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PlayStation Vita - Doomed to Fail?

Andrew Williams

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PlayStation Vita - Doomed to Fail?

Read our PS Vita review and all the latest Vita news.

The Sony PlayStation Vita has finally arrived in the UK. And it's an amazing piece of gaming technology. A quad-core processor and quad-core graphics chip give this handheld graphics comparable with the current generation of home consoles. However, look beyond impressive tech specs and its future isn't so rosy.

The hardware: history repeating itself

Sony calls the Vita a "handheld gaming revolution", but it's more accurate to call it an evolution of the original PSP. The Vita's approach is fundamentally very similar. It outclasses all portable rivals technologically, capable of greater graphical feats than the iPhone 4S and Nintendo 3DS. As its look, specs, ~£40 games and launch line-up suggest, it's for the hardcore gamer. PlayStation Vita

A revolution? Sure thing, Sony...

Its additional controls are also a clear reaction to the deficiencies of Sony's earlier PSP handhelds, and a way to future-proof the Vita against recurring criticisms this time around. The PSP had a single analogue stick, making it somewhat poorly suited to the reams of console action ports released for the platform. The Vita has dual analogue sticks, plus touch surfaces on both its front and back. Eat that, iPhone. Right?

The changing face of portable gaming

The "kitchen sink" approach Sony has taken with the Vita will excite gamers, opening-up a truck-load of exciting possibilities. However, its brand of gadget convergence is thoroughly out-of-sync with today's portable gaming climate.

Apple's iPhone and iPod touch have revolutionised mobile gaming in the past four years, but it hasn't happened because these devices covered all bases in the way the Vita conspicuously has. Quite the opposite.

We perhaps shouldn't give Apple all the credit for this. As Time magazine wrote in an editorial following the former Apple CEO's death, Steve Jobs was "not a gamer, but a game-changer". The iOS platform and its App Store were not designed as gaming-centric spaces, but they proved fertile ground for what has become the most fertile ecosystem in gaming.

PlayStation Vita 10

Apple gets plenty of knocks from the open source brigade for making closed systems, but the dev process is remarkably accessible on iOS. And has encouraged sterling work from thousands of indie devs, from beginner developers and those who cut their teeth at the big studios.

Aside from the relative ease of coding, this accessibility is down to the low entry fee. Developers have to pay $99 (annual fee) to enter the Developer Program, while the dev kit for the Vita is €1,900. This is considered affordable - the PS3 initial dev kit cost was €20,000 - but may be enough to stifle grass roots indie development. There are also other potential costs to consider later down the line too, involved in PSN certification. The low cost of entry to the iOS Developer Program is one of the things that enables free and low-cost games of high quality, like Halfbrick's Jetpack Joyride.

Conversely, Vita's approach to games and developers is traditional. The Vita slots into the PSN framework online, and the proprietary cards it uses at retail already feel archaic - and act as a huge financial barrier for smaller publishers looking to produce a retail game. There's nothing dynamic about the Vita's approach to games delivery, and when so many early Vita owners are likely to own a smartphone, this is problem. For example, Popcap's Plants Vs Zombies for Vita costs $14.99 in the US. On iPhone it is $2.99.

What is an impulse buy price on one platform is something to muse over on the other, and buyer expectations in this field have radically changed since the App Store opened in 2008.

PVz

Greater development costs, a smaller userbase and a games culture that's rooted in console traditions rather than the App Store approach that now defines mobile gaming mean the Vita will not get ultra-cheap games of the quality seen on iOS. Not over the next 12 months, possibly not ever.

The Vita online offering - where lower cost games live - is therefore unlikely to be all that compelling. Just like the 3DS and PSP. Sony Computer Entertainment America CEO Jack Tretton counters suggestions of competition with these more fluid gaming cultures, saying "if you’re a gamer, you’re never going to confuse a smartphone or a tablet with a gaming device" in an interview with Canadian website Macleans.

