State of the Vita


I created all of the artwork for this post using the Paint Park, Vita app. As you can see, I'm artistically challenged, but what else am I supposed to do with my Vita?

Even when it was still known as the NGP, I had my doubts about the Vita. The market for a game dedicated portable had shrunk drastically since the early days of the DS and PSP and a high price and lack of backward compatibility clearly would not help matters.  I felt that the Vita had the potential to resonate with a niche audience of core gamers, though I was concerned that Sony were expecting it to be much more and would therefore mishandle their new platform. It never even crossed my mind that Sony would do so little for the Vita, with their baffling display of indifference culminating in an E3 non-event. Unfortunately, they have done precious little since to dispel the notion that the Vita is without software.

I'm not usually an indecisive person. I lack the requisite patience for agonising over a decision, yet I lost count of the number of times a Vita bundle found its way into my online shopping-basket only to be discarded at the check-out screen. I went back and forth in the weeks leading up to launch, inching ever closer to the pay confirmation screen, until one day I parted with half a monkey. I took a day off from work so that I could wait by the door for my bundle of joy to arrive at launch and then thoroughly enjoyed posting smug tweets and pictures of games and system, which I am sure the rest of the internet appreciated.

The launch line-up was strong, with Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Lumines: Electronic Symphony being my favourites. However, it has been slim pickings ever since. Despite an eagerness to spend on my new toy, I have only managed to buy two games after launch: Super Stardust Delta and Gravity Rush. Super Stardust did little of interest that the PS3 version hadn’t already done, and while it was not without its charms, Gravity Rush just didn't grab me the way I hoped it would.

Max Payne 3, obviously

Software woes aside, the Vita remains an impressive slab of plastic and screen; it is beautifully designed and would not look out of place in any gadget collectors’ stash. The system price is gradually coming down, though this would appear to be a case of retailers accepting a reduced profit in hopes of shifting a device that hasn’t been flying off the shelves, as opposed to a saving passed on from the manufacturer.  A number of leading online retailers are now selling the WiFi version for £169.99 ($265), with some even throwing in a memory card, but without new and recognizable games to support it, what value can it have?

Software is still the key, as demonstrated by a recent sales spike in Japan. Persona 4: The Golden saw the Vita achieve its best sales figures since launch, with the Atlus RPG having already become the system's best seller, despite only being released last month. Dependent upon what it’s offering, Black Ops Declassified could headline resurgence in the West, if it features a unique campaign whilst integrating with the home console multiplayer. However, Activision and Sony's continued silence regarding Declassified is cause for concern, especially considering all the noise that usually surrounds a new CoD. Is it possible that Activision are getting cold feet or is it still so far away from release that there is nothing yet to show apart from a bland logo? If it is the latter, how did Sony let a game so vital to their success slip so far?

I have absolutely no idea

Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation certainly looks interesting but it's not the homerun that the Vita needs. Uncharted has been a critical and commercial success on the PS3, but I can’t see people wanting to pay for a Vita to experience a series that is better on home consoles. Looking at forthcoming releases, I see too many games that are "also for Vita" rather than "Vita exclusive" and I doubt I'm alone in viewing them as the lesser versions of their superior home console counterparts. If you are going to push an existing, home console franchise you’d best make sure it's a big one; Monster Hunter would be a boon for Sony in Japan and a unique, standalone Final Fantasy could work wonders all over.

In the seven months since the Japanese launch, Sony has not done enough to make the Vita attractive to gamers or developers. Problems persist with cross compatibility and they have all but missed their opportunity to pre-empt the Wii U's tablet-to-console control by combining PS3 and Vita. Vita playing friends still show as an error on the PS3 and for some reason, trophies do not appear at all. The fact that we are still waiting for the most elementary of functions, the PS1 game support that has long been available on the PSP, is indicative of Sony’s delayed approach to their floundering property.

I feel that Journey would have benefited from a fez or two

This post was not intended as a pre-emptive obituary, though it may read as such. It has only been six months and the Vita is not beyond saving. The blueprint for turning around an underwhelming portable launch in current market conditions has already been established by the 3DS: bring your price in line with customer expectations and/or offer a recognizable and deep software line-up. Unfortunately for Sony, they do not have a Mario or even a Zelda to come to the rescue and, as far as pricing goes, I find myself agreeing with Sony that this is a high-end piece of equipment and that the cost should reflect that.

