PS Vita: Sony’s Pulling In The Wrong Direction

Nick Jones

WIth its slow start and lacklustre sales can Sony's triple-A PS Vita line up save the console? NowGamer's Editor In Chief doesn't think so.

Published on Aug 17, 2012

At this year’s Gamescom Sony looked to right its E3 wrongs and put its recently released PS Vita handheld front and centre.

PS Vita has lots of games, and from major franchises, said Sony, and here’s a bunch of new ones. Here’s a Killzone game and a LittleBigPlanet game, a Need For Speed game and (drum roll please) a CALL OF DUTY game. With, oh yes, MULTIPLAYER!

A major part of Sony’s plan to make PS Vita a success seems to be to throw as many popular brands at it as it can and hope that something sticks. People like Assassin’s Creed, right? Then they’ll love a portable Assasin’s Creed game that’s the same as the PS3 version won’t they? Won’t they?!

I think there’s a problem with this strategy, namely that games with this kind of detail and depth not only deserve to be played on as big a TV as you can get your hands on but they also require that amount of space and time to be played in the first place.

Gamers have a different attitude towards games – and different requirements – depending on where and when they’re gaming.

Sitting down in front of a TV with a game that’s as epic in scale as an Assassin’s Creed game is a major commitment in time and effort. You want the game world to wash over you, to become absorbed in that particular digital frontier. It’s really hard to replicate the effect of having your vision completely filled with a game world on a 5” screen, I don’t care how lush the OLED is or how many touch controls you throw at it, a game like Assassin’s Creed will always be best enjoyed on a big TV.

Most people play portable games in those moments when they’re trying to kill a few minutes or hours of time: when you’re on the bus, or train, before you nod off to sleep or while you’re guiltily killing time till the weekend starts. These are not the times when you want to be going on some epic – and challenging – quest to save the world. That requires a level of concentration that’s impossible with a handheld console.

It’s easy to get distracted when you're out-and-about; you don’t want to be distracted by some old lady dropping her change on the bus when you’re screaming round Metro Park at 800mph in WipEout 2048; it’s also pretty hard to become emotionally involved with a character when you’re nodding off at night.

No, these are the perfect times to pull out your smartphone and obliterate those moments with a quick blast on Angry Birds or test your brainpower with Dr Kawashima.

Ah yes, Nintendo. The undisputed world leaders in portable game design.

With the DS, Nintendo deliberately created something that didn’t slot in with conventional controller-based gaming.

The downside was that it was a chore for third parties to port their best known franchises to it (hence all the games which used the bottom screen for maps and menu screens) but the upside is that you get games that aren’t possible on conventional systems. And that’s all because of the DS’s unique controls, which enable different types of interactivity and therefore different types of games.

Now, please, don’t get me wrong. I think the PS Vita is a cracking piece of kit. I love the fact that it has so many ways in which to interact with a virtual toy. I love that it has a gorgeous OLED screen and is super-quick and connected and all the rest of it. But I worry about Sony’s big brand strategy for the PS Vita. It should’ve learned this lesson with the PSP. The most successful PSP games are the ones where you can dip in and out of and the best games are the ones you wish you could play on your TV. Just like the Vita.

And a lot of the time you could. Are you going to play The Warriors on PS2 or PSP? Well, the PS2 version is the best one, right? Okay, no contest, I’m getting the PS2 one.

This is the other thing that worries me: Cross Buy. This is the thing where you get a free version of the PS Vita version if you buy the PS3 version of the game. Obviously, it’s inspired by those Blu-rays where you get the DVD and a digital edition of the movie in question. The hope must be that people will buy a PS Vita to take advantage of the free game they just got.

So… I’ve just completed the game on PS3 and I’m going to go out and buy a £200 console just to play through it again? Doesn’t add up to me.

The problem with the PS Vita for me is that I own one and I don’t really need to. I can get all those same core gaming experiences on my PS3 and all those casual gaming ones on my iPhone. At the moment it’s a redundant gaming device.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The PS Vita, like the DS, has a load of controls and inputs that the PS3 doesn’t have so it should, in time, lead to game types that aren’t possible on home consoles. What Sony needs is variation, innovation, and exclusivity. If PS Vita is to succeed then it needs to offer gaming experiences that just aren’t possible on any other format, not just replicate those that are.



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