Does the PS Vita Have a Future?

Disclaimer: This article is written from the perspective of a gamer in the UK, some of the issues I talk about here may not have effected the USA.

Recently I was playing Stranger of Sword City on my PS Vita (See my post on it here), it was the first time I’d had my Vita out for a while; a long while. Which got me thinking to the future of the Vita, and if it has one.

As far as handhelds go I don’t think there’s a more powerful system out there. In essence it feels like having a PS3 in your hand. Games such as the recently released Legends of Cold Steel bear this out, where the PS3 and Vita versions have negligible difference between them.

The three main handhelds are the PS Vita, the 3DS/2DS, and the New 3DS (I include the 3DS and 2DS in one here because they’re essentially the same, only one has 3d and the other doesn’t. Power wise they’re the same)

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Realistically speaking the Vita trounces both it’s competitors in the power arena, yet gets it’s arse kicked everywhere else. So why is this?

Firstly, from the outset it was clear that Sony goofed, the Vita was released to early and consumer confidence was shattered by the fact that Sony had released so many handhelds in quick succession. This was the same for developers as well, who had to spend months if not years coding a game for a specific platform. Only for Sony to pull support for that platform and introduce a new one.

  • PSP launched september 1st 2005 – Discontinued 2014
  • PSP Go launched October 1st 2009 – Discontinued 2011
  • PS Vita launched February 22nd 2012 – Discontinued ??

On the surface it’s not to bad, if you just look at the dates, especially for the PSP, running

SONY DSC
Sony PSP

for 9 years. However it was really only 4 years, as Sony pulled unofficial support for the PSP in 2009 with the launch of the PSP Go, they wanted to developers to release on the Go so to curtail the rampant piracy of PSP games.

However the Go was only supported for a little over 2 years before Sony once again pulled support and pushed the Vita. 

 

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Sony PSP Go

So you have both developers and customers wary of the new system, which is then compounded by the memory card debacle. Memory cards for the Vita were stupidly expensive, this was due to them going with a proprietary card to increase security. The PSP was one of the most pirated consoles ever, so in a bid to put a curb on that (understandably) they came up with their own cards with heavy encryption.

The problem here though was availability and price, when the console launched only 8GB and 16GB cards were available, and they were not cheap, running to 3 or 4 times their MicroSD Card equivalent.

The thing was you had to buy a card for your console as it has no accessible on board memory (It did have 512mb of non-accessible system memory, used for the OS and storing updates). So buying a console on it’s own meant you couldn’t download anything from the PSN store. You could play games that came on a card, but there was no way to save progress as it saved the data to your memory card, not it’s internal system memory.

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32GB Vita Memory Card

When the 32GB card finally arrived I was one of the first to jump on it, but I paid a hefty price for it, £49.99. Which was a huge increase over a normal 32GB MicroSD Card, which were retailing around the £15 mark. (32GB Vita cards are still £49 where as 32GB MicroSD Cards have plummeted to around £9)

This became a big issue as more and more games began hitting the 3-4GB mark, space became a problem. I currently have 2 32GB cards both with less than 500mb left on them. As the grumbling from users rose, complaining about having to swap cards, and losing them (been there, done that!), Sony released a 64GB card, which when it first arrived in the UK was sold for a whopping £120 (64GB MicroSD card retailed for around £25). Which as you can imagine caused a huge back lash. The memory card was cost over half the price of the console itself (Base models on their own were £199, where as bundles, including the 8GB Card, console and 10 games went for £220).

Now the price has dropped significantly since then, it’s currently hovering around the £75 mark, but it’s dropped as low as £55 at times. Where as a 64GB MicroSD card will set you back a staggering £15!! (on average)

The argument Sony made is that due to the fact they’re proprietary and have heavy encryption to stop piracy (which it has, don’t think I’ve seen a single pirated Vita game!), it’s going to cost more.

My reply to that is: Why? Memory cards are the one thing you don’t want to be charging a lot for, in fact thats the one area you do want to be taking a loss. If you price your cards reasonably then people will naturally buy the bigger one for future proofing.

Plans to release a 128GB variant of the card were scrapped when they floated a price of £160 for it. Which is actually just under the price of Vita today. Though apparently it may still surface in Japan at a later date as a special edition card. (The Original (best) Vita is still knocking around for around £150, with a free game. Where as the new (crap) one is £188 with a 8GB Card and 3 free games.)

