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Opinion

PS Vita Is Dead; Long Live PS Vita

PlayStation's evolving handheld strategy is exciting.

When the PlayStation Vita was announced, and during those early months of showing off the new handheld, it was pitched as a console-quality experience that fit in your pocket. The implication was that Sony was now able to give you the kind of games that the PlayStation 3 was pumping out but miniaturised into the palm of your hand.

A close inspection of gameplay videos and genuine screenshots at this stage revealed that the Vita was, naturally, a little way off the PlayStation 3’s abilities but that it was still very visually capable. If the games that were made managed to be of a grand enough scale, that “PS3 in your pocket” claim might have been justifiable. But despite several launch titles that aimed to reach those heights, none quite managed to fully achieve their goals.

There have been a few landmarks worth making note of since that initial raft of impressive – but ultimately not impressive enough – launch titles. Gravity Rush appealed to a core group of enthusiasts, Need for Speed: Most Wanted came very close to the full console game’s experience but perhaps wasn’t quite unique enough to really inspire. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation offered an interesting but uninspiring plunge into the franchise’s well-loved gameplay.

All tried to aim for the stars and all had certain successes to be proud of, but there is still an absence of true unmissable, mainstream games on the Vita.

Declassified

Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified simply wasn’t good enough, despite encouraging opening sales.

Many expected Black Ops: Declassified or even Resistance: Burning Skies to be the system selling games so desperately needed by the Vita. Neither of these FPS franchises delivered on their potential and, although both seemed to attract a devoted core of fans, neither was good enough.

That’s not to say the hardware isn’t up to scratch. It’s powerful enough to be capable of great things and as developers eke more and more out of it, we’ll only end up more and more impressed. The handheld console itself is a beautiful device, with a stunning screen that is often only let down by the choice (or limitation, perhaps) of sub-standard resolutions and slowed framerates.

The under-utilisation of that gorgeous screen has perhaps been most apparent in the times it’s used to display games intended for lower fidelity screens – the LEGO games that are almost 3DS ports spring immediately to mind. A screen of that quality shines a light on any cut corners and, as third party support for AAA games has gradually begun to appear stretched, that becomes more of a concern.

Happily, Sony’s first party studios are clearly still committed. Killzone: Mercenary is carrying the hopes of FPS fans with its hooks into the wider Killzone universe and an interesting central idea that will permit shorter, travel-friendly bursts of gameplay. Tearaway deserves special mention too. While it’s not likely to be a huge system-seller, it is perfectly indicative of the kind of quirky, independently-spirited game that Sony has a long history with.

Tearaway

Tearaway is the kind of quirky, imaginative title that is a long standing defining characteristic of PlayStation platforms.

And that brings us neatly to the Vita’s present-day strengths and what I think represent the console’s greatest opportunities for the future: the new drive towards being a haven for indie developers.

2013 started with the Vita having been home to a few high profile games that didn’t quite manage to hit the heights many had hoped for. The Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty games that were released as big pre-Christmas sales hopes didn’t inspire the soaring sales that Vita needs in order to remain a viable platform for big budget third party development. Many of us began to worry for its long term future. It was clearly a great device, with some very good niche software but without a true system seller to drive up that install base, it would flounder. And then Sony started to make announcements that showed they’d found a new way of thinking.

I’ve written before about what I think Thomas Was Alone indicates on PlayStation Vita (and PS3) and the respect I have for Shahid Ahmad and his whole team at Sony’s London offices. But I don’t think it’s possible to overstate just how important this shift in the Vita’s focus is. Without risking the cash involved in developing (or encouraging third parties to develop) blockbuster games, they can pack the PS Vita with smaller, innovative and imaginative games that will come together and, as a collective, present a very tempting reason to buy a Vita.

It’s the equivalent of putting 10 per cent of their chips on red at a roulette wheel compared with the previous strategy of putting 90 per cent of their chips on number 17. Make small gains with less risk until they’ve got the sort of chip pile that allows them to gamble big without risking losing their wristwatch.

