The Vita has been on sale in the West now for over six years. Even this website is coming up to celebrating its sixth birthday and has recently passed the 1 million mark in terms of page views. That certainly shows the extensive support that the console has had in its lifetime. However, that is all coming to an end. The Vita has already ceased production in the West and the same is happening in Japan in 2019. Physical game production is coming to an end in March 2019 for Europe and America and while nothing has been said for Eastern territories we know that time will come as well.
Sony Loves Digital
Right from an early start, Sony have made it clear that they have wanted to push digital content over physical for the PlayStation Vita. There are a number of factors why this is the case and while it’s frustrating for gamers, it’s understandable from a business point of view. We’re entering an era where digital content is king and where it is a priority over physical for publishers. Unfortunately consumers lose out with this digital-centric model having less long term security.
So why have they done this? As much as gamers love them, publishers loathe pre-owned games. Once a game is sold at retail brand new, both the publisher and Sony have seen the last of their percentage of the sale. Any income from re-sales of that copy go straight to the individual or store selling it as pre-owned. Naturally Sony and the respective publishers hate that. Not just the fact that they are missing out on potential sales but the fact that many gamers wait specifically to buy second hand.
In contrast, there is no pre-owned digital market. Even if games are on offer in sales they are still being sold as “new” products and royalty payments are guaranteed. Less so with the PS3 and PS4, but with the Vita (and PSP before it) are the memory cards. Using proprietary cards meant that Sony were the only supplier. If we needed extra storage we were left with no choice but to buy official memory cards. The only other option was to delete games after we finished with them, safe in the knowledge that we could download them again in the future. Or could we?
Disappearing Digital Games
That’s the worry that Vita owners have right now. Well, a concern that echoes right across the games industry. That the ownership of digital games is not guaranteed. I’ve talked about this in the past, but when you buy a digital game you are only buying a license to play that game – you don’t own it. The publisher has the right to withdraw that license at any time and remove that game from sale whenever they wish. Digital games have disappeared from sale repeatedly over recent years and while we have been told that our downloads are safe, that’s not a certainty.
A large number of Vita games have disappeared from sale already from the PlayStation Store over the last six years. Sony have insisted that games will be available if purchased before, but what if licenses have been withdrawn or other issues prevent that? We have already had the situation where an entire range of games disappeared from Sony’s archives (PlayStation Mobile) where over 500 games removed from sale. Worryingly, these games were also no longer available for redownload for those who had previously purchased them.
How Do We Save Our Games?
Reading that, it might seem as if an all-digital option for gaming is something of a risk. Certainly it’s not something I choose to go for as an individual. I’d feel more confidence in making my fortune from winning the lottery buying powerball tickets online than having faith in owning a digital only collection for the Vita! It’s not doom and gloom though and there are steps we can take to minimise the risks.
So what do we need to do to safeguard the games that we currently own? What I can’t stress enough is that taking steps to protect your collection is something that needs to be done sooner rather than later as games are disappearing now. Memory card prices have been in a state of flux for some time and it’s only a matter of time before production on these comes to an end. Once that does, the supply of new cards will dry up and we’ll be left with no choice but to use second hand storage. And that will have a finite lifespan.
Content Manager To The Rescue
I’ve discussed the importance of the Content Manager app in more detail in the past. Now, it’s become an even more important tool than ever for Vita owners. While many use it already to transfer their Vita games to and from their PC to minimise the number of memory cards that they need, its future lies as a backup package. As games collections grow, so will the need for high capacity storage though and Vita owners could find themselves needing potentially several hundred gigabytes of storage to backup their entire collections safely.
But why should we need to? It could be argued that we can continue to download games that we have already purchased. Sadly there is no guarantee of that always being the case. Similarly, the majority of digital titles will need patches and updates and we can’t assume that these will always be available. The PSP has lost its online store and eventually the PS Vita will as well. What’s to say that the Vita won’t lose access to game updates and DLC in the not-too-distant future?