However, hundreds of thousands of sales of relatively hardcore games like Grand Theft Auto III on iOS - while not flattening his words entirely - suggest a desire to break down such barriers.

Daddacool

February 23, 2012, 7:55 pm

It is the PSP all over again.

Expensive games? Check
Proprietary games format? Check
Expensive storage? Check
(Cut down) Games more expensive than home console versions? Check
Middling battery life? Check
High initial cost & cost of ownership? Check

It's like Sony thought the PSP should have been a massive success and by following the exact same route couldn't fail. Don't get me wrong, I like my PSP but when you look at handful of great games on it, they all came early on in its life. And lordy, the hand cramps!

Carnex

February 23, 2012, 10:55 pm

The biggest problem, by far, that PSVita has is that everybody seems to desperately wand it to fail. Yes, cards are overpriced but it's one time buy. And games are expensive compared to iOS games. Yet most people pay 60 bucks for crap that is released all year long.

Biggest real problem Vita has is that SONY won't treat handheld as handheld but push only games that are carbon copies of home console games. Other than that PSVita is really tight piece of hardware.

Daddacool

February 24, 2012, 1:52 pm

It's not even compared to IOS games though- if I wanted to buy Rayman Origins on a home console I can do so for about 18 quid. PSV, I'm looking at over twice that.

rsrd

February 24, 2012, 2:02 pm

My fear for Sony is that they have bought into the oft repeated phrase 'aimed at hardcore gamers' as being enough to sustain a device intended to sell millions of units. Surely the vast majority of this relatively small slice of the population will actually operate in similar vein to the rest of us, using consoles/PCs for serious gaming at home but playing bite sized games on the move on the more than capable smartphones they will undoubtably own. The only reason the DS has managed to achieve any significant sales is that the primary user is usually under the age of 15 (I can't think of child I know or have seen at any airport who isn't surgically attached to a DS/3DS) and the Vita clearly is not designed for this group.

It smacks of the usual Sony approach, 'Let's make a device we can be proud of and then we can think about who will buy it and how they will use it.'

betelgeus

February 24, 2012, 6:12 pm

even worse is you HAVE to buy a memory card,had mine today with rayman and cant play it without a memory card,so at the moment its useless,cant download games or videos.

Bugblatter

February 25, 2012, 12:19 am

Once again Sony's arrogance is its undoing. They already know what we want so why ask us? And they already know what we'll put up with so why treat us well?

It would take an absolutely stand-out must-have product to get me to buy from Sony again. Luckily there seems little danger of me being in that dilemma.

The Vita isn't even slightly tempting. I enjoy whiling away the hours gaming on my PS3, PC and Prime, and I've previously done the same on my smartphone. Really can't think why I'd carry a dedicated gaming device though. I might carry a small Bluetooth controller for the Prime; that's about it.

stealth

February 25, 2012, 8:45 pm

I cant take anything this says seriously when it lies

"However, hundreds of thousands of sales of relatively hardcore games like Grand Theft Auto III on iOS - while not flattening his words entirely - suggest a desire to break down such barriers."

The game flopped on ios. It barely sold anything. Its also considered a broken, unplayable version of the game.

Not the best example

stealth

February 25, 2012, 8:46 pm

The psp sold 80 million units with an 800 game library of mostly exclusives, If anyone says the psp failed they dont deserve to post

stealth

February 25, 2012, 8:46 pm

nobody wants it to fail

stealth

February 25, 2012, 8:47 pm

"Sony appears to be in denial about what heldheld gaming means today, and the Vita shows that it has failed to realise many of the people that bought a PSP back in 2005-2006 have already been indoctrinated into the new iOS-led regime by Angry Birds, Flight Control, Infinity Blade and a hundred other cut-price slices of casual and semi-casual gaming. "

Is this why since its launched the psp sold more?

Is this why the 3ds is number 1 worldwide?

you dont know what portbale gaming means

stealth

February 25, 2012, 8:53 pm

i cant take this BS seriously. Especially when it lies, generalizes, and paints a false picture

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