And there’s a continued, deliberate push to get indie developers on board. SCEE’s Shahid Ahmad (who apparently signed Men’s Room Mayhem in just 45 seconds, by the way) is the driving force here, his public Tweets on message and extremely focused. “Vita developers: will you put David S Gallant’s game ‘I Get This Call Every Day’ onto Vita?” he asked last night – a game that probably wouldn’t take a huge amount of effort to port but said with the right sentiment. “You could probably do very quickly,” he confirms. “I will help.”

DiveKick

DiveKick is the kind of odd indie game that has huge potential – taking a focussed idea and building a game around it.

There’s a new openness around the platform – in all senses of the word – that’s incredibly refreshing and extremely encouraging.

None of the indie games announced are likely to be big system sellers by themselves – and that still leaves room for potential big hitters (Gran Turismo, perhaps?) to arrive at this year’s E3, where the Vita’s PS4 Remote Play functions will also surely be on show – but collectively, they fill a void and also keep many existing Vita owners happy with their handhelds.

Importantly, developers are now seeing the Vita is a viable sales channel for their games. Take Ripstone’s newly announced Men’s Room Mayhem – it’ll also release on iOS but the key word there is ‘also’ – a PlayStation Vita version will appear alongside any other formats, and, crucially, will be priced as closely as possible. “iOS and PSN have slightly different pricing tiers,” explained Ripstone’s Phil Gaskill, “but rest assured the game prices on all platforms will be very closely matched.”

And then there’s PlayStation Mobile. Not without its problems, but hopefully nothing that can’t be fixed down the line – if Sony are still behind the service (and they should be) the issues reported recently can be fixed: Sony can raise visibility, they can assist with promotion and they can – perhaps – offer up a different development language. Or, at least, open up PSM to third party middleware: let other development packages, especially more ‘point and click’ tools like GameMaker, export and build directly for Vita.

The future’s bright for Vita. It’s just panning out in a different direction than we first thought.

43 Comments
  1. Gamoc
    Member
    Since: Forever

    I’m very excited about where the Vita is going, though I think I’ll have to get a bigger memory card. Think I’ll go and sell my legs.

    Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 15:46.
  2. DrOf1337
    Tends to spoil major games.
    Since: Jan 2010

    I love my PS Vita, there was a long period there where I didn’t touch it but for the last 4 months or more I have constantly been playing something on it.

    Rayman Origins, Golden Abyss, Gravity Rush, Metal Gear Solid 2/3 HD, Guacamelee, Virtue’s Last Reward, Mutant Blobs Attack, Little Kings Story, Thomas was Alone and now gearing up for Soul Sacrifice.

    And to those who say “lots of those are ports”. So what? In a lot of cases I didn’t play them on their original platform and certainly not with trophy support.

    VITA simply does not have this shortage of games that is continually talked about. It’s lacking 9/10 games, sure, but then not every game has to be 9/10 to be unique and amazing in ways you might enjoy (Deadly Premonition, anyone?).

    Also I can never say enough lovely things about Shahid – he is that (unfortunately) rare thing within a video game manufacturer/publisher/platform holder – a man who knows and plays games and is in touch with what gamers actually enjoy. There couldn’t be a better man on the job.

    Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 15:49.
    • Peter Chapman
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      Shit, you basically just did a tl;dr of my afternoon’s work!

      Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 15:50.
      • DrOf1337
        Tends to spoil major games.
        Since: Jan 2010

        Ah, but you sir are a wordsmith of much repute, I am merely a peddler of Duke Nukem Forever. ;)

        Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 16:08.
  3. Origami Killer
    Member
    Since: May 2010

    I think it’s safe to say the Vita is becoming an indie platform – which I like the idea of. Most of the promised 100 games so far have been quirky titles like Thomas Was Alone, and isn’t Limbo coming to Vita too?
    I think it’s more ideal for those quirky like titles which offer a quick few minutes of fun, instead of getting into a few hour long big game. In my experience I’ve played a lot more of Sound Shapes, Cut the Rope, and Surge than I have with Uncharted or MGS.
    I think that’s the way forward for the Vita, still Killzone wouldn’t go a miss though.

    Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 15:49.
  4. tactical20
    Member
    Since: May 2010

    Still a bit optimistic, imo. If I want small, innovative and imaginative games, I download them for 69p (or free) to my iPhone. I think the majority of people who bought Vitas for however many hundred poundst, were expecting, and still desperately want, the big franchise PS3 standard games. I said it when it was first announced… I think Vita will be the last ‘core’ handheld. The same way no one has MP3 players, cameras, sat navs, etc.. anymore. It just makes sense to have everything in one device, especially if handhelds don’t offer anything but these ‘quick fix’ indie games anyway.

    Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 15:49.
    • Peter Chapman
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      It’s certainly difficult to disagree with anything you say (especially the long term idea of handhelds converging further) but it’s one of those situations where there’s no obvious track – we’ll have to wait and see.

      I’d rather foster my optimism right now than give in to your pessimism ;)

      Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 15:53.
      • tactical20
        Member
        Since: May 2010

        Haha! Vita owner = optimist, non-Vita owner = pessimist.

        Technology moves so fast, I think Vita is gonna be one of those things we all look back on in 2-3 years time and can’t believe we ever thought was a good idea!

        I’ve made mistakes in the past, spending hundreds on ‘cutting edge’ technology that’s redundant before I ever get a chance to properly use it, and I guess I just saw Vita as being another one of these potential mistakes.

        I DO hope my fellow TSA’ers who are Vita owners get their money’s worth over the next 18 months or so however.

        Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 16:03.
    • Youles
      Member
      Since: Feb 2011

      I don’t want to predict what will happen but I agree with your other comments – I am one of those who didn’t want a Vita for games I can get on my iPhone and I’ve stated recently that I’m concerned it’ll just be a device for hosting ported games (even PS3 ones – I’ve already played Limbo and Machinarium so can’t get excited about those). I really want to see more titles of the quality of WipEout 2048, Uncharted and Gravity Rush. Unfortunately for me, Soul Sacrifice just isn’t my thing. I only really have Tearaway and Killzone on my radar for now, which is a shame since the platform is only 15 months old.

      Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 16:21.
      • tactical20
        Member
        Since: May 2010

        I’d love to see WipeOut 2048 on PS3!

        Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 17:30.
    • fattyuk
      Member
      Since: Apr 2010

      no one has camera or sat navs anymore?

      What dimension do you live in?

      Comment posted on 04/05/2013 at 08:13.
      • freezebug2
        Member
        Since: Dec 2008

        I have everything on my mobile including satelite navigation but do still use a dedicated seperate sat-nav unit in the car…..it’s got a better cradle!. :o

        Comment posted on 04/05/2013 at 09:59.
      • tactical20
        Member
        Since: May 2010

        The dimension where everyone uses their phone to take pictures and direct them to places. Hang on, that’s this dimension!

        Comment posted on 05/05/2013 at 02:35.
    • bowie
      Member
      Since: Jan 2012

      I think your generalisation that ‘no one has MP3 players, cameras, sat navs, etc.. anymore’ is far too broad. Take cameras as an example, sure the majority of people use their phone regularly as a camera but there is definitely still a niche for specialised camera devices. When you care about the quality of photo more than the bulk of carrying a camera you want a specialised device.

      Continuing your analogy with cameras. Ten years (or so) ago before cameras were popular element of phones it is not as if everyone walked around carrying cameras all the time. Like today you would still only see the occasional person with a camera. So the market for specialised cameras has changed but it certainly still exists, it is just dwarfed by the much bigger market of people who own phones.

      I think it is the same with handhelds as it is with cameras. There still exists are market for specialised gaming devices amongst people who care about the quality of their gaming. The size of that market though is dwarfed by the size of the market for mobile phones but that doesn’t negate its existence.