Sony must therefore justify the price of the Vita with quality software, and they’ll have a couple of opportunities this summer to map out the future. They are already talking up Gamescon (August) and Tokyo Game Show (September) as being focussed on their struggling handheld, and there will be another Japanese Vita Heaven in a few weeks, though if it's anything like the last one I wouldn't expect too much, unless you like robots and games that are unlikely to ever leave Japan.

Back in February, I was recommending the Vita to all and sundry. Nearly six months later and I can hardly be arsed to defend myself when friends needle my premature purchase, let alone recommend it to enquiring parties. I do not regret my at-launch adoption, as it is still a beautiful gadget and I've had hours of fun with Uncharted and Lumines, but I do find it increasingly difficult to envision the Vita getting the turn-around it deserves and have already tired of searching for reasons to pick up and play. Oh well, at least I have Paint Park to keep me busy.

Comments

  1. First off, those drawings are awesome. Especially that negative space lion thing. I saved three of them to my hard drive.

    For me, personally, the region semi-locks are the real thing holding the Vita down. The Japanese Vita actually has some cool stuff, like Ragnarok Odyssey, and they're about to get Moe Moe Daisensou and Project Diva. You've got the rugby game in EU market (which I have and love on Steam.) I don't know what we've got, actually, I just know I spend a lot of my Vita owner time wishing I could access the other two PSN stores without needing two more memory cards and the patience to sit through system reboots every time I switched regions. As insane and neglected as we are right now, I'm actually considering buying a second Vita so I can cover 2/3 regions at any given time. The chances I'll buy that Miku Miku Vita are fairly high. Assuming I can figure out how to swing $500 and still live indoors.

    I know all the region nonsense is just business as usual, but in this case, when all the marketplaces are digital, and they KNOW the system is struggling... I really think it would behoove them to make things friendly to the digital importer. Of course, there's no indication that Sony can even think in the box, much less outside of it. And I'm starting to think that, like Capcom, they just don't like the non-Japanese markets very much.

    But, I honestly believe that the Vita will do well once devs are faced with the next gen of consoles, and it becomes 1) the only normal system left to code for, and 2) the only system aside from the 3DS where games can be developed for less than the price of making a new Star Wars movie. We just need Sony to survive long enough to get us there.

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  2. Glad you enjoyed the art. I was reluctant to call it a negative space lion just in case someone said it looked nothing like one. I'm happy that it made it onto a hard drive other than my own.

    If you are going for a second, Japanese Vita then go for the white one. My PSP was white and I always thought it looked better than all the others colours.

    I hope the Vita pushes through this lacklustre start but I lack your confidence. I don't like Star Wars.

    Cheers

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  3. I am really surprised they haven't shown a second wave of software particularly at E3. The launch was really good, but releases since and upcoming have been so sparse.

    I don't even know what pulls it out of this in the West. Sure a Monster Hunter could work in Japan, but the West is a mystery for me. I think CoD is big because everyone plays their friends in it and Vita won't have the install base to make it huge. Plus it seems the game is having little effort put into it from what I gather. Sony doesn't have a game like Pokemon or Mario to turn the tides. I'd guess it'd have to be a combination of titles. Like new original games in a few series like Gran Turismo, GTA and maybe some other big ones along with CoD and AC. Even then I don't know. A price drop is probably needed. I'd argue this system is easily worth $250 from a hardware standpoint, but that only gets you so far.

    I hope it pulls out of this slump. But lack of sales will make devs weary of jumping on board. And then you get these droughts of software similar to on the PSP. So even if it sales go up, it will take a while for devs to actually finish games. It's an odd cycle. I expected Sony to have games to support in the meantime, but they kind of don't.

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    Replies
    1. With Call of Duty Vita, it would make sense to wait for the lull in-between new installments which would now mean this time next year. That is a long time to wait for a console that needs support now.

      If I were a 3rd party developer I wouldn't want to work on a Vita exclusive. The returns are going to be limited with such a small base of users. Perhaps smaller, more innovative studios are the answer but then that's probably not going to help sales. I think it's going to continue to be difficult for the Vita. Cheers

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