There was much speculation before Sony’s Monday night presentation at E3 this year, as to what Sony was going to do to “save” the PlayStation Vita. Even though the Vita has only been on the market since December (February in North America), slow sales, inconsistently announced upcoming software support, the resurgence of the 3DS in the east, and the meteoric rise of mobile and tablet gaming has many industry analysts and even developers speculating that the Vita is dead in the water. Because of this, it was assumed Sony would be pushing a lot off chips into the middle for Vita during their press conference.
Some of the things predicted by many were the announcement of a Vita price drop, the expansion of the PlayStation Plus program to include Vita, and a ton of new Vita game announcements. What we got was about 5 minutes spent on Vita where Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified was announced (with no screens or gameplay), Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation was announced (with a small trailer), the announcement of a variety of video services coming to the Vita, and confirmation that the new Playstation All-Stars: Battle Royale will be releasing on Vita alongside the PS3 version. Add in PSX classics support coming soon to Vita (in limited form, it would seem) and that was the extent of the Vita talk. No price drop, and the PS Plus announcement concerned the 12 free PS3 games that are being given away this month. Not exactly making anyone jump off the couch to run out and buy one, right?
To be clear, I purchased a Vita on day one, and love it. Unlike my 3DS, which only got played when Pokemon White (a DS game) came out last year, my Vita is used almost daily. My addiction to Hot Shots Golf was rekindled with World Invitational, Unit 13 was a pleasant surprise, and there are a bunch of PSN releases like Escape Plan and Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack that kept my hands glued to Sony’s new portable. WIth all that said, the feeling I got about the Vita after Monday night was worry. I truly wonder what third-party developers are thinking about the Vita’s future, and whether or not they want to be a part of it. Watch the Ubisoft and EA shows again, and notice that they didn’t acknowledge the Vita at all. Aside from what was shown during Sony’s event, the two Vita games that have been shown most prominently at E3 were Sound Shapes and Guacamelee!, both of which are PSN titles. Hell, Sony’s announcement that they are taking PlayStation Suite (now PlayStation Mobile) to other mobile manufacturers shows they are doubling down on the Vita.
So what does Vita need to be a success? Sony needs third-parties to buy in heavily to the console’s future, and needs it bad. It speaks volumes that the cross play functionality Sony debuted in MLB 12: The Show, and that is also coming to PlayStation All-Stars, is not coming to big Vita titles like Madden NFL 13 and FIFA 13. FIFA is a title that sells over 10 million copies annually around the world. Madden usually sells right around 5 million in the US alone. If fans could pick up their franchise or Ultimate Team and take it with them while on the commute to work, or play while they’re on their lunch break, you don’t think a decent chunk of them would pick up a Vita to do that (especially where FIFA is concerned)? Personally speaking, if they released NHL on Vita and gave it cross play support, I’d be all over it. It’s also telling that past the announcement of Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed for Vita, we have yet to see any gameplay footage for either, and these are games presumably releasing in 5-6 months. We have seen a handful of other third-party titles at E3, but nothing that I would say is going to move Vitas out of the stores. Sony have themselves published some top-notch titles for the Vita, but they alone can’t shoulder the load and expect to find success.
That said, it’s important that those big budget experiences are still tailored to take advantage of the fact that the Vita is a portable system meant to be played on the go. Unit 13 was so brilliant to me because while it played like a console shooter, each mission didn’t take more than 30 minutes to complete, with most clocking in around 10-15 minutes. Lumines Supernova was great because they had a variety of different and shorter game modes aside from the standard marathon mode. A game I didn’t play a whole lot of was Uncharted: Golden Abyss. The reason was because it felt exactly like Uncharted on the PS3, expect with Vita specific (read: touch) controls tacked on. The game was fine, but I felt like I needed to play for long periods of time; the experience didn’t feel very…digestable. At that point, I’m playing on my couch, and if I’m playing on my couch, why wouldn’t I just be playing on PS3? I look forward to Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, but I also sincerely hope that it is a different experience than Assassin’s Creed III (aside from having a female assassin, which really won’t be all that different). That means tweaking things like having to travel on foot to get from one end of the city to the other for your next objective. I have no issues doing that on my PS3 when I’m sitting down playing a game for a couple of hours, but if I only have 20 minutes to play my Vita on a given day, I want to be able to feel like I accomplished something in those 20 minutes. The reason games like Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies revolutionized the mobile landscape is because titles like that are very easy to pick up, play for 20-30 minutes, and put down again. Developers making games for the Vita would do well to keep that notion in mind. Having console-like gameplay that can be picked up and put down on a whim is exactly the optimal experience that only a device like the Vita can deliver.
PlayStation Plus support is also going to be integral. Sony looks to be really pushing for a wider adoption rate for PS Plus, which for my money is a much better value than what people are spending on Xbox Live. Instead of making you pay money annually for the pleasure of using their servers and premium services, Sony gives you that stuff for free and instead uses your money to deliver tons of free games, early releases for new games, and discounts on a variety of titles. You also can take advantage of features like cloud saving and automatic overnight downloading of game patches. The 12 free games (6 of which are full retail games) that are being given to members this month are going to bring in a ton a new subscribers. Case in point: Cheetimus, one of our writers, has long been a detractor of PS Plus, with his assertion being that you are paying money to “rent” free games, as you lose the ability to play any free titles you earned through Plus if you let your subscription lapse. Last night, Cheets bought himself a 3-month Plus subscription. Clearly the service is going to be gaining steam. So why the hell are there no Plus benefits to Vita owners? Imagine if Sony had also included, say, free downloads for Hot Shots Golf, Wipeout 2048, Super Stardust Delta, and Unit 13 in the Plus bundle this month. Do you think a few people would’ve been buying a Vita this week if they could get 4 free games to start out with? Hell, Sony could’ve even driven that further by giving new Vita owners a free month of PS Plus just to get them in the door. PlayStation Plus is becoming quite the value service, and getting the Vita involved will help both products be that much more successful.
Vita isn’t done just yet, but clearly Sony must do more to keep it from fading away. Right now, it’s clear customers don’t see the system as valuable enough to justify the price tag. Anything they can do to change that, from cross play to PlayStation Plus to unique console-like experiences, must be done. There’s a lot more besides what I mentioned that could help dig the Vita out of the perceived hole it’s in, like more PS3 connectivity (which was touched on during their press conference). Sony had better get started quick, because every day that they don’t is a day closer to the Vita becoming irrelevant.
Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? Have any other suggestions to improve the Vita? Confab below!