[Opinion] Sony Abandons Vita Exclusives: Why It Hurts

We here at GameKoop are big supporters of Sony’s little handheld that could, but hasn’t: the Playstation Vita.

Maybe it would be better to say we want to be fans of what we believe is a truly under-recognized handheld with a ton of potential and little support from its parent. We’ve discussed in the past how the Vita’s biggest hurdle is its struggle for a unique identity, and it appears Sony has unofficially decided to discontinue first-party development for the Vita, or at least toss it on the back burner, based on what President of Sony’s Worldwide Studios for Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. Shuhei Yoshida told Polygon in a recent interview.

ps_vitaLong-gone are the days when the Vita was toted as a place to get “console quality graphics on the go,” with Yoshida saying that as graphics become less of a “talking point” for the console Sony’s strategy for the Vita has also shifted, arguing that gamers aren’t looking for full cinematic experiences on a handheld.

“Gameplay, game mechanic wise, people want to spend 10 minutes, 15 minutes getting in and out…” Yoshida said. “Instead of watching big stories or cinematics, you can spend hours on Vita. So, I think that’s actually the biggest star to help provide great content to Vita going forward. And we continue to make games cross-platform games, especially on the digital side.”

When asked if this new strategy would mean Sony wouldn’t be focusing on first-party exclusives his response was an emphatic, “I would say, yes, that’s correct.”

Considering Sony has also just released the official version of Unity for PlayStation Mobile development to make it easier to port existing mobile games or develop indie titles with the Vita in mind, it seems Sony has all but abandoned the Vita’s original design goals.

unity_for_PSM

This could be problematic if Sony hopes to bolster the Vita’s unimpressive sales. According to VG Chartz at the time of this article, the Vita’s lifetime sales are at a mere 8.36 million units sold worldwide compared to its main competitor, Nintendo’s 3DS, which has 44.81 million units in circulation.

When you get down to it there is a lot of quality content on the Vita, but it’s almost exclusively content you can find elsewhere, and a good portion of that content is generally released earlier and is better optimized on competing platforms.

Take the high-profile release of Borderlands 2 on the Vita. The game originally released on PS3, Xbox 360, PC, and OSX in 2012 to nearly unanimous praise from critics and fans alike. The Game of the Year Edition was released worldwide on October 11, 2013, before finally making its way to the Vita just last month to largely unflattering reviews with both fans and critics criticizing the port for dipping frame-rates, muddy graphics, and most of all an awkward control scheme which relied too heavily on the Vita’s touchscreen controls.

psvita_borderlands2_bundle

Yoshida defended this strategy of porting third-party content to the system in the interview as well.

“Comparing that to the PS3 experience,  I don’t think that should be the point,” Yoshida told Polygon. “It’s a very, very deep and enjoyably fun game, and I’m having fun playing with a new character I missed on PS3 because it included most of the DLC. So I think they did a great job.”

But unfortunately fans will always compare their previous experience with a title to a new version. Borderlands 2 is still Borderlands 2 regardless of the platform, and a large portion of those interested in picking up the game have probably already experienced everything the game has to offer– possibly DLC included.

Yoshida also believes Playstation Now (Sony’s upcoming streaming service) and Remote Play have taken the pressure off of Sony to produce content specifically for the Vita.

PS_Now

I’m not criticizing Sony for bringing an older game to the Vita or wanting to capitalize on their impressive backlog of content, but pushing out watered down console ports and expecting it to carry your system seems like a death wish for a system I truly believe has a lot of life left in it.

VG Chartz shows that the highest selling games on the Vita across the board are PS Vita exclusives (or at least started that way…)

AC3L2I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed.

All of which attempted (sometimes with roaring success) to deliver on Sony’s promise of console quality handheld games. Unfortunately a few high-profile blunders seem to have left a sour taste in Sony’s mouth where Vita development is concerned. Given the raw amount of development manpower Sony has at it’s disposal, it’s a shame that Sony isn’t willing to devote any of its resources to a few new Vita exclusives based on any of Sony’s beloved IPs.

If the rebound of the 3DS has taught us anything it’s that handhelds still have a place in gaming’s crowded ecosystem, and what ultimately sells them are quality exclusives. Core gamers are always going to want deeper experiences than your standard mobile offerings, and as great as the indie and PSN offerings are, they aren’t enough for this frugal (see also: broke) gamer to drop $200+ on a handheld, and based on the Vita’s performance I’m apparently not alone.

As the Playstation ecosystem continues to grow, the Vita still has a lot of time to prove itself at the very least to the Sony faithful, but I am disappointed to see Sony so quick and abruptly abandon their initial vision for the Vita. I’m absolutely on board with the idea of the Vita being a haven for indie developers, a means to access my PSN library and play ports of console games, and the future promise of streaming games to the handheld is an absolute dream. But no one of those things makes me feel as if I need the Vita, and for me that’s the sole reason I still don’t own one.

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