I love just about everything about my Vita. Thanks to extensive control options and plenty of power under the hood, it's the first handheld I've ever owned that doesn't feel like a toy. It also includes many of the features of a modern tablet, including a touchscreen, the ability to run downloadable apps, and Netflix support.
So why have I spent so little time with the thing?
It didn't take the gaming community long to figure out that something just wasn't clicking about the Vita. CheatCC's Josh Wirtanen has even written a column or two about it. But this last week, we saw some indications that Sony is recognizing the problem and taking steps to fix it. As the Vita gets beyond its awkward formative years and enters puberty, the company will need to maneuver the console very carefully.
As Josh has pointed out, the Vita's biggest problem is that it doesn't have too many must-have games. Uncharted: Golden Abyss was certainly a lot of fun, and LittleBigPlanet Vita is simply amazing, but most people need more than that if they're going to drop $250+ on a handheld.
And looking at these two games tells us something else of importance: Most of the Vita's best software comes from Sony's own properties. Third-party developers simply haven't been putting their best work on the system, and it shows. Shuhei Yoshida, the president of Sony Worldwide Studios, recently conceded that the company is "disappointed" by this lack of support.
The first step is admitting you have a problem, but Yoshida didn't do much beyond that. Rather than explaining how the company plans to win back third-party developers, Yoshida explained how much harder it's gotten over the years: Now that mobile phones are encroaching on the territory once inhabited solely by handhelds, even an industry giant like Sony can't be guaranteed support for its products.
Of course, one major thing that developers are looking for is an install base, and going forward it will be incredibly difficult for handhelds on this front. They're faced with a chicken-or-egg problem: Gamers will buy a console only if it has a great library, but developers will supply the library only if gamers are already buying the console. Smartphones certainly aren't getting any weaker or less popular—and they don't need a game library to build a user base. They just need basic features.
Is this an intractable problem for Sony? Maybe, but maybe not. There are some reasons to get excited on the horizon. Most notably, two of gaming's biggest multiplatform franchises, Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty, will have unique games for the Vita to go along with their next iterations on the full-size consoles: Assassin's Creed III: Liberation and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. These games represent a major win for Sony—not only will these franchises appear on the Vita, but they'll offer experiences that can't be found anywhere else. Hopefully, they will be worthy experiences in their own right, rather than watered-down imitations of what you can find on a PS3.
And speaking of the PS3, Sony seems intent on making the Vita attractive as a console accessory rather than as, you know, a console. Some of the ideas are certainly good—cross-play compatibility was recently introduced, and this week a Sony exec said the company is open to the idea of selling the two consoles as a single bundle.
However, I am a little concerned about how central this strategy has been to Sony's Vita promotion. $250 is a heck of a lot to pay for an accessory, and gamers won't dish out that kind of cash—or anything close to it, once the price drops start happening—if the Vita won't stand on its own.
There are a few smaller things Sony needs to do too. For example, if Sony wants us to take the Vita serious as a tablet, the console is missing some very basic functionality, including an app that lets you check your e-mail without logging into a browser. It's kind of insane the console has been around this long without such an app being made available. Not only would it allow us to keep track of our lives while we're gaming, but it would give us an incentive to bring the 3G console with us when we leave the house.
The Vita isn't dead by any stretch of the imagination, but it is languishing a little bit amid mediocre sales and less-than-optimal third-party support. This week, the company showed signs of understanding the problems it faces. Now we'll see how it goes about solving them.
Date: October 4, 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.*