Opinion: PS Vita risks becoming this generation's Dreamcast
Sony needs a sea change
On the face of it, Sony's latest handheld has pretty much everything you could want from a handheld gaming system.
It's supremely powerful, for starters, being capable of running current HD console titles without breaking sweat.
It benefitted from easily the most comprehensive software launch line-up ever seen, not to mention a beautiful screen, dual stick controls, front and rear touch controls, tilt controls, Wi-fi, 3G, great video playback... It's the Swiss Army knife of consoles.
And yet despite universal critical acclaim for the device, the public simply aren't interested.
As one of the traditional early adopter territories, just over 100,000 sales in the UK is, politely, not where Sony wanted to be after 12 weeks, nor is 1.8 million sales worldwide to 31 March.
While the 3DS blasts past 20 million sales and beyond, the PS Vita is a console that's struggling to get out of first gear. But why?
The obvious conclusion to draw is that it's just slightly too expensive, but this is a lazy argument.
Fair enough, at around £232, the PS Vita is over £50 pricier than the PSP was upon its release in 2005, but adjusted for inflation, the difference isn't as significant as it first appears.
Besides, the very same people who moan about the PS Vita being too expensive always seem to magically find the money to buy a new iPad or iPhone the minute they appear.
Finding reasons to buy new gadgets has far less to do with the initial outlay, and much more to do with content, and it's a point that Sony CEO Kaz Hirai freely admitted in Sony's recent disastrous financials.
But it's not as simple as just releasing great new games anymore.
A few exclusives here and there, alongside a strong selection of multi-format ports will ensure a ripple of excitement from the press, but it's not necessarily going to push the Vita beyond its current hardcore market.
Ever since the penny dropped among the mainstream that a plethora of excellent - and ultra cheap - handheld games can be downloaded onto their phones and tablets, the game has changed.
A decreasing proportion of the audience can justify paying full AAA price for a handheld game anymore. They'd rather spend the big bucks on the games that warrant the price tag on their home console, and pick up the best apps to get their handheld fix.
The other issue behind the lack of enthusiasm for PS Vita is that many of us have been burned before.
We all bought a PSP, cooed at the lovely visuals, and then left it to gather dust. Not necessarily because the system wasn't cutting edge, or that the games weren't good enough, but perhaps because a lot of us found that we didn't really enjoy playing full-blown console games on the move.
They had to be right for snackable handheld play, and it soon became apparent that the DS absolutely blew the PSP out of the water on this score - and it's a similar story with PS Vita.
The other problem is the largely proprietary nature of the PS Vita.
When you buy an iOS or Android app, you do so in the knowledge that it will work across multiple devices in their respective ecosystem. Any iPhone game you buy will also work on your iPad, iPod Touch, and even on the big screen via Apple TV. I don't have to keep buying the same game, and nor are they locked to just one device.
On the PS Vita, meanwhile, Sony hasn't fully considered the value of allowing you to play Vita titles on the PS3 with only a handful of games currently taking advantage of cross platform play.
Another annoyance is that the Vita region locks the device one account to stop you buying from other Sony stores across the world. And on top of that, the device uses disproportionately expensive proprietary memory sticks, ensuring that you soon run out of storage space should you wish to download your games.
All of these minor grievances ultimately make Sony come across like a petty jobsworth, out of touch with the flexibility offered by its rivals, and steadfast in its refusal to adapt to prevailing market trends.
If it were possible to fix these issues, it could turn around the PS Vita's fortunes in a heartbeat.
Creating an expansive, fully compatible iOS-style ecosystem would be the boldest step, allowing users to essentially use the Vita as a portable PS3, with cloud saving enabling players to continue playing the same game on the big screen when the opportunity arises.
Creating cross-compatible, dual platform Vita and PS3 titles would ultimately make players more likely to stay loyal to Sony's systems, by giving them more incentive to buy games that they can play anywhere. It would be a unique selling point that no other console manufacturer in the market could offer, and provide a massive point of difference.
Who would buy an Xbox 360 title over a PS3 one, knowing that they could also play it on handheld whenever they chose? Not me.
Is there a chance for Sony to redeem itself? A price cut as bold as the 3DS' last year would certainly be a start.