      Comment posted on 07/05/2013 at 23:59.
  5. JohnnyBoy
    Member
    Since: Oct 2010

    This is exactly the problem I have with my Vita – I bought it for the the console quality games that it was always pitched as and I’m still waiting.
    Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great device and the ‘big’ games I have played on it I’ve really enjoyed (Resistance: Burning Skies, Uncharted: GA and even FIFA Football), and WRC which I’m playing at the moment is great.
    I am going to get AC: Liberation and I might even bring myself to get Call of Duty and can’t wait for Killzone, but I just fear that unless more of the same come out the system is going to struggle.
    It really needs these big games to sell the hardware – people aren’t going to spend £200 to play niche indie games that you can get similar on iOS and Android.
    I really want it to succeed and I really want the big games for it to sell well so more third party devs get involved, but I’m a little worried

    Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 15:52.
  6. bigbaldwolf
    Member
    Since: Mar 2012

    I’m not sure that I’m 100% on board with this change of direction. I like indie titles and I’ll support them but not at the expense of bigger titles coming to the Vita. There have been a lot of good ‘console’ titles on the Vita so far and I hope that we continue to see more

    Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 15:53.
  7. Kris Lipscombe
    Team TSA: Writer
    Since: Mar 2009

    Dive Kick may well be the pinnacle of gaming achievement, distilling it down to its purest form.

    Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 15:54.
  8. Alex C
    One for all.
    Since: Forever

    Just quickly on this, will comment in full later – but yeah, this appears to be the direction the Vita is taking just now but I’m totally happy with that. The gulf between ‘home console’ and portable is going to widen dramatically by Christmas with the PS4, so if the Vita’s used as a second controller and external device for that, with the presence of loads of indie (or smaller, whatever) games then I’m all for that.

    Last year felt mostly like the Vita was falling to bits. Now it’s stronger than ever.

    Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 16:14.
    • carson321
      Member
      Since: May 2009

      i cant wait to see what they do to pair up the Vita and PS4, I haven’t took the plunge with the little black beauty yet, but I am positive that Sony will do something with it and the PS4 that will make me want to grab both at the same time!

      Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 16:34.
    • flatspikes
      Member
      Since: May 2009

      Full remote play, a smattering of big budget games and regular PSN level indie (and otherwise) mean the Vita should cover a number of based.

      I think those games that are on iOS are often much more playable with the addition if physical controls. Since buying a Vita u rarely drop 69p on anything.

      Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 18:43.
  9. kudoscolin
    Member
    Since: Nov 2011

    I don’t agree with the idea of the vita being a £200 device to play iPhone games. A lot of these ‘indie’ games are quality titles that have been well received on steam for example and are well beyond the casual stuff you mainly see on the App Store.. I’m loving vita at the moment, and it will be supported by first party at the least, and with an improved remote play on ps4 ill be content.

    Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 16:34.
  10. The Avenger
    Member
    Since: Oct 2012

    The problem with games like Resistance and CoD is that they’ve had ridiculous time spaces to develop their games, hence we get a £40 game that isn’t even worth an indie game. Games like Soul Sacrifice, Gravity Rush, Killzone and Uncharted have seen extensive developments times, and with all but Killzone (seen but not played) its clearly paid off.

    Funny though cos its paid off for us, but what about the developers. Its not the most attractive prospect to build a handheld game where sales are not the best, and one look at England’s shops, and well why bother. In Japan they have massive shelves filled to the brim with different games for the Vita. Here there’s just a few extortions from Game shoved in the corner. There is plenty of games out there, now more than ever are they a hell of a lot cheaper (hard copy games) to get; but one simply has to buy them online cos none of the shops bothered. HMV were always fairly solid with Vita’s launch, and PSP before it, but now they’re limited in what they can do. I mean History Legends of War looks awesome, but only place to get it is GAME online for £35 – ridiculous for an RTS that I can vouch is great on the go.

    Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 16:44.
    • Airiaen
      Member
      Since: Aug 2009

      I’ve just gone for Digital downloading. Sadly the pricing and uncertainty of the memory cards pricing are just going to drive me away from the Vita.

      Comment posted on 03/05/2013 at 23:42.

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