare well in Japan's handheld-focused region either. In November 2014, SCEA president Shawn Layden suggested that the new approach was working on hardware level, stating that Vita sales had increased since the implementation of PS4 Remote Play, though he and another Sony representative did not give specific figures. Sony continued to make games for the device, though in smaller number than in past. The last major Sony-developed title, Freedom Wars, still found success, selling over 188,000 copies in its first week of release in Japan. The debut was the highest Sony game debut for the system, and the second highest, only to Namco Bandai's late 2013 release of God Eater 2 on the platform.
In September 2015, Yoshida stated that Sony had no current plans for a Vita successor, stating that "climate is not healthy for now because of the huge dominance of mobile gaming." At E3 2015, he had stated that Sony would not be making any more AAA, big budget games to the system, but by October, the comment had been revised that Sony would not be making any more games for it at all. Reasons cited included the company focusing on supporting the PS4, and the fact that it felt that third party Japanese developers and Western indie developers were sufficiently supporting the device. In March 2016, Sony announced that instead, it would be forming a new company, "Forward Works", and be instead concentrating on bringing PlayStation-based games to mobile platforms like iOS and Android.
Despite Sony's focus on the PS4 and mobile for the future, the Vita still continued to receive substantial third party company game support in the way of Japanese-style role-playing games and visual novels and Western-style indie video games through 2017. Minecraft in particular was successful for the platform, with it selling over 1.2 million physical copies in Japan alone as of September 2017. The device is considered to have sold fairly well in Japan, and still a crucial part of Sony's overall strategy in the region, while Sony has acknowledged that the device still has a very vocal and passionate user-base in the West as well, with the company still encouraging third party companies to create games for the device. At the 2016 Game Developers Conference, research analyst firm EEDAR estimated the sales of the Vita to be about at 10 million unit sold through the end of 2015. Multi-platform releases with the PS4 have also incidentally helped sustain the Vita's stream of software, even in the west, through 2016 and 2017; games receive a Vita version more to appeal to Japan's larger Vita user-base, and receive a PS4 version more to appeal to North America's larger user-base. The March 2017 launch of the Nintendo Switch, which operates on a similar concept of providing high budget video games on a portable unit, further overshadowed the Vita, though niche support through indie games and JRPGs continued into the year. In mid-2017, Glixel estimated the Vita userbase to be around 15 million.
On September 20, 2018, Sony announced at Tokyo Game Show 2018 that the Vita would be discontinued in 2019, ending its hardware production. Worldwide production of new physical Vita games ceased by the end of Sony's 2018 fiscal year, which ended on March 31, 2019. At the time of the announcement, USgamer estimated that the Vita userbase had grown to approximately 16 million units. Production of Vita hardware officially ended on March 1, 2019.