The addition of killer content comes next, but the lack of momentum, coupled with the general air of resignation around the platform gives a feeling of inevitability about it. The arrival of Call Of Duty later in the year could yet give it a shot in the arm, but, again, when you're expecting fans to buy a game twice, you're asking for trouble.
I would love to be proved wrong, but all the signs are that we have another Dreamcast on our hands: a much-loved system doomed to delight the hardcore while the masses spend their money elsewhere.
Post a comment - Please log in to leave a comment
Show: Latest | Oldest
Mickey Dillard | 19:21 - 20 May 2012
why is everybody writing off the vita.how short your memories must be.i was one of the first to jump on the xbox when it came out,and everywhere you looked on internet and gamer mags.all they talked about was it would fail,couldnt compete with sony.WELL LOOK AT XBOX NOW.same was said about 3Ds.so sit down and shut up.vita is new and was realeased nowhere near christmas when most higher priced gaming does well.i believe there will be a price drop.and available games will increase.just as they have for every other gaming system that has ended up doing very well.GO VITA
jon jordan | 18:49 - 20 May 2012
In the UK there was plenty of street advertising for the launch month.
Unfortunately, it featured a ridiculous quote from a games website about how Vita meant they would stop gaming on iPhone. So stupid
Nicholas Anthony Fletcher | 13:39 - 19 May 2012
I havent seen ANY advertising for the Vita in newspapers or TV so I bet lost of people dont even know it exists !
James | 12:01 - 16 May 2012
Two problems with the idea of cross-compatible games - 1) the Vita is very underpowered compared with the PS3 so either the game will look crap on the PS3 compared to other games of that type - just compare Uncharted 3 and the Vita Uncharted, or Mortal Kombat, etc -- , or the developer will have to make two versions of the game (definitely not impossible, but not a formality either) , and 2) the size of ps3 games in Gb is typically impractical for the Vita currently so similarly you are looking at making available 2 versions. There can't be a single file to download that will work on both, or there is it will not look good for a PS3 game.
The proprietary memory sticks are supposedly to make the system harder to hack, if that's true, it's an annoying but overall worthwhile expense for both Sony and the consumer (more paying gamers = more games developed in the long run. The PSP suffered because of rampant piracy).
Philip Cowgill | 23:56 - 15 May 2012
I like how a downside of the Vita is not being able to buy digital items from different regions, yet you can play physical games from different regions. Last time I checked you can't purchase digital items OR play physical cart games on the 3DS.
The crossplay is for PS3 games to play on the Vita, how would playing Vita games on the PS3 save the Vita?
Kelvin Lai | 20:43 - 15 May 2012
seriously?..the system came out roughly 2 months ago...give it some more time...goddamn people.
Jeremiah Amalgam Archer | 18:58 - 15 May 2012
For me its the game selection and funky restrictions, NOT the price. Money is no object when it comes to great games! And tho the 3DS did have a rocky start, I now own 40+ games (about half downloads) and most of which are my favorite franchises spanning the last 2.5 decades. I play it everyday. And with Vita's stunning graphics and processing speed, I only wish there was SOME reason for me to go out and buy it...
Keith Andrew | 17:15 - 15 May 2012
I wouldn't say 3DS has turned a corner either, to be honest, Marius. It's just selling because it's very, very cheap.
Marius Valasinas | 17:09 - 15 May 2012
They said the same thing about 3DS until Nintendo dropped it's price and some of the better games came out on it.... Vita has more potential than 3DS but so far it's overpriced and has very few games on it, which are also overpriced and so are Vita's accessories...
PS Vita Roundup | 15:49 - 15 May 2012
No objection to that, I had an awesome time with my Dreamcast, and regret selling it a couple of years back.
JOIN THE DISCUSSION: 10 comments >>
PocketGamer.biz Week That Was: Twitch goes mobile, Ouya goes virtual, and Disney lays off 700 Android, iPhone, iPad, 3DS, PS Vita, Windows Phone, Windows 8LATEST FEATURES
The In-App Purchase Inspector: Taking aim at Deadman's CrossLATEST COMMENTS
The In-App Purchase Inspector: Taking aim at Deadman's Cross 2