With fewer and fewer games being released for the PS Vita, it has been left to the indie developer community to keep the console alive. It’s their determination and love of the console and ongoing support that ensured that there was a steady flow of games throughout 2020. Infact, we saw almost 60 new releases last year, with many more planned for 2021 and beyond. But not all Vita owners have embraced these releases…
Developing games is an expensive business. AAA titles usually take years of work and massive teams. To be frank we’re never going to see titles like that on the PS Vita again. Instead, the Vita has become a haven for smaller developers or even one person studios, eager to bring their games to the platform. Even then it can be a risk. So more often than not we are treated to games originally intended for other systems first.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. If it weren’t for these ports we’d miss out on some fantastic games that have come our way over the years. Spelunky, Thomas Was Alone, and Stardew Valley for example all made their debut on the PC. If developers are convinced that they will be a commercial success on the Vita then the risk and cost of porting their games isn’t usually an issue. It’s almost a given that the more successful PC indie games will make money so developers have no need to use an odds converter UK to see just what their chances of success are.
It’s the same for other smaller developers who choose to utilise popular development packages to create their games. And while that keeps their costs down, it still takes time and resources to produce console ports. If game engines have already been ported to consoles then games can often be converted with relative ease. For the Vita, once we had a version of Unity it meant that games could be converted quite quickly between systems as long as they didn’t push the hardware too much. In fact, Minutes was converted between the PS4 and PS Vita by one person in just six weeks.
For smaller studios, many turn to other publishers for assistance with their conversions. Ratalaika have assisted countless developers bringing their games to consoles over the last few years with their innovative approach. Rather than converting games from scratch, they have developed ports of the game engines in-house. In doing so, it has allowed them to convert a huge number of games across to a wide number of formats with minimal effort once the engine itself is ported.
Even that approach isn’t always enough though. Ratalaika themselves admitted that they barely make enough from sales of their Vita ports to make them profitable. With rising piracy on the system making an impact as well some developers are giving up on the platform completely. It doesn’t make matters any easier when Sony Interactive Entertainment themselves are now giving a lower priority to PS Vita games when it comes to passing them through their QA processes.
So what options do developers (and gamers) have? In order to break even, developers have looked to releasing physical copies of their games in partnership with the likes of Limited Run Games, Strictly Limited Games, Eastasiasoft, and so on. Understandably, smaller studios don’t have the power to attract large publishers to their games, and often these indie titles won’t appeal to the mass market anyway but there is a core market amongst Vita collectors still for physical releases. Despite game cartridges not being made in western territories for the platform, there has been no details of cessation of production yet on a worldwide basis so it’s still a viable option for developers wanting to continue releasing games for the Vita.
In the case of these games, an indie game that may sell for under £10 digitally will get a physical release for around £25-£30. Even with production costs deducted and the share to the partner company, they are still likely to make more than they would for their digital release taking Sony’s share into consideration. And that’s even with a limited production run of around 2,000 copies. But how? As these are guaranteed collectors editions there is no doubt that these will sell out, sometimes in a matter of hours. Sadly in some cases these sell more physically than the digital copies do in their entire lifetime.
Can The Physical Price Be Justified?
Sales of these physical releases may earn just enough to ensure that the developers can continue to support the Vita for that elusive “one more game”. They may port their titles to other formats as well, but a physical release could be the difference between seeing a Vita port or not. The big challenge to developers and physical game publishers is persuading Vita owners that titles are worth the (higher) asking price compared with their digital counterparts. When I recorded an unboxing video for our YouTube channel covering many titles from Limited Run Games, almost all of them offered just the game on a physical card. Understandably, many felt aggrieved over the price difference, especially when some games were being sold at three to four times their original price.
But what many gamers forget here is that a developer receives a much more generous share of the sales proceeds per copy with these releases. Yes, there are the aforementioned production costs and share to the publisher. In the case of a publisher like Eastasiasoft, we’re also accustomed to extras like soundtrack CDs, printed manuals and more to add value to the game package. Certainly the latter goes some way towards compensating for the higher asking price compared with the digital release.
Most importantly though – and certainly where the Vita’s future lies – it’s the share that goes to the developers that matters most. It’s safe to say that developers make more per physical copy sold than the original selling price of the digital release. And with guaranteed sales of anything up to a couple of thousand copies it makes supporting the Vita a worthwhile option.
What Does The Future Hold?
Western publishers like Strictly Limited Games and Red Art Games have sadly released the last of their Vita titles. Limited Run Games, on the other hand do have at least one more remaining that should be coming out at some point in 2021 that was produced last year. A newcomer to the game, Nicalis, have been sitting on large stocks of physical copies of two of their games for a couple of years now including VVVVVV and the speculation is that they are holding back until no more physical games are being released so they can hold the ominous “honour” of releasing the last ever physical game for the Vita.
In contrast, Eastasiasoft have plans for a lot more titles for 2021 and beyond. And as long as the demand is there and Sony keep making cartridges for us, hopefully developers will keep supporting the Vita and bringing us new and ports of existing titles to keep the console alive!