TOKYO: Sony is to back the global launch of its new console with a $50m marketing campaign, as it attempts to fend off the threat from social and smartphone-based gaming.

The Japanese electronics firm launched the handheld Playstation Vita – which features a touchscreen and a built-in WiFi connection – in the US and Europe on Wednesday (February 22).

Speaking to the Associated Press, Jack Tretton, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, said the Vita ads would be "everywhere gamers are and where the general population is".

In the handheld category, Sony competes with app-based games on smartphones as well as traditional rivals such as Nintendo's 3DS.

The gaming sector as a whole is growing rapidly, with casual users increasingly attracted to the convenience of accessing games through apps and social networks, rather than consoles.

Figures from gaming analysts Newzoo released last year indicate that revenues from mobile and social gaming will grow by 12% and 8% respectively between 2009 and 2012. Console games revenues are forecast to rise by just 2% over this period.

But Tretton suggested that Sony's core audience would continue to prefer specialist devices over app-based smartphone games.

"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," he added.

The new console was launched in Japan in December 2011, with Sony indicating that 500,000 units were sold in its first three weeks on sale.

Worldwide, the Sony Playstation Portable, the firm's previous handheld console, has sold over 70m units since launching in 2004.

Data sourced from Associated Press/Business Insider/Newzoo/MCVUK; additional content by Warc staff