How memory card pricing helped kill the Vita

Let’s not beat around the bush here: the Playstation Vita, as much as we love it, is entering its long-awaited, much advertised end-of-life cycle. A lot of factors contributed to this, not least the fact that’s it’s been 6 years since the device first saw the light of day. But lack of first-party support, as well as minimal third-party AAA games definitely didn’t help push the console out there. Today, however, we’re looking at what I think is the Vita’s silent killer: the proprietary and ridiculously expensive storage solution Sony decided to use on the handheld, primarily to avoid the rampant piracy that plagued the PSP. It’s 2018 now, and you might as well hope for online roulette bonuses if you’re trying to get a 64GB Vita memory card for less than $100. But how has this affected the life of the device, and what does the future hold for digital games on the Vita?

This is, of course, not the first time Sony imposed a proprietary storage solution for one of its products. In fact, the very first Sony Playstation used proprietary Memory cards as well. Back then, it made sense because mainstream solid state storage solutions were not a thing. Fast-forward to the mid 2000’s, and the PSP was using the Memory Stick format, again, a proprietary solution. The PSP and the Memory Stick, however, lacked a lot of the counter-piracy measures that were needed to prevent people from accessing the storage in a homebrew situation. This, along with the operating system in the PSP, made it possible for people to, quite easily I might add, hack the PSP to allow for non-sanctioned features, including the possibility of playing ROMs. This meant that PSP system sales were fantastic, but developers and publishers took a huge hit, as people rampantly used the handheld to run ROMs, emulators and a host of other stuff on it.

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Sony seemed determined to prevent this from happening with the long-awaited PSP successor, and when the Vita was introduced, a new storage solution came along with it. The first version of the Vita came with no internal storage and a measly 4GB memory card, which would, at a pinch, hold 1 (yes, ONE) full-size, AAA-type experience. Let’s remember, shall we, that while PSP games usually topped out at 1GB, Vita games with patches are known to go to 5GB, and even more. Sony was really pushing the PSN Store on the Vita, too, with PSP, PS One, PS Mobile and PS Mini compatibility, as well as native Vita games. So, you had all these great gaming experiences at your fingertips, but nowhere to put them.

Fret not, as Sony had the solution to your woes: 32GB Vita cards, which cost around $60 (yes, that is sixty of your finest U.S. dollars). Actually, because Sony did not sell all that many (I wonder why?), it might be worth buying up stock of Vita memory cards, as they seem to hold their value better than the gold standard.

The new storage solution did indeed prevent people from getting homebrew to run on the Vita, for the most part. Eventually, HENkaku was created, but even then, it can only run on Vita and PSTV systems with firmware version 3.30 installed. Which is why systems with that firmware version are selling for a pretty penny online. So, everyone happy then, right?

Not quite.

You see, if you want to take advantage of the regular sales on digital content on the PSN Store, you will need about two 64GB cards if you’re a hardcore gamer. That’ll run you in the neighborhood of $250. Yes, two-hundred and fifty dollars for 128GB of storage. A top-of-the-line computer SSD of that capacity is less than a quarter of that price. And you’ll need the capacity, too, because not only is it a pain to back up your games to your computer, but restoring them requires the Vita to be linked to the PSN account that purchased the games. What will happen when the Vita no longer has access to the authentication servers? Nobody knows. Most likely, however, Sony will simply fade it into the night, pretend nobody bought digital games on the Vita, and move on (much like they are doing with the PSP).

What to do then?

Not much you can do, really. If you’ve got the money, go ahead and buy the memory cards needed for storing all those games. Me, however, I’ll just be moving onto the Switch, thanks. The reality is that most, if not all, the Vita digital games are being re-released on the Switch, and at a more sensible $25 for 64GB, the MicroSD cards that the Switch uses guarantee that, at the very least, I’ll be able to afford to purchase digital games for the lifespan of the system. Bonus? Switch games are not that much bigger than Vita games for the most part. At least the ports of the games that were released on the Vita to begin with (FIFA and other outliers notwithstanding).

So, there you have  it: Vita Memory Cards, a measure put in place to prevent piracy and encourage developers and publishers to release their content on the Vita, were (and still are) so prohibitively expensive that they contributed in no small way to poor system sales and general apathy towards the handheld. Did we mention the 3DS, the Vita’s direct competitor from Nintendo, uses regular SD cards, which are much, much cheaper and readily available? 3DS games are much smaller, too. Go figure. 

If the rumors of Sony re-thinking their “never again will we go portable” stance due to the success of the Switch is true, let’s at least hope that they provide the new device with better first-party support. Let’s also hope that third-party developers go head-forward into it. And let’s, for the love of all that’s holy, hope that Sony realize that stupid, overpriced proprietary storage is a detriment to their products. 

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