Next up we have the screen debacle, the original screen on the Vita was a superb OLED screen. This screen was so good that it led to it showing the different levels of black in games, making the screen look like it had water damage; leading to a lot of returns and claims of faulty screens. Which is understandable, however Sony didn’t come out and explain why this was happening. Some argued this was because Sony were pocketing the fee for fixing the screen, which ran to around £100, as they were claiming it was not covered by the warranty.

Once people (techy people that is) started explaining why it was happening, and that it was actually a good thing, Sony came out and confirmed it; leaving a lot of people angry about being ripped off.

Finally we have the PS Vita Slim, the new version of the Vita that arrived just recently (well, a year ago). Normally when you get a new Variant it’s better than it’s predecessor, not so with the Vita, it’s actually worse.

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PS Vita Slim, better looking but inferior to it’s predecessor

The new Vita has a whopping 1GB of internal memory! (The original Vita had 512mb system memory) Which may as well not be there if you ask me. It’s like buying a new car and finding there’s just enough fuel in it to get you off the forecourt. Added to that they replaced the OLED screen with a standard screen resulting a sub par experience, especially if you’ve played on the original.

They did improve it slightly as well, changing the start and select buttons, which were really bad on the original; making them more rounder and larger. They also removed the 3G option, which I have to admit was odd. When the Vita first released 3G was in it’s infancy and couldn’t really handle the load. These days however it’s more than capable, and more and more devices are adding 3/4G compatibility, so it’s weird to see a company removing it.

However these do not change the fact that the Vita Slim (and it’s not really that slim) is essentially the same device as before, but without it’s best feature, it’s OLED screen.

Next we have it’s connectivity, the original WiFi on the Vita was terrible, to the point it could take 6hours plus to download a 3GB file. (The WiFi issue turned out to be a software issue in the OS, which was fixed in a recent update. I can now download a 3GB file in 7minutes on my connection, which is what it should be). So you were often better off downloading the game to you PS3 and then connecting the Vita to the PS3 and transferring it over.

Sadly that’s gone, as is remote play. Now, remote play was never really very good, but it was an innovative feature. You would have thought with the PS4 they’d have carried these features over, and even expanded them, especially since they promoted the Vita as being a PS4 accessory in their initial PR. Sadly that doesn’t come through, and the Vita seems to have been disconnected from the Sony line up.

Further more we don’t see many first party games being developed for the Vita. in previous generations we’d have off shoots of popular games getting a version on the new hand held. These days however it’s a different story, with the vast majority of the games that come to the Vita being Japanese games and visual novels. Only a few western games come to the Vita now, and these are generally older games that have had iterations on PC first, such as Frozen Synapse Prime, or X-Com Enemy Within.

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Gravity Rush: Potentially one of the Best games ever on the Vita

It’s rare to see games like Gravity Rush and Uncharted, Unit 13, and Black OPs, on the Vita
anymore, which leads naturally to a narrower audience. Sadly even on the Japanese front we’re starting to see decline in ‘premium’ games coming to the Vita. For example, for me the game that caused me to buy the Vita was Persona 4 Golden, but the new Persona 5 due out this year wont be coming to the Vita. The new Uncharted won’t be getting a Vita release either.

Sadly the Vita is being relegated to a Visual Novel machine, which isn’t a bad thing per say; since it handles Visual Novels perfectly and helps them to look amazing. However the machine is capable of so much more.

When the rumours of the Vita 2 started to circulate I was initially very happy, since I figured a bigger better machine, maybe Sony would finally get behind the device and make it the handheld I’ve been waiting for. Sadly that’s not going to be as Sony have dropped the Vita 2, and may well drop handhelds all together.

They claim this is all down to mobile gaming changing focus to phones and tablets, which is true to a degree. I honestly see tablets becoming the perfect device for Visual Novel style games (Norn9, Steins;Gate) because of the way they play. Tablet touchscreen is a perfect medium for these types of games, since they’re essentially clickers.

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Linx 8 and Controller, is this the new face of mobile gaming?

However for other games, such as Persona, Unit 13, or Killzone Mercenary; you’d never be
able to play those sorts of games on mobile or tablet with out some serious changes to core game mechanics. Virtual joysticks just don’t work as well as analogue sticks. Whats more the ‘caddies’ you can get for tablets, to make them consoles (such as the Linx Vision 8” in the picture, or the Razor Edge), are expensive, heavy and clunky, they aren’t exactly ‘handheld’.

