The PlayStation Vita may be releasing in 2012, but it already has stiff competition… from the Nintendo 3DS, and from mobile smartphone platforms like Android or iPhone. To succeed during massive growth in the mobile gaming sector on smartphones, and against a Nintendo 3DS price drop, the PS Vita is going to have to fix the mistakes Sony made with the PSP, prove that it has got the features to compete with the versatility of smartphones, win with console-quality games, all while remaining as portable as possible.
Can the PS Vita pull it off? Contributing Editor Alex Osborn, who remains in doubt that the PS Vita will thrive in such a competitive market, faces off against Editor-in-Chief, Anthony Severino, an open supporter of the PlayStation Vita, and Sony’s decision to hold off on launch until 2012.
Failures of the PSP
Alex: While the PSP was (and still is) wildly popular in Japan, its success among Western gamers hasn’t been quite as impressive. That’s not to say that the PSP didn’t do well, in fact the handheld itself did sold quite well, but when compared to the popularity of Nintendo’s DS, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Many of the reasons for the PSP’s less than stellar performance will be discussed later in the argument, as the issues that plagued Sony’s first portable will likely carry over to the PSV, so I won’t get into them now. But perhaps one of the biggest issues with the PSP (and the reason why it couldn’t compete with the DS) lies with the system’s prime focus: to deliver a console-like experience on the go. The issue with this is that many people like myself don’t want a fully fledged blockbuster title like God of War or Metal Gear Solid on a handheld. These types of games are much better served when they’re played on a big screen TV with surround sound. I’m afraid that the PSV will once again fall into this trap, as it tries to serve such a niche audience.
Anthony: Learning from the PSP’s mistakes is key. The PSP has been completely dead in terms of games for the past 2 years here in the US, while in Japan, there are strong releases monthly. That’s a testament to how the games are what sell the system.
But you’re right, the PSP failed because Sony promised a console-like experience on the go, and the PSP failed miserably to deliver. There are a few reasons for that, but not are as glaring as the single, solitary analog “nub”. That thing was just pathetic. But the Vita has two honest-to-goodness analog sticks that replicate the Dualshock controller layout very well. That’s going to give users that sensation of playing a console game on the go. The other part of it was the graphics. Let’s face it; people are graphics whores. If the games don’t look good, the device doesn’t look as good. If Sony nailed it on these points, maybe more people would have welcomed full-fledged blockbuster titles and experiences. But unfortunately, the PSP was never able to cut it in that aspect.
Another one of the PSP’s failing had to do with how strong the DS sold. There are more DS units sold than the PS2, that’s really saying something. With the 3DS really struggling, Sony has more of a chance here, at least on the gaming-only front. Then there’s strong competition from…
Alex: You mentioned that the 3DS is currently struggling and a huge reason for that is likely the soaring popularity of these do-it-all cellphones. What’s to say that Sony won’t be running into the same exact problem with the PSV? The issue here is not only portability (which will be touched upon later) but also the kind of games and features that will be included on the Vita. The smartphones of today can do just about everything including gaming, making the gaming specific nature of the PSV feel antiquated at best. The fact that you can cut down on the need to have multiple devices is a very appealing aspect of iOS and Android-based cellphones, while the PSV will face an uphill battle in trying to sell gamers on the idea that they need yet another device to carry around with them. I’m a bit of a minimalist myself, so the very fact that the Vita can’t replace my need for a cellphone is a huge turnoff.
Anthony: You make a good point there, or really, iPhone and Android make a good point. The way these smartphones are growing and the success developers are having on these platforms makes for stiff competition for the Vita (and the 3DS). However, there is a large gap in the experiences that can be had on a smartphone and the Vita. I love my Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja (currently obsessed with a game called Refraction), but those games don’t cut it if I want a deeper experience. And I certainly do believe there’s a market for both the deep experiences that will be found on the Vita, and for the short, simple play when you have three minutes type of games found on iPhone and Android. I wouldn’t doubt for a second that these devices will cut into the Vita’s potential market, but I believe there’s room for both. Besides, it may not make calls, but the Vita can do things that your smartphone cannot.
Anthony: The Vita has an advantage over smartphones, at least for gamers, mainly due to the game-specific features. The reason we haven’t seen a rear touchpanel on smartphones is because there isn’t enough of a need to warrant it. But for keeping your fingers out of the way so you can really get into the game? Well that makes for a good argument as for why it’s on the Vita. I also think it opens up some really unique gameplay possibilities, similar to how the DS second screen or motion controllers have change the way we play.
In the gaming sense, the Vita can do everything the smartphone can do plus more. But again, it’s really only focused on video games and the community aspect that goes with these games.
