Only Sony can save Vita – but it’s not that hard

By Henry McNulty
11 May 2012 09:06 GMT

Ouch. Vita has sold 1.8 million units since last December. The console is the greatest handheld gaming experience yet created, but Sony’s on the verge of throwing away an incredible opportunity, says blog ninja Henry McNulty.

Dear Sony. You have in your hands the first legitimately worthwhile portable gaming experience. And you are completely and utterly blowing it.

When I opened my PlayStation Vita two months after launch, I was taken aback. It was ergonomic. It looked great. The graphics were console-level. And it actually, for the first bloody time in portable console history, felt like I had full control over what was going on.

Note, I’m the opposite of a fanboy – I hate things with such vigour, such anger, such spite that if I had disliked it I would have thrown it out the window. I spent a month with my 3DS before buyer’s remorse sent it unto the eBay chasm, for example.

So, its sales are down, and there are all of 15 games actually available. So, they’re releasing a white version instead of giving people a new reason to actually buy the thing.

But put Vita in your hands and tell me it is not the first real portable console system. The first that doesn’t feel like we’re sacrificing something to play a game as you would in front of a television.

In the storied history of the portable console we’ve had millions of tons of wasted plastic put into the pot of trying to recreate the console experience on the move. iPhone has superseded most as the gaming console of choice not because it’s the right medium, but because it’s the only one – apart from the Vita – that’s fairly priced. If you’re paying $35 for a game, you should want (in fact, you should demand) something comparable to the price of a $35 console game.

Vita is the first and only console to accurately do that. FIFA feels like FIFA on a console. Katamari, while the same old thing, plays identically to the console. Uncharted, in all of its jagged, aliased glory, may not be the most gorgeous thing, but it feels the same as its counterpart.

3DS, by comparison, makes you sacrifice just as much money for what amounts to, in most cases, a half-arsed repeat of something else. Apart from the fantastic Mario, Resident Evil and Kid Icarus, the rest of its offering is cold, bitter shells of other games. Snake Eater feels horrible, looks horrible and makes you wish you had a PS2. Pro Evolution is a bloody mess. Tekken 3D is just not fun to play with.

And so on and so forth. To shorten that rant, PS Vita is the first portable console that exists that doesn’t make you wish you were playing the console version.

Open letter

Before iPhone, most portable titles felt like cold shadows of the console you left at home. Apple bridged that gap by bringing the price down, streamlining iteration and distribution, and applying semi-rigid quality control (at least at the beginning). With Vita we have the very first opportunity to get that in-home, I’m-on-an-actual-console-here experience. We don’t have to wait for the PSP version of whatever it is we’re playing, knowing that it’ll probably be a wanky, stripped-down, hard-to-control waste. We know that – for now – we have a console that will actually support a gamer’s game. A game that is as deep, as intricate and as worth-developing-for as a sit-down title.

Sadly, it doesn’t feel as if developers are taking it seriously. Even ones that would be perfect for it. This isn’t the first time it’s happened either – and it’s partly on consumers who are expecting too much from a launch, but doubly on Sony for not stepping up to the challenge.

So let me finish this piece with an open letter.

Dear Sony,

You’ve been quite happy to bitch about people pirating games on PSP, and have been even happier to pull games people have legitimately bought to stop piracy. You have in your hands the first legitimately worthwhile portable gaming experience. And you are completely and utterly blowing it.

The recent travails of your gaming divisions have punched you in the face so many times that you look like some sort of freakish, multi-eyed panda. How about you shove some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars you put into suing teenagers into getting great developers to make great games? How about you give up trying to fight those who work around your DRM?

How about you look up and see that you are currently the potential ruler of the premium portable market?

Phone gaming has overtaken you and Nintendo. That’s fine. Let them have their 99 cent games, let them be 5-minute experiences, let them enjoy it. That’s great. They’ll own these devices whether Vita exists or not. It’s a different market. Let them have it.

Make your platform the one that people use to develop interesting, deep portable experiences that suck people in and don’t let them go. You have the processing and graphical power to do something different, with absolutely nobody in the market who can compete.

Use the ferocious profit of your life insurance division to create the Blu-ray of portable gaming. Apple has the low-end. You don’t want it. You have a history of creating luxury brands like Sony Cierge and Vaio. Make Vita the next. When gamers want to take their PS3 with them, give them Vita.

Make a loss on bringing the heaviest hitters to the platform – get EA making Madden games every year, get a Call of Duty game, get another God Of War, give Tim Schaefer a few million dollars, Square-Enix, give Notch his own office right next to Kaz Hirai. Tell homebrew people to tear the bloody thing apart – you cannot and will not stop piracy.

You will own the market, just like you did with the first PlayStation. It’s in your hands to take this opportunity to knock Nintendo out. You have created the most endearing piece of portable gaming hardware ever, and you are wasting your time and money on stupid things. You have the chance to make a stunningly successful, separate brand.

If you don’t take it, you deserve to lose.

Sincerely yours,

Henry McNulty

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