Sony’s new handheld, the PS Vita, is set to continue the company’s trend of making the most technically impressive hardware possible with a price tag to match. It a risky strategy with the huge overheads on development, but in a slumping economy and phone gaming eating into the Vita’s market, I am worried that my two hundred and thirty pound investment will all too quickly turn into little more than an attractive paper weight.
Even at thirty-two years old I find myself getting over excited at the prospect of a new toy. Opening a new game still fills me with delight, and a new console has me itching with anticipation. But as I have grown older I have found the come down from my joy becoming ever more severe, with the realisation of what else the money could have been used for quickly eroding my enjoyment.
It is this emotional rollercoaster that has me scared for Sony’s new handheld, the PS Vita. I can feel my anticipation building as I climb towards its release date eager to claim my pre-order. But there is an unshakable feeling somewhere at back of my mind, and I can feel myself preparing for the backlash from my elation.
Perversely I have no doubts about the Vita itself. Having now used one I can say with certainty that it certainly lives up to my expectations. It’s solid well-made form lives up to Sony’s high standards, feeling sleek and comfortable in my hands. Dual analogue sticks, while small are ergonomically placed even for my large hands, while the front and rear touch panels are easy to reach. The systems gorgeous five-inch OLED screen compliments this wonderful form factor, allowing games to be rendered with a clarity I couldn’t have imagined without seeing it. Such a display would be wasted without the graphics to back it up and the Vita doesn’t disappoint here either, its quad-core processor enabling games that are comparable with some of the best home console releases.
What has me scared is the market the Vita is coming into. It was less than a year ago that the 3DS launched to a less than riotous response, forcing Nintendo to make a dramatic cut in the system’s price. Speculation about the 3DS’s slow start is rife, but ultimately it boils down to price, demand and competition, factors that of course the Vita is also up against.
Continuing the comparison with the 3DS, the Vita is in a stronger position. There is an intangibility in advertising 3D, a promise of something that cannot be shown. Vita is a considerably more concrete in its promises, with far better graphics, connectivity with the PS3 and a fantastic launch line up of games to name but a few.
Perversely however the majority of the handheld market isn’t currently made up of traditional gamers. It is ubiquitous devices that dominate mobile-gaming, multifunctional items that we carry with us. Sony and Nintendo are no longer tussling with each other but with the iOS and Android systems for domination of people’s thumbs when on the move. Already in peoples pockets these phone and tablet devices have a huge advantage in terms of their accessibility for people. They negate the need for players to buy a dedicated machine, providing bite-sized games for players who are only looking for a distraction rather than a more substantial experience.
It is the implications of all this that scares me, not that the Vita wont live up to my expectations but that it wont live up to Sony’s or publishers. I was a huge proponent of the PSP, and indeed still am. But its slow decline was something of a self-fulfilling prophesy with poor sales (in the West at least) leading to poor development support of the platform… which in turn lead to poorer sales. Seeing the system sit idol as publishers turned away from it in favour of more profitable options was difficult and it gives me pause again now.
I am convinced of a place in the market for the Vita. It corrects all of the PSP’s mistakes and provides a serious mobile gaming platform that really has no rival. What I am not convinced of is that the hole it is intended to fill will be big enough for everyone who wants to make profit from it. With the system’s powerful graphic power requiring high development costs and competing against none traditional gaming devices with low overheads, Sony are going to face a struggle getting enough systems into peoples hands to ensure continued backing. But I for one hope they do because the possibilities it offers, and because I would like the high I get off this purchase to last.