So assuming that you’ve used Content Manager to back up all of your games and save game data, what other options do you have?
Let’s Get Physical
While the PS Vita is a portable powerhouse, it does have drawbacks. Its battery life is generally great, although we all agree that memory card prices could be a lot better. The problem the Vita has (and this is the same for its Nintendo counterparts) is that handheld gaming doesn’t lend itself particularly well to portability of its games. Sony tried to address this with its focus on digital gaming but that doesn’t provide for a future-proof environment.
Unfortunately, despite the advantages digital games have when it comes to portability, we need to look once again to physical games to preserve our games. There’s a reason why retro gaming is popular and why people still use original computing and console hardware from the 80s and 90s – the games still work. I own computers bought at the beginning of the 1980s, with games that are 37 years old and they work just as well as the day they were purchased. While some games are becoming rare, the existence of physical media has allowed the games to survive.
Sadly not all PS Vita games have been fortunate enough to have been released physically. Looking at high street stores when the Vita was available, you may be fooled into thinking that hardly any games were. However, that certainly wasn’t the case. Hundreds of Vita games have been released for the European market, more exclusively for America and more again for Japan and the Asian market. With the Vita being a region free console, any of these will run happily and it’s simply a case of checking that the game runs in the language you need it to.
But what of the smaller, indie releases? Aren’t physical games restricted to the bigger AAA publishers? That hasn’t been the case for a long time. Innovative publishers such as Limited Run Games and Eastasiasoft have been working with smaller developers to bring their titles to physical form for the Vita. While these may be released as smaller production limited edition titles, these are vital for publishers and collectors alike. Prices have stabilised over the last year or so after a couple of years of eBay resellers artificially inflating the price of almost every limited game released so most are quite affordable now. These are ideal for replacing digital copies and saving that all important memory card space.
There is one drawback to aiming towards a 100% physical collection. The Vita’s system has a built-in limit to the number of icons that it can display on its home screen. Each time a physical game is inserted into the console, an icon is added permanently here to store basic system settings for that game. Originally this limit was set at 100 icons but with almost 20 being taken up with pre-installed items that proved impractical.
Vita owners campaigned heavily for a change to this, including ourselves pointing out the problems it could cause in the long term. Sony eventually agreed and a major system update was released. This added support for folders and the icon limit was revised to the current total of 500.
Now that may seem like enough for most Vita owners but as collections shift to physical games that may not be the case. With a greater need for gamers to download their entire collections and use more or larger memory cards, more icons will be used up. For example, gamers who collect the Minis range could find themselves running out of icon capacity very quickly. There are a large number of collectors now who have hundreds of physical games and there are certainly far more than 500 available for the PS Vita.
So what happens if your physical collection reaches or exceeds that limit? For now we don’t know. While you could transfer save data to your PlayStation Plus account, delete the icon then restore it next time you want to play the game, that won’t always be an option. We also don’t know how long PlayStation Plus will continue to offer PS Vita support.
Disturbingly, the Vita marks the start of a new era in gaming. It – along with the PS3 and XBox 360 – ushers in a generation of hardware that is likely to see a large percentage of its games catalogue disappear within a matter of years. The Vita has sold approximately 16 million consoles worldwide. Each digital game sold is locked to a specific PlayStation Network account. Any time a Vita is sold on second hand to a new owner, any digital games on that console are lost. If any of those have been discontinued, then they’re lost to than new owner.
I don’t know how many PlayStation Mobile fans there were out there, but it was safe to say that the format didn’t have much support. Some of those games may have been lost already as mobile phone handsets were sold or upgrades and Vitas underwent factory resets. The future could be even more bleak for the PS Vita as a whole though. As the consoles themselves change hands over the next 5-10 years, digital games rights will slowly erode leaving just physical games remaining. We could find digital games left with those faithful Vita owners who have been with the console from the beginning.