PS Vita’s real TGS headline – the genius of pre-pay 3G

Wednesday, 14 September 2011 08:38 GMT By Patrick Garratt

You may have all been hanging on the date, but Vita’s pre-pay system was Sony’s real TGS bombshell. Patrick Garratt explains how the move assures Sony’s next gen handheld longevity and competitiveness in a space occupied by Apple and Google.

Sony’s confirmation of a Vita date may have been the flashy headline from the firm’s TGS 2011 keynote this morning, but it wasn’t the most important.

Vita will release on December 17 in Japan in two versions ahead of a western launch next year. You’ll be able to buy either a unit with both 3G and WiFi connectivity, or one with no mobile connection.

More interesting than the date itself is how Vita’s remote connection will work.

Sony and partner NTT Docomo confirmed a pre-paid system for Vita’s 3G component in Japan this morning, by which gamers will pay for mobile connections up-front and based on time, not data-counts.

The ramifications of the move are huge. Up to this point, handheld games devices have been either WiFi-only or mobile phones and tablets, tied into data contracts with traditional carriers.

To connect a Japanese Vita away from a wireless connection will cost ¥980 (£8/€9.30/$12.70) for a 20-hour pre-paid card, and ¥4,980 (£41.10/€47.50/$64.70) for 100 hours pre-paid.

The ramifications of the move are huge. Up to this point, handheld games devices have been either WiFi-only or mobile phones and tablets, tied into data contracts with traditional carriers.

Pre-paid iPad data is available, but you pay by the megabyte – and there’s not much chance of fitting an iPad into your pocket.

Sony has skirted the default method of data delivery, allowing for anyone to play online, anywhere, with no expensive data commitment.

The social networks instantly fired up as to whether the system will be replicated in the West, but given Vita is an intrinsically online device it seems likely that Sony will adopt the same model in the US and Europe.

The big question now is who will win the local 3G contracts.

Pressure

This pre-paid system will directly pressure mobile phone companies in the games space.

As Sony and Nintendo moved into the next generation with their mobile games offerings this year, there appeared to be a deadlock between the old schoolers and the rising kings of a fresh style of handheld games, Apple and Google, with the phone-makers storming apparently unchecked into the world of mobile gaming thanks to their ubiquity.

Nintendo failed to make 3DS work against the new guard, seemingly refusing to accept that a modern mobile device must be both connected and support all major social networking systems, leaning on 3D as the machine’s differentiation. It is now paying the price.

Sony, though, has been far smarter, and has shown a full understanding that Vita needs to provide both a unique gaming experience and adopt all the features people have come to expect from any mobile media device.

Sony demonstrated brains today. Nintendo has made some shocking errors with 3DS, and probably the worst of them is a failure to concede that being a part of the modern handheld landscape means providing fully-featured connectivity.

Vita will provide a very high-end mobile gaming experience – technically superior to that of an iPhone or HTC handset, with physical buttons and joysticks – but it will also give users something that Apple never can: pay as you go online mobile games based on time.

Sony demonstrated brains today. Nintendo has made some shocking errors with 3DS, and probably the worst of them is a failure to concede that being a part of the modern handheld landscape means providing fully-featured connectivity.

There is no 3G version of 3DS; it was a puzzle Nintendo couldn’t solve.

Many had sneered at Vita, too, saying it was impossible for it to compete with always-on iPhone and Android systems and their dollar games, but we are now looking at a device that can deliver a dedicated, top-drawer gaming experience; can fit in your pocket; can support online play anywhere via 3G; and doesn’t need to be tied to a contract.

It’s unique, and it has its place in the hideously competitive world of modern mobile games thanks, in part, to offering easy 3G access to all.

Unique

Game-makers are sure to lean heavily on Vita’s online aspects, and this was demonstrated in the press conference today.

Capcom announced Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3, showing slides of how the game will work online, but, more tellingly, Kojima showed that HD editions of Metal Gear Solid and Zone of the Enders will use the Transfarring system, which tracks play on both Vita and PS3 and syncs progress.

The fact developers can bank on Vita being online anywhere is crucial to its success. The games that can be made for it are not possible on other systems. You’ll be able to play MGS HDE at home, go to work and play it on the train on Vita, play it in your lunch break and again on the way home, and all the progress you’ve made remotely will be synced to the home version when you fire it up again at the end of the day.

That is unique, and there’s no contract barrier to entry. Further, Kojima’s next game, based on the Fox Engine, will support the feature.

Vita’s success isn’t assured, but that Sony has managed to steer the console into a position where it has the best chance is to be lauded.

PlayStation Vita will launch in Japan on December 1, priced ¥29,980 (£248/€286/$390) for the 3G version and ¥24,980 (£206/€239/$325) for the WiFi-only machine. It’s to release in Europe and the US early next year.

[Main image courtesy of Gigazine]

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