“Wind’s in the east, mist comin’ in.
Like something is brewin’ about to begin
Can’t put me finger on what lies in store
But I feel what’s to happen, all happened before.”
– Bert in Mary Poppins
Following Sony’s E3 Press Conference this year, the emotions of devoted Vita fans were set aflame. New games for the Vita were few and far between, and our beloved little handheld barely made a blip on the video game radar.
“Sony hates the Vita.” “Screw them. If they won’t support it, neither will I.” “The Vita is dead and even Sony knows it.”
From the comment fields on various blogs to Twitter posts, outraged Vita fans let their anger be known. This comes despite E3 never being a strong outlet for Sony’s Vita news. Traditionally, in its short lifetime, Sony has used Gamescom in Germany to be the launching platform for major new Vita announcements. Killzone Mercenary, Tearaway, Murasaki Baby, Fez, Hotline Miami 2, Minecraft, and Borderlands 2 were all major game announcements made at Gamescom. Even the official price drop to $199 was made at the European gala and not E3. But that doesn’t help to assuage the bitter feelings lingering in the hearts of fans feeling betrayed.
To make matters worse, two events only added fuel to the fire.
The first was a mistaken post on the PlayStation Blog that announced Final Fantasy Type-0 HD was being released for the PS Vita. This announcement seemed to be confirmed by Vita champion Shahid Ahmad of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. It was later discovered that the post was an error, and they meant to announce that Type-0 was in fact coming to the PS4 instead. Shahid tweeted an apology for jumping the gun on the announcement. This was followed up with further tweets which imply that the game is already being worked on for the Vita.
This debacle has led to a Twitter campaign surrounding the hashtag #novitanobuy in order to convince Square Enix and Sony to also release the game for PS Vita. Again, Shahid teases on Twitter that it’s in the works, but the campaign marches on.
The second and more troubling event originated from an interview that Andrew House, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment did with Edge. Several sites, including Gamasutra and others, cherry-picked a select quote that made it sound like the Vita was being reduced to the role of an accessory in the eyes of Sony. People jumped to the conclusion that the Vita was now little more than an extender for Remote Play with the PS4. But is that what he actually said?
Let’s take a quick look at his entire comment in full. When asked about the difficulty they were having in selling the Vita, he said the following:
“Well, the first market that I would point to is Japan, where the dedicated portable market has always been very strong. We’re really encouraged to see the start of a very positive spiral in the Japanese market around Vita. Weekly sales are getting to that point where we can really see that this is a platform that has got some legs. That, definitely, is having an effect on the Japanese publishing and development community. Overseas is more challenging. That said, we’ve taken a more holistic view with our platforms. With Remote Play, Vita has now essentially become an extender or an enhancer for the main platform for other rooms in the house, or when someone else wants to use the main screen. As the lifecycle of the platform progresses, there’s an opportunity to position Vita for a younger audience as well with the appropriate franchises. And it’s becoming a very accessible and easy on-ramp for independent developers, those who have had some success in the mobile space and now want to work on games that are that little bit richer, that have a more dedicated gaming interface. And we’re certainly seeing Vita being embraced by that community very strongly.”
Yep, he does mention the Vita being used as an extender. But is that all it is? No.
He says quite clearly that the Vita is selling just fine in Japan, but not as well everywhere else. Why is that? Maybe it’s because the market for dedicated handheld gaming devices in the United States and Europe isn’t as big as it is in Japan. They’ve tried selling it in those markets as a dedicated gaming machine, and it has failed to gain much traction. In order for it to succeed in the West it needs to be more than just a gaming console. It needs to be an important piece of the PlayStation ecosystem as a whole (hence the “holistic” view). If people are not going to buy it as a dedicated gaming machine, then maybe they’ll buy it if they know it can also do these other things, like Remote Play with the PS4.
Sony doesn’t want the Vita to only be a Remote Play device, but to also be a Remote Play device.
“PS Vita will remain a key pillar for us.”
-Shawn Layden, President and CEO of SCEA
Sony is not abandoning the Vita, but it is trying to re-position it. This much came through loud and clear in both their E3 Conference and in events over the last few months. Services like PS Now will add value to the Vita platform, but the true growth lies in other markets.
It appears that Sony has discovered that in order to sell a dedicated handheld gaming device in the United States and Europe, you need to get kids on board. Outside of Japan, it’s rare to see adults walking around with dedicated handheld devices. Yes, there are of course exceptions, but the market for devices like the Vita tend to be with kids. Adults have their smartphones and seem quite content to game on them to pass the idle time while on a bus or waiting at a doctor’s office. But kids, sitting in the backseat of the car for long stretches of time, have traditionally played a 3DS to help pass the time. It looks like Sony is finally starting to want to get in on the action.
Andrew House told us as much when he said, “… there’s an opportunity to position the Vita for a younger audience…”
As the father of an eight year old girl (and an avid Vita fan) I have always been disappointed with the lack of kids games available for the system. Yes, there was the occasional LEGO game, but when compared with what was offered for the 3DS, the pickings were slim.
People like to point to Tearaway as a great game to get kids interested in the Vita, but as charming as Iota and Atoi are, they are characters completely foreign to children. What the Vita needs is a character that kids know. A character that is familiar to them and that they’ll want to play with. This is what makes the Disney Infinity 2.0 announcement for the Vita at E3 this week so important. Now dozens of familiar characters, from Frozen’s Elsa to Captain America, will be available for children of all ages to play with.
And as we learned this week, the experience they will get on the PS Vita will the be the same one they will get on the PS3. This is in addition to the news that when Minecraft comes to the Vita, it too will be the full console experience and not the crippled Pocket Edition. And Minecraft attracts kids. I’ve known people who have purchased XBOX 360s just so their kids could play Minecraft.
It was also telling when the game included in the PlayStation TV bundle was LEGO The Movie, and not Killzone Mercenary. PSTV is an inexpensive way to get people (and parents) into the Vita ecosystem and introduce them to the other great games that are available. And at $99, it’s the perfect console to go into the kids’ playroom (especially since you don’t have to worry about it crashing to the floor if knocked).
Then there are other games like Invizimals: The Alliance and The Resistance as well as PlayStation Vita Pets. The number of family friendly titles (a.k.a. kids’ games) has exploded in the last few months, and kids have gone from having nothing to play to, well, more than nothing. But the list is growing.
Games like Disney Infinity and Minecraft may not be the big AAA titles that current Vita owners are craving, but they are important games if the Vita is to survive as a console. Then, perhaps, once the install base grows to a size that can support AAA from third parties, maybe we’ll see more of them arrive.
But the Vita is not being abandoned. It’s not dead. There’s a lot of life left in it, and Sony is trying to re-position it so people will know just how much this little device is capable of.