So, I have this theory. Now, it's not something I just came up with now (you can read its genesis in a column I wrote called "Console-Makers Are Crazy for Tablets"), but it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Especially now that the Wii U is less than a month away from its grand public debut.
This theory goes a little something like this: Sony is actually putting itself in a position to be able to combat/emulate the success of the Wii U's tablet controller if they need to. You see, the PS3-to-PS Vita compatibility can be tweaked ever so slightly to do basically the exact same thing the Wii U GamePad can do. I mean, the Vita can already be used as a controller for certain PS3 games, and certain PS3 games can be played remotely on the Vita's screen. It's just a short step from here to being a full-on Wii U GamePad competitor.
Only, if Sony doesn't want to ever use this functionality—say because the Wii U's GamePad ends up not being all that cool—they don't need to. They still have the PS3 and the Vita, and both work fine. (Well, you could argue that the Vita's not doing so hot, I suppose. Check out my piece on "The Vita's Biggest Problem" for more about that.)
So, how realistic is this assumption?
Well, there is one major factor that needs to be considered here: The Wii U will actually come with a GamePad in the box. This means that anyone developing for the Wii U can be quite certain that the people who own Wii Us will have access to the GamePad. With the PS3/Vita, there's no such guarantee. So developing a title that functions just like a Wii U title for the PS3/Vita is a huge risk. The target audience for such a title is extremely narrow.
And Sony knows this. Just earlier this month they mentioned that selling the PS3 and the Vita in a bundle pack is something they haven't written off just yet. Still, assuming PS3 owners have a Vita lying around is a risky gamble. I doubt we'll see Sony picking up crazy exclusives that require the Vita/PS3 compatibility in order to work properly. Such a game probably shouldn't expect to see much commercial success, after all.
On the other hand, the Wii U will have that functionality present on every single unit. Developers can create games that take advantage of the full range of the GamePad's wacky functionality, knowing that every Wii U owner will be able to play it without having to pick up an incredibly expensive peripheral. So where are the crazy exclusive touchpad-to-TV-screen games going to be? On the Wii U.
Now let's extrapolate a bit here. Let's say there is some third-party title that uses the Wii U GamePad functionality in some sort of way that's fundamental to the game experience. Say that game ends up being a mega-success, creating an insatiable audience for the Wii U. Now let's say that Sony wants a piece of that success. I don't think a port would be entirely off the table. Sure, it would probably come much later than the Wii U version, and sure, there might still be a fairly small audience who has the required equipment to play such a game on their Sony devices. Still, ports of games that seem only possible on the Wii U aren't entirely off the table for Sony.
Also, it must be noted that for games that use the GamePad functionality in a way that's not essential to the game experience, yet in a way that merely compliments that experience, Sony's in a fairly good position to offer the same title with the same functionality for those who have the required equipment.
So is it fair for me to keep saying that Sony's ready to follow up the success of the Wii U GamePad if they need to? Not entirely, I guess. But that doesn't mean that we won't eventually see some Sony console ports of games that seem tailor-made for the Wii U.
Then again, it's possible the Wii U's GamePad control style will be a complete flop. In which case, Sony can just laugh and keep providing the same types of experiences they've been providing all along.
Either way, it'd sure be nice to see some killer apps hit the Vita sometime soon. Your move, Sony. Your move.
Editor / News Director
Date: October 22, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*