For any PlayStation fan that soaked in the entire two-hour PS4 announcement a couple months back, you may remember a brief mention of a remote play feature that worked in conjunction with various handheld devices. Of course, Sony was sure to give their own portable platform center stage to showcase this feature by providing a live demo of one of their exclusive games in development, Knack. From the gameplay footage, the game ran smooth and looked like it would be just as fun on the Vita as it would on the PS4. So does the successful pitch mean everyone will snatch up a Vita when they purchase their PlayStation 4?
I doubt it.
Now, I think it’s a smart move for Sony to rethink their marketing strategy for the Vita and give it a bigger label as the ultimate accessory for the PS4, but nobody in their right mind would pay $250 for a console accessory unless the features were through the roof. I have a feeling this is where Sony will trip themselves up in their strategy—not because of the Vita’s potential, but because of the demographic that purchases Sony systems.
My biggest concern has to do with the remote play feature. Like the GamePad for the Wii U, the Vita will act as a substitute machine in case the television needs to be freed up for something else. There are a few issues with this idea. First and foremost, Sony has stated that the gameplay on the PS4 will be mirrored on the Vita, which won’t always succeed on the handheld’s significantly smaller screen. Granted, for a portable gaming device, the Vita’s five-inch screen is nice, but when a game is designed for a television screen, smaller font sizes and important details like puzzle clues become much harder to discern.
Second, the two systems will only be connected through a local wireless connection, so the distance the PS Vita can travel away from the PS4 will only be about twenty feet (so forget any ideas of taking Diablo III on the road with you).
And third, unlike the family-centric Wii U that will likely be plugged into the main television, most PS4s will either be bedroom consoles for those still living with parents, or on a set where the gamer is boss. If this analysis holds water, then I have to wonder why anyone would want to play on the Vita when they have access to a television hooked to a PS4.
Ideally, what Sony should do is give the Vita a unique set of play features rather than simply use it as a shrunk-down screen to play Killzone: Shadow Fall on while you watch The Walking Dead on the TV. Perhaps side quests, minigames, and augmented reality features could be exclusive for the Vita. Most Sony fans love their Trophies, so give the Vita a few more that can only be collected through the handheld. Heck, even shell out free DLC content for Vita owners if it translates into more sales.
Finally, with the robust set of social tools that will be included with the PS4, the Vita can act as a perfect input device. You can’t tell me that scrolling through the alphabet with an analog stick is easier than texting on the Vita’s touchscreen.
It could also become a great co-op device. Think about hanging out with a friend and performing some killer sequence on inFAMOUS: Second Son. So you hand over the DualShock 4 to your friend while you upload the video using the Vita. Then you take back control of the game while your friend relays any comments that stream on the Vita’s screen.
Or perhaps you’re stuck, but you would rather check out another area while your friend scours other user uploads using the Vita. It’s the perfect way for both of you to interact with a game instead of one just hanging back and watching.
The PS Vita may very well settle into a future as an accessory, though it has a couple of strikes against it. First is the price, which has been reduced in Japan resulting in stronger sales (even surpassing the 3DS some of the time), yet here in the West we have not been treated to a price drop. Second, and more importantly, are the games. Yes, Sony has assured us that over a hundred games will be launched on the Vita this year alone, but the bulk of them will be indie developed digital downloads. With only a smattering of AAA titles forthcoming, there may not be enough sales spurts to keep the Vita competitive.
Thus a marriage between the portable and the PS4 is where Sony seems to be focusing its efforts. But they need to do more than simply spout remote play capabilities to make us empty our pockets for two pricey consoles. Otherwise the Vita will wind up a powerful novelty that owners will wish was treated better by its creator.
Date: April 22, 2013