Then there’s a ton of possibilities as to how the Vita can be used with the PlayStation 3. Sony has already said that the Vita in combination with the PS3 can do most of what the Wii U can. I think you wrote that article didn’t you, Alex?
Alex: I sure did, and while its connectivity with the PS3 is certainly interesting, I have yet to see anything that makes use of this feature in a compelling manner. I for one haven’t been impressed with the Wii U’s capabilities anyway, so the fact that Sony will be able to emulate that experience doesn’t do a whole lot for me.
Sony has always been about the games, giving consumers the hardcore big budget exclusives that this industry feeds off of, and I don’t see how the new features of the PSV will do much more than provide additional control options to the player. Take Uncharted: Golden Abyss for example. Climbing vines and scaling cliffs with the rear touchpanel and OLED touchscreen are cool ideas, but hardcore gamers are going to want to play these titles with the standard controls. The reality is that developers are going to make use of the features in a way that provides supplementary optional controls, rather making them standard, much like we’ve seen with the Move. But if you provide gamers with the option, nine times out of then they’ll end up going with what’s familiar – i.e. standard controls. On the other hand, a game like Sound Shapes make full use of the unique features of the handheld, delivering a totally fresh experience. The only issue here however, is the fact that game’s like these are more casual and would work much better on smartphones rather than dedicated gaming handhelds. It’s only a matter of time before we see an iPhone with a rear touchpanel.
Though, the addition of dual analogs is a huge win for Sony and one of the few features that I believe will serve as a strong selling point for the system. At the same time, the sticks will certainly make carry it around with you a chore.
Alex: The Vita is first and foremost a portable gaming device, so it’s a bit puzzling as to why you can’t fit the thing in your pocket. Having to carry around a bag of some sort with you is a huge turn-off, as the small and compact nature of today’s smartphones makes transportation effortless. A large, high definition screen on the go sounds great in theory, but when you’ve got to haul this fragile piece of hardware around with you, the lack of convenience is a glaring issue. There’s a reason why smartphones have touch-based controls, as it removes the need for cumbersome buttons and analog sticks.
Anthony: Ha, ha! Touché! I really can’t say too much about the Vita’s portability. It’s pretty large. Although, I do think some of the size is exaggerated by how large the screen looks. The Vita isn’t that much larger than the PSP-3000. The real issue for me with the portability is with the analog sticks. That’s going to keep it from it sitting well in your pocket, and create the need for larger cases. Smartphones have the win with portability here. That said, smartphones don’t have games on par with the Vita is capable of.
Anthony: Here’s the Vita’s strongest point. I felt very much like you did, until I got the Vita in my hands. I didn’t see how the rear touch-panel could be used, until I was crushing asteroids between my thumb and finger, or altering the earth beneath the Little Deviant. I couldn’t agree more that the touch-screen features in Uncharted will go mostly unused, but it’s too early to say that it couldn’t be implemented in a way where it is more useful.
The games that I’ve played thus far are pretty much all PS3 quality through and through. It’s hard to deny the potential the system has. But it’s even harder to see how great the Vita’s games and how its features are used in these games, until you’ve had it in your hands. I wasn’t a full believer until I actually had it in my hands. The Vita made me a believer. The games made me a believer.
Alex: You’ve got me there Anthony, as I still haven’t gotten a chance to experience it for myself, but I’ve got to confess that none of the games I’ve seen really interest me to the point where I’d drop $250 on a handheld. I’ve already got Uncharted on my PS3, I don’t need it nor want it on the go. Because a lot of these titles are big budget console-like experiences, they’re going to take a long time and a lot of money to develop, making it difficult for developers to justify the endeavor. However, if Sony does manage to execute on creating a unified platform where PS3 games can be played on the Vita and vice versa, there may be a market for the Vita, as the library of games essentially doubles. In the end though, I still can’t justify carrying around a portable PS3. When I’m out, the least of my worries is how I’m going to get a console quality gaming fix when I’m not home.
There’s no doubt that the Vita is one heck of an impressive piece of tech. Sporting an unbelievably crisp OLED touchscreen as well as a touchpanel, dual analog sticks and a number of other nifty features, there are certainly a lot of options for developers to toy with. In the end, the system’s portability issues, the price in comparison with the 3DS, and competition from smartphones, will certainly give Sony some hurdles to overcome. But with a strong lineup of games and feature-set, the Vita has a fighting chance. It all depends on how hard Sony can fight.
What do you think? Does the Vita have what it takes to compete in the mobile gaming market? Are you excited to get your hands on the system? Let us know with your comments below.