Sony has graciously provided details on three main online services for the upcoming Vita handheld, which includes one of the PlayStation 3’s most wanted and talked about features: cross game chat.
With the PlayStation Vita set to be in direct competition with Nintendo’s 3DS by aiming at a similar market with a competitive price point, Sony has to pull out all of the stops to make sure it’s packed with features to keep consumers happy. At the 2011 Develop Conference, Sony Europe manager of R&D, Phil Rogers, explained the three online modes Vita will include, which are called ‘Near’, ‘Party’, and ‘LiveArea and Activity’.
Near is a strange location based gifting system, which will use GPS capabilities to allow users to leave virtual gifts behind for other Vita users to find in real world locations. These gifts may be virtual items, in game items, or even in game challenges which result in a reward for completing. Users can specify what the gift is, how many times it can be picked up by other users, and even how close you need to be to its location in order to find it. Phil Rogers described Near’s gifting and other features in further detail:
What Near does is it allows users to discover each other, leave gifts for each other and essentially find out more about games. You can see where people are in relation to your location, their five most recently played games and also gifts that they’ve registered. This is fairly cool because it exposes users to games they might not have heard of and you can see how popular those games are and how people are rating them.
Imagine user A visits locations one to ten through that day, and they get home and sync with the server and it uploads to the Near server your ten locations that you’ve been to. User B comes along, does the same thing, but at some point in User B’s day they passed User A’s location five, which means they’re now able to collect gifts that that user’s dropped. That comes into the Near application and then in-game they pick up those gifts.
Party mode is essentially what PS3 users have been begging for from Sony ever since Microsoft implemented cross game chat on their platform, but it includes more than cross game chat. The aptly named mode does what it sounds like, allowing gamers to create a platform wide party of up to four people who will be able to chat via voice or text, regardless of what else they’re doing on their own Vita. Different parties may be set up for different purposes, like having specific parties for specific games, and if any member of a party launches a game other members will be shown a simple button to click in order to join. Gamers who find themselves in a match that doesn’t include their party members will also be able to override the chat functions in order to cut down on confusing conversation. Phil Rogers made it a point to say:
Cross-game voice chat, it’s there and it’s on Vita.
So rejoice Vita fans, or lament that it’s still not coming to the PS3.
Finally, there’s the LiveArea and Activity, which according to Rogers is “essentially where you go to launch your PlayStation Vita day.” The LiveArea starts off with a content information zone, where information on a currently selected game is displayed, which can be updated after release by publishers. This will allow them to push data and content to users, such as news about upcoming DLC or recent updates to the game. A communication zone will also exist, which will display friends’ recent activities like games played and trophies earned, with a space to respond in a manner “similar to Facebook style.” Rogers also issued a warning to publishers that they shouldn’t abuse this power, and “it’s important not to spam users too much and to use it sensibly.” It should be interesting to see how long it takes for someone to cross that line. Rogers also continued to say that developers and publishers will be able to track player whereabouts by using “GPS on the 3G model or triangulation of mobile phone cells”. He also stated:
As well as that we work with Skyhook and they provide wireless access points around to keep a general idea of where you are. So even with the Wi-Fi-only SKU you can still have a vague concept of where the user is.
It’s currently unknown how developers and publishers will use this information, and it’s hard to think of a good reason to let them track you all throughout your day. However, Rogers concluded with the point that “We’re generally open to innovation,” so I’m sure we’ll hear if anyone comes up with good ideas.
Some of these features sound like they may cross the line a little with regards to what is and isn’t too much information to share. Either way Sony is gearing up to launch the Vita as a “social gaming revolution,” which is interesting and a bit creepy at the same time. At least we’ll finally be able to chat with our friends, no matter what we’re playing.