December 2021 was a sad month for the Vita community. It saw the release of the last commercial PS Vita games, when Eastasiasoft released their final physical games for the console. Mooseman and A Winter’s Daydream, limited to just 1,000 copies each. Despite rumours circulating for some time that there may be further games to come from Nicalis based on limited copies that have surfaced in the wild, it would seem that this is the end for the Vita.
But as we all know, it’s not the end for the console. The homebrew community has become incredibly active for the last few years. What started off as a way to bring emulation to the PS Vita and increased storage capacity by way of allowing the use of MicroSD cards, it has become far more than that. Homebrew on the PS Vita has opened up the console to a plethora of original games, and thanks to the ability to overclock the hardware it has allowed developers to unleash the real potential of the platform.
More importantly, we are seeing unofficial conversions of games that never made it to the Vita. Thanks to source code being made available, we are seing PS Vita ports of games like Doom, Quake, Cuphead, and several in the GTA series based on the Android versions. In the case of GTA it’s even been noted that the PS Vita ports of GTA hold up remarkably well against GTA Trilogy on the Nintendo Switch with many critics arguing that the Vita version looks better overall thanks to its use of lighting and textures.
New Commercial PS Vita Games?
With Sony closing submissions for Vita games to the PlayStation Store last July, and no more game cartridges being made, is there a future for commercial PS Vita games. While the aforementioned ports of GTA, Quake etc have no commercial potential because of copyright issues, these titles still take time to develop. Most homebrew games for the Vita are purely a labour of love but is it possible for developers to release a game that is commercially viable in 2022?
Potentially, yes. Despite being released 40 years ago there are still games being released for the Commodore 64 and sold commercially making money for their developers. There are individuals, small development teams and even publishers selling games directly as physical releases on cassette, disk and cartridge or as digital releases for use on emulators through sites such as itch.io. With some of the more successful titles selling thousands of copies it has certainly proved that there is money to be made from older unsupported formats.
Could It Work For The Vita?
The question still remains whether it would be possible to release new commercial PS Vita games in this way? Crowdfunding could give Vita developers an option to create their games if they were fully costed in advance and deliver the finished games via itch.io. While the platform does provide the ability to allow developers to provide users with “keys” to download games in the same way that PlayStation Store codes can be redeemed, that would have some drawbacks.
A lot of Vita owners have been burned badly by failed Kickstarter campaigns. I’ve lost count of the number of games I backed on the crowdfunding site only to have them refunded when the Vita port was cancelled. It’s uncertain just how many PS Vita owners would support paying for a game in advance with such a risk. With the fees involved as well, it adds more pressure to developers.
In contrast, while developers would need to have a completed game up front, using itch.io would provide Vita owners with an affordable platform, offers significantly lower fees for developers and allows for a quick and easy update route for games.
Bringing Back Former Developers
This move to itch.io could also have the potential to bring former developers of commercial PS Vita games back to the console. Publishers like Rataliaka Games, who used an in-house porting system to convert PC indie games quickly and efficiently to the console could be tempted. The only risk to them would be piracy. As the itch.io platform is DRM-free it would rely on the honesty of the Vita community to support such releases to make them viable.
Eastasiasoft managed to have a successful run with their physical games, but is it really possible to extend the Vita’s life into 2022 and beyond as a commercial platform? As Vita owners it’s in our hands to show support to the developers who decide to take that risk.