Daily Reaction: How Rockstar’s GTA Could Save the Vita

As we see the early demise of the Vita on the horizon, the Daily Reaction crew of Dan and Seb take a look at one of its announced supporters and see what they could do to bring some life into it. With Rockstar set to bring back its renowned franchise next year with GTA V, the potential for them to eventually bring it to Sony’s newest handheld could be a complete game changer.

Dan: Four years ago Rockstar Games released GTA IV on the PS3, and after it came a number of portable titles that became major successes on the PSP. Now, with GTA V on its way, the possibility for the Vita to see support could be a gift from heaven for Sony, as its latest platform seems to be bleeding heavily.

Having already released most of its launch lineup of announced heavy hitters, the Vita is sitting at a standstill, waiting for developer support in hopes that consumers will still see it as a relevant gaming platform. While we still sit and wait on ports like FFX, the need for other studios to get behind the platform cannot come soon enough. As winter is passing quickly and the reasons to pick up a Vita are shrinking with each title release, the fate of this handheld looks darker than when the PSP was in its tailspin. Yet, the Vita does not have piracy pushing hardware, nor do they have the same initial shine that new technology gives consumers. These factors alone are giant warning signs that we can only hope Sony sees, and unless they seek games from any source, even other portable devices, we will be looking back and the Vita and wonder why it was even released.

Seb: Before the angry fanboys rush to burn down our servers, it’s always important to note that the Vita is a great bit of tech that already has a bunch of brilliant titles like Uncharted and Gravity Rush. But they’re clearly not selling the device. That’s not us flamebaiting people, or us trying to troll you – it’s a sad fact. Sony have had to cut sales forecasts, some publishers have reportedly canceled projects and consumer awareness is painfully low. Way back in January I said that people should stop saying the Vita was doomed until its heavy hitter 3rd party IPs like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty were out. Fast forward until now and Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation was sent out to die because it came out on the same day as AC3 and CoD was just terrible. Black Friday might give the Vita a nice boost, but honestly it’s not enough – the 360 sold 750,000 units over BF and there’s no way the handheld matched that. We’ll be lucky if the platform breaks 4 million worldwide by the end of 2012.

So then we need to take a good hard look at next year. What has been announced for the Vita next year? Killzone – a strong FPS franchise, but not even as large as Uncharted; Tearaway – a new IP which will mean it will rely heavily on Sony’s ‘marketing’ (even if it is likely to be fantastic as it’s from Media Molecule); Soul Sacrifice – a game which will hopefully do well in Japan, but will likely not be big elsewhere; and possibly Warrior’s Lair – a new IP that’ll also be on PS3.

For gamers we might get a bunch of titles that validate our purchase, but as to the platform’s sales, there’s nothing there that screams ‘system seller’. And if gamers want more Vita titles for the years to come, it’s vital that the Vita sells well so that it’s a viable platform for publishers.

With the way the Vita has been selling, you have to wonder whether Rockstar will invest heavily in the platform to make games that rival the scale of Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories on PSP. First off, there is no way that a new Vita GTA game released right now could match the 8-12 million sales of the previous portable games as there aren’t enough Vitas in circulation. And secondly, the market has changed drastically with the rise of the smartphone, so we’re starting to see R* port over their PS2 GTAs to iOS and Android – a market measured in the hundreds of millions. They’ve made a ton of money off of these ports, so it wouldn’t be too unlikely to imagine that they’re considering bringing a new GTA game to mobiles exclusively.

Ideally, what needs to happen before we can even consider seeing a new GTA on Vita is that these PS2 ports get brought to Sony’s handheld. They’re horrible on my iPhone, they’re games that desperately need buttons. People would eat them up, and Rockstar could make a profit as they would be able to charge more on the Vita. But, most importantly, they would bring in the consumers and buzz necessary to make a new game a realistic goal.

Dan: The sad state of affairs for Sony right now in the handheld market is a bit of the old chicken and egg conundrum. Developers cannot get a return on a product if there are not enough units out in the wild, but units won’t be moved off of shelves unless there are enough developers backing up the platform. That is, unless there is an IP that has enough mindshare among the general public to push systems into the hands of people who would not likely have purchased it otherwise. Originally the hopes were that Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty were going to do that, but sadly they were handed off to other studios and became a shell of an experience instead of the draw the Vita needed. This means that our hopes rest on other IPs that might have a better history translating to the handheld market, namely Grand Theft Auto and Monster Hunter… and MH seems to be only playing with Nintendo at the moment.

The potential for a GTA game on the Vita is actually quite an intriguing concept as Sony’s handheld is full of modern tools that could be utilized for an updated mobile experience. The most prominent feature that would add a unique flair to the product besides increased power, or even a second nub, is its Near capabilities. While most of us seem to be at a loss when figuring out how to properly utilize this function, the ability to connect Vitas in an area could allow for a unique multiplayer aspect or aspects. Simply by having the option to hop into a neighbor’s game, or even find a way to have an effect of that person’s game on a permanent level could make for an interesting social aspect. Although, there could be some interesting ramifications for carjacking your neighbor in the middle of a mission, only to see him on your way to school or work the next day.

These simple concepts that improve upon the experience are great examples of the power of transferring a product to a handheld as you are fully capable of untethering a player from set location and even better connect players outside cyberspace.

Seb: I disagree. I’m a huge fan of the Vita, but not of Near. It was simply a tacked on tick-the-box feature rushed out to compete with the 3DS’ StreetPass, akin to how SixAxis was pointlessly pushed for the PS3’s controller. What people want isn’t ‘new fangled tech’ – mobiles have that, and they can do it better because everyone has 3G or 4G.

The reason why GTA would be special on the Vita is precisely because of the buttons, the Vita’s dedicated processing power, and that the game’s file size could be larger than on a mobile.

Trying to push the touchscreen in several quality Vita games has hampered the experience. Dear developers – don’t force gimmicks, just try to make a quality game. If there is to be a ‘Grand Theft Auto Los Santos Stories’ people will buy it because it’ll give another look at the world of GTA V. People will be drawn in by the story, as well as fans of the core gameplay that could finally be replicated on a handheld.

Rockstar has said they are working on the Vita, but there’s always the worry that they’re ‘working on it’ just like Irrational Games are ‘working on’ BioShock Vita – as in they’re not, but are planning to someday. Maybe.

If they are, and if it comes out as a fully-fledged exclusive, GTA Vita will be the sales boost that the handheld needs.

What games do you wish would come to the Vita? Do you think a new GTA game going portable would be a good idea? If so, what would you like to see as an added feature? Let us know in the comments, or by hijacking our twitters at Seb and Dan.

Be sure to email DR ideas, podcast comments and stories of all your crimes to [email protected] to free you from your guilt.