So I don’t buy the argument that mobile is killing the handheld console. Sure there’s some cross over, but there are more than enough game genres out there that simply won’t work on mobile or tablets without recoding them to be cow clickers, which would make them different games entirely.

So after all that lets get back to the question at hand, does the PS Vita have a future?

At the moment it’s a sad but emphatic no. As things are at the minute the Vita is dead, but purely because Sony are letting it die. Is it to late for the console to turn around and be revived? Almost, but there’s still a chance, if Sony have the balls to take a gamble and put their power behind the device.

Here’s what they need to do (in my opinion) to bring the Vita back to life:

  • Drop the price of the memory cards, take the short term loss to gain the long term rewards
  • Fully support developers
  • Give developers a ‘break’ on the fees they have to pay if they make the game either a Vita exclusive or for the Vita/PSN first
  • Allow developers two free patches (they currently have to pay to patch games)
  • Develop more games in house or with first party developers
  • Release a PS Vita 2 with better specs, 3/4G, and a minimum of 8GB internal memory, and the original OLED screen!

Realistically speaking the last of those is going to be the biggest gamble for Sony. Releasing a new console now, with a better CPU and GPU with more internal memory and the original OLED screen would be a huge risk, and they would need to push the envelope with the PR side of things.

However while it would be gamble, now is the perfect time to take that gamble. Work with the notable Youtube’er’s, especially those that actually use the current Vita. Get the device out into the reviewers hands and let them showcase it. People like PewDiePie have millions of viewers, tap into that audience and you’ll reap major rewards.

Sadly I doubt that will ever happen, Sony is after all a Japanese company and they’re not known for taking risks and gambles on the unknown. So I think it’s just a matter of time before the Vita dies a sad lonely death.

What about you? What do you think of the Vita, and handhelds in general? Do you agree they’re a dying medium? Do you agree that mobile killed the handheld? Let me know in the comments below

3 Comments

  1. This topic has been one that has come up several times in recent years, not necessarily of the Vita itself but of the handheld and, in some ways, console markets. I think the key is to do something unique and stay relevant. You’re right: as nice as some controllers are for phones/tablets, there’s just a fluidity missing when compared to a gaming-dedicated device. On one hand, most people have a phone with them and so mobile gaming makes sense, but on the other hand, do they keep a controller with them? Probably not. It’s easier to take a Vita with you than a controller and your phone/tablet. But, maybe I’m strange, as most of my “mobile” gaming is done at home, in bed or on the couch anyway. That’s been the case for a very long time, although on trips and all taking a 3DS or something is far more convenient than taking a Wii U along.

    I think there’s still a market, but Sony and Nintendo need to keep upping their game and giving you reasons to want/need their handhelds. For the most part, Nintendo has gotten things right. The New 3DS hasn’t given me enough reasons to want to pick it up, and at this point I wonder if it’ll fall by the wayside in favor of an NX handheld in the near future, but I think Sony has a chance to make good use of the Vita (and PS TV) if they want to.

  2. TBH Nintendo screwed up badly on the N3DS, especially in the EU/UK. But i think in general it was screw up.

    As for sony, i doubt we’ll ever see them do anything with the Vita or the Vita TV. I think in general they’re done with handhelds and will focus on the console and VR.

  3. I think the steps that were pointed out to bring the ps vita back to life are dead on!! Sony does need to grab a pair of balls and take a risk to keep ps vita alive. Seems like Sony is dropping a lot of different electronic , gaming , computer devices even now cell phones? Sony must be crazy doing this .I’m a huge sony fan. Almost everything I own is a sony product. EVERYTHING would be if sony still made computers and tablets and phones. Sony is really scaring me off buying there products and I’m a die hard Sony geek!! I’m begging to be afraid to buy Sony products now because I’m afraid that they are going to stop supplying even accessories for the Sony products I already own ,let alone future purchases I MAY buy. Please get your act together Sony!! Or I will even stop buying Sony products. And I never thought I’d hear myself say that. If you do not support the stuff you make and drop it like a hot potatoe after year or two of course that’s what your customers are going to do to SONY!! (YOU)

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