Daily Reaction: Can the PS4 Save the Vita Before its Next Birthday?

Today, the Vita turns one in North America, Europe, South America and Singapore. Joining in on the birthday festivities, Daily Reaction’s Seb and Dan discuss the road so far, what’s next and if the PS4 will mean good things for the struggling little handheld.

Seb: It’s the first birthday for the PS Vita, and sadly there hasn’t been that much to celebrate. I’ll try not to bash it too much, it is its special day after all, and I do love the hardware and many of the games, but we have to be realistic. Sony started off by saying that the PSP and Vita would sell 16 million this fiscal year, then they said it would sell 10 million, now it’s only going to make it to 7 million (much of which are PSP sales in Japan)… or at least they say.

While it started off with a slew of stellar games, the long term lineup was decidedly lackluster, with empty PS Store updates being a running joke on much of the internet. Sony’s press events and game shows have all basically ignored the handheld, showing off a slew of PS3 exclusives (and now PS4), while the Vita watches on.

As for third party publisher support? Call of Duty: Black Ops II Declassified was an unmitigated disaster, and future support is lackluster at best. Most games aren’t getting Vita ports, and there are basically no major western 3rd party exclusives on the horizon. Nintendo has nabbed Monster Hunter, putting a stranglehold on Japan, with only Soul Sacrifice and Phantasy Star Online 2 likely to make any impression on the sales charts (and, again, only in Japan).

While there has been some good news, such as Ubisoft saying the mediocre/buggy Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation was a success, but the year so far for Sony’s Vita has not been good, climaxing with the recent announcement that it won’t receive a price cut in the west, despite desperately needing it.

Dan: I think it is fairly obvious that the Vita is far from being where Sony had hoped it would be after its first year, but it seem like they are going to try to find a way to bring life to the system eventually. As many had expected, Sony announced the PS4 during the PlayStation Meeting, but the lack of new content for their handheld seems to show just how little momentum the Vita has going into this year. The only attention that was given was the ability for the PS4 to stream content to the Vita, so game will be able to utilize it as a second screen, much like Nintendo’s Wii U and its controller.

The problem with what seems to be the primary focus for the Vita going forward, is that Sony will be banking on the success of their cloud streaming system through Gaikai, and the ability to use Remote Play. Gaikai, while being full of potential, and having been successfully demonstrated on PCs, it is still relatively new and it’s uncertain how it will fair on consoles. Leaving the ability for Remote Play to carry the load for consumers to find a reason to purchase the system, and given its history on the PS3, it’s a worrying proposition.

Luckily, if Sony is able to implement the functionality that they are hoping to get out of the Gaikai service, the need for owning a Vita will rise dramatically. Gaikai really is the future of gaming, as it can centralize all of Sony’s software to almost any platform, making the Vita the premier location to play PS4, PS3, PS2 and PSOne games (the non-Remote Play cloud streaming is still up in the air, however). While this will leave the ability for games to be played on other devices like an iPad, the integrated buttons and analogs on the Vita will allow it to be the best choice for streamed content.

Seb: Agreed, the PS4 will be a great opportunity for Sony… but they need to capitalize on it, otherwise it will simply be another missed opportunity like Remote Play on PS3. Thankfully, I trust Gaikai far more to pull this off than Sony’s old team. Then, if cloud streaming from Sony’s servers rather than your PS4 does indeed come, that’ll again be a great chance for them to push the Vita as the ultimate gaming device. However, there’s always going to be the big issue of Wi-fi speeds/availability, and the fact that the battery life will be sucked out of the Vita faster than a Vacuum cleaner-hooker hybrid.

That’s why being a portable cloud gaming product isn’t enough, and won’t be until there’s a device with 4G or more in a future where streaming over that wouldn’t cost a billion dollars, and where the battery actually could take it.

So we need more games. Killzone Mercenary and Tearaway are a great start, and I’m confident that both of them will be good games, but Tearaway is a new IP which’ll probably be a tough sell, and Killzone Mercenary is coming out on the same day as GTA V. Moving forward, we need to see what makes Tearaway so special – I have huge faith in Media Molecule, and if they can turn it into a critical hit, it could be a huge boost, but we simply don’t know just yet. And then Mercenary needs to have its release date changed desperately, but hopefully not so that it’s too close to KZ Shadow Fall.

Two games, however, are not enough. We need to see more Vita games soon, and it really is a shame that they didn’t even show off one Vita game at the PS Meeting – I know it was PS4 themed, but millions of PS fans watched it (more than there are Vita owners), and it would make sense with the PSV birthday. E3 will again be dominated by PS4 news, as well as PS3 news (Beyond, The Last of Us, Until Dawn and just maybe The Last Guardian), so it will be hard for Sony to give the Vita some attention, even if they do have anything to show.

At E3, at the latest, they need to cut the price of the Vita in the West, announce some new games from first and third parties that are from strong IPs – like God of War, Gran Turismo or Grand Theft Auto – or else.

If you came here to comment “the Vita is doing fine, you trolls”, then you’re kidding yourself. We have to face the ugly truth, the Vita is, and has been, struggling. It needs games, it needs hype, it needs buzz. Otherwise it will flounder, struggling to remain relevant, with only the Wii U doing any worse.

Dan: Yeah, sadly Sony really haven’t left much room for them to move forward on the Vita as they will have three systems on the market at once. Given the install base for the PS3 already, Sony will not be likely to step away from the current generation to focus on their handheld. This will leave the Vita in a tight spot until the PS3 becomes officially retired, and with Sony’s ‘10 year lifecycle’, the Vita is going to be out of luck for a long time.

If the Vita is able to find life through the implementation of Remote Play and Gaikai, there is a chance that the system will be able to find a place in the market through streamed content. The problem is that not all gamers are going to only want to stream games through the internet, or Remote Play, games need to be accessible for everyone to be successful, leaving the need for exclusive Vita titles. Which will be a problem as the PS4 is going to need as much first and third party support as possible, leaving development for Vita games to get pushed aside.

One of the best parts about the current generation is that the Vita is close enough in power to do a comparable port from the PS3 for many titles, making it easy for developers to create games for both systems. But, as we move to the next generation of consoles, the ability to simply port a PS4 game to the Vita will become increasingly difficult as the titles surpass the abilities of the handheld. This, of course, leaves Sony back at the start, as they will have to make Remote Play and the Gaikai service a fundamental aspect of the next generation, or send the Vita to an early grave.

P.S. Happy Birthday Vita.

Do you own a Vita? What do you think of its first year? What do you hope for its next? Let us know in the comments below, email us at [email protected] and call us Microsoft fanboys whose Sony checks bounced at Seb and Dan on Twitter.