The PlayStation Vita’s Big Problem, Sony’s New Direction May Save It
The following is a transcript of the above video.
Today I’m going to be discussing the current situation of the PlayStation Vita and Sony’s new direction with it, and whether or not this will prove successful for the troubled little handheld.
I’ve been, well I can’t exactly say a “proud” PlayStation Vita owner, but I’ve had one since its launch. About the only thing I have used the system for is the rare game like Gravity Rush, or mostly to simply play FIFA Football. Yes, that exact one, as I didn’t even bother to buy any iterations after that given the poor Vita versions that basically charge you full price to update your rosters and kits. But I digress. EA I hate you sometimes.
Sadly, the mobile market has largely destroyed, or rather overtaken, the costly portable console market, with thousands of cheap or even free titles you can play persistently or for a few minutes here and there. It all happens right on your cell phone or tablet, with maximum convenience and the least amount of effort. The demand for portable consoles has dwindled as a result, as is evident with both the 3DS and Vita, and I basically reached a point where I was strongly contemplating selling my Vita. That is until the PlayStation 4 stepped in around February and suddenly the Vita found itself with a brand new direction: that it will be the PS4’s companion device. Of course the first thing any reasonable doubter would shout is ” gimmick” or call bullshit after the lack of unity between the PS3 and Vita already, but upon closer inspection there is a core problem of the Vita, and handheld gaming in general, that Sony is trying to address here and it may just save the system. Or perhaps I’m hopelessly optimistic and need a firm reality check. Either way.
A long time ago, back in April of 2012 actually, I wrote an article expressing some of my excitement for the Vita, but also emphasising that it must not repeat the PSP’s mistakes. I said that, as far as gaming is concerned, for the Vita to be a success, it needs its own high quality exclusives that are not simply “light” or watered down versions of console counterparts, like it often was the case on the PSP, with God of War: Ghost of Sparta and Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines coming to mind. I said that they need to develop games specifically for the Vita and make games unique to the system, essentially be bold with the system. Fast forward to 2013 and Killzone: Mercenary comes out, which is exactly what I wanted for the system back then. I thought it was really great and a fantastic achievement for portable gaming, but unfortunately however, it also completely opened my eyes to why my initial thinking back in 2012 was wrong.
And the answer as to why is pretty simple. It’s just not feasible anymore. It’s a non-sustainable business model to produce games of Killzone: Mercenary’s quality on a persistent basis. With the Vita being such a powerful system, but one with a very small user base, there is high development costs with a low chance of high pay off. You may as well put your bets on a PS3 game, a downloadable PlayStation Network game or even an indie game, with the way the PS4 is opening up to developers, as these will be far better distribution systems on better platforms. Killzone: Mercenary is great, it truly is, and I’d love to see more exclusives done so much justice on the Vita, but the reality is that it just won’t work out in the long run.
That seemingly presents a mountain of a problem for the system, and the way I see it, Sony has identified two core problems with the Vita. Firstly, as I’ve already said, its long term with regards to triple A titles is fucked and not feasible or sustainable, and secondly not enough people actually own one. That brings me to the present day, and why I am excited once again for Sony’s New direction for the handheld, although hating myself for it at the same time. The way to potentially address both these problems is of course to push the Vita as the PS4’s companion. It’s much like the problem of Kinect on the Xbox 360, and Microsoft’s way of ensuring that more gamers get their hands onto Kinect 2.0 is by boxing it in with the Xbox One as a core part of the system. Sadly that pushed the price up, but in the long term Microsoft can be happy knowing that every gamer who owns an Xbox One will also own a Kinect, which means they can take more risks, develop more content for the device and spend more on it during development, and better integrate features between the Xbox and Kinect.
Now, moving back to Sony and the Vita, it’s apparent that a step towards achieving the goal of getting more gamers to acquire the handheld, is to lower the cost of the device. They seem to be doing this by replacing the OLED screen with LCD, which sucks by the way. But the reality is that Sony have to get the Vita into as many hands as possible. They could also really push this with a PS4 and Vita bundle of sorts, and there has been talks about this, with some speculating that Sony is planning one for $500, which would be a killer deal, and I honestly think that something like this is what Sony has to look at. They have to take risks and cut their losses with the Vita if it means getting it into as many hands as possible. Consoles are always loss leaders, they’ll always take a long time to recover costs, but it’s the software and games that really rake up the cash.
And of course another major way they’re planning to get more gamers to buy into the Vita is by advertising remote play as a core selling point. In doing this they are making the Vita a system you want to pick up the same day as your PS4 just to be part of that club, and “complete” your PlayStation lifestyle. Admittedly so, the prospect is pretty damn attractive to be able to continue playing your PS4 games even if you are not at home, although this is something we will only know works as advertised once we get it and actually try it out for ourselves. Personally, I’m quite enticed by the idea of, late at night, moving into my warm bed with maybe hot chocolate and playing my PS4 games on my Vita. It’s an attractive option for sure. Then you factor in all the growing indie support that the Vita will have and additional entertainment features like Vita TV, and suddenly you’ve got a companion system that can offer more to the user without having to totally rely on high quality exclusives, which clearly hasn’t worked out so far.
The pressure is essentially now much less to deliver a vast library of high quality exclusives specifically for Vita, because they’ve basically now allowed the Vita to feed off the PS4 and thrive on its success. The more PS4 games there are, the more attractive the Vita is, and similarly this will apply to indie games that make the jump to Vita too. It is the sole reason I am holding onto my Vita because I want to experience that vision, or at least I’m damn curious to find out if it’s a vision worth being excited about. I am just crossing my fingers that it works as advertised, because that could definitely reinvigorate the system and make it “cool” again.
To conclude, I think that this is Sony’s last chance to recover the Vita. Rebranding it as the PS4’s companion device is a risky move, given the buzz of remote play and such, but if Sony manage to pull it off then I feel that the Vita could be a handheld essentially like no other device. It’s up to them and the PS4 now, and I guess we’ll start to know by the end of the year.