PlayStation Vita – Hopes For 2014

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Now that 2013 is behind us and the PS Vita has had its best year so far following the launch of the PS4 and a fantastic upsurge in support from the games industry, most notably the indie developer community thanks to the hard work of Sony’s Shahid Kamal Ahmad who has strived to bring countless new and innovative games to the platform things have never looked better.

The Vita has a strong future ahead thanks to Remote Play and more great games lined up for the coming month but it’s still not all plain sailing. We don’t know what 2014 will hold for the Vita but we have a few ideas for things we’d like to see or hope for…

100 Icons Limitation

A “feature” of the PS Vita’s operating system since day one, we all know that the console is currently limited to a maximum of 100 icons on the home screen. Even the addition of folders earlier this year hasn’t addressed this problem, merely allowed gamers to categorise icons to make their games collections easier to sort on memory cards but now this limit is proving to be incredibly prohibitive. For those of you fortunate enough not to have encountered it yet, the underlying problem with the icon limit is this…

  1. The PS Vita is limited to a maximum of 100 icons on its home screen
  2. Approximately 18 of these are taken up with pre-installed apps and system files. These can not be removed or deleted.
  3. Each time you purchase a boxed retail game, this adds an icon to the home screen. For those of you who use multiple memory cards for your games collection, these retail icons become a permanent fixture on all of your cards, irrespective of whether any game data is present on that card.

Herein lies the problem. For those PS Vita owners with a balance between downloaded and retail games collections, it’s quite possible that many gamers will have 50% or more of the icons on their cards reserved for system files and retail games before even installing a single title. No matter how large a memory card may be, this becomes incredibly restrictive and on a practical level makes buying games from the PSN store difficult when not only do gamers have to decide whether or not they can afford a title, but also if they have the physical and icon space for them.

If the Vita is to have a healthy future both in terms of retail releases and through the PSN store, then a firmware update is critical either increasing the icon limit significantly or removing it completely.

Memory Cards

It’s clear that, with limited support at retail for physical products that them emphasis for the Vita is still going to be on digital downloads. As such, the availability,  pricing and capacity of memory cards needs to be a top priority for Sony Computer Entertainment. The Nintendo 3DS (as the Wii did before it) uses standard SD cards for storage making them incredibly affordable for gamers of all ages. While this may result in higher prices for games due to a lack of revenue from memory cards, this is a trade-off that gamers don’t seem to be objecting to.

The Vita is in a more interesting position. With a greater reliance on the PSN store, then memory cards have a greater role to play. We certainly need higher capacity cards as transferring data to and from cards using Content Manager – while straightforward enough – is tiresome and time consuming. However, we still have the icon limitation in place. A 64Gb card may be wonderful for storing larger games like Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time and Killzone: Mercenary, but when you look at smaller games that are 1Gb or less, then you will hit the 100 icon limit before you run out of space – hardly an ideal situation.

Most importantly is the cost factor. When downloading games right now, storage space costs money. With the PS3 and PS4 it’s not much of an issue but with the PS Vita space comes at a high price. 4Gb and 8Gb cards have very little real-world use, especially at their current prices, but even larger cards are not currently cost effective. At current UK prices a download of a game like Sly Cooper or Killzone would use approximately £5-6 worth of memory card space. When you add this “hidden” cost into the price of digital gaming it makes the PSN store a far less attractive prospect for gamers, and the same can be extended to PlayStation Plus. If the price of cards were to be slashed dramatically, gamers would be more willing to embrace digital distribution.

Realistically speaking, there need to be three things done in 2014. The aforementioned firmware upgrade removing the 100 icon limit, widespread availability of 64Gb cards, and cards being more affordable generally. As gamers, we want to buy software from the store and take out PS+ subscriptions but we need somewhere to store these games that we can afford.

Games

So I’ve already touched upon games and no console is complete without games. There’s no denying that the Vita is a powerful piece of hardware and on paper it’s one of the most desirable consoles ever built, but is has struggled in its formative days on the software front. Despite what has come from the nay-sayers, there has been a good selection of releases steadily throughout 2013 both from the heavy hitting AAA titles and through the PSN store both in terms of larger scale titles and smaller indie games. With in excess of 200 games installed on my own PS Vita or as boxed retail games, anyone who says that there are “no games for the PS Vita” is woefully mistaken.

While there is no denying that we need a good range of high profile AAA titles that will reach retail and be able to sit on shelves alongside the console itself, the quality of the digital catalogue we have been treated to can’t be ignored.  The Vita has found its niche in 2013 as a home for indie developers allowing an incredibly diverse range of games to be released from developers who wouldn’t previously considered the console.

From the BAFTA winning Thomas Was Alone to stunning pinball games like Zen Pinball 2 and The Pinball Arcade, current owners need to embrace these digital only releases. Simultaneously,  Sony need to promote them more as being “equal” to retail and ensure that stores promote the Vita’s digital range to would-be owners.

Far too often, I have heard conversations in stores when customers asked about the Vita, looked at store displays and decided that the Vita wasn’t for them as it had no games… As I am sure many of you have, I corrected their misconception and pointed out the true range the Vita had – both retail and digital – and promptly helped to sell a console. In fact, despite the legendary status of the series, few gamers outside of the Vita community know that you can run Final Fantasy I – IX on it and surely that should be a selling point worth celebrating?

Ultimately on the games front, I have no worries that we’ll continue to get great digital and indie content thanks to Shahid Ahmad’s efforts. As for the “big” titles… no doubt we will get FIFA, more from Sony and Ubisoft, more LEGO games but as gamers it’s up to us to show our support for these titles too. If you can buy retail instead of digital do so and close to release.  Not only will this show stores that there is demand but publishers as well. Change doesn’t happen overnight but the industry does respond to the customers.

PS4 and Remote Play

There’s no denying that Remote Play has quickly become a key selling point of the PlayStation 4. Within days of the console’s release, videos were appearing online of gamers showcasing Remote Play running on the Vita both at home and wirelessly via 4G phone networks with one gamer even playing on his PS4 over 1,000 miles away from home. Sony Computer Entertainment promised big things at the PS4 unveil at they have certainly delivered on those promises. However, Remote Play goes far beyond being able to play PS4 games on the Vita as the handheld can be used for many games as a second controller making it an ideal companion for it’s big brother.

With many retailers offering bundles of the two consoles and an increasing number of games being made available through the PSN Store as Cross Buy for both formats, 2014 is going to be an exciting time for the PS Vita as a complimentary system for the PS4 and if promoted properly by Sony and the retail industry we could well see a large percentage of the millions of PS4 owners out there making the PS Vita their next purchase. With the Vita TV hopefully receiving a Western release this year as well, this will only add to Remote Play’s appeal and despite the need for more dedicated PS Vita software right now, we need to see more of the consoles in the home in the first place and if Remote Play is the way to do it, then that’s all the better for all of us.

PS3 and Remote Play

There’s still a bitter taste left in the mouths of many gamers when it comes to Remote Play following their experiences with it on the PS3. Gamers forget that this was a function added to the PS3 in a firmware update and not built-in from day one as it is with the PS4 so it’s only natural that it isn’t as functional as it could have been.

Despite being old technology, better awareness is needed for gamers of the differences between the PS3 and PS4 versions and information on what does and doesn’t work on the PS3.

PlayStation Mobile

2014 could well be the year that makes or breaks PlayStation Mobile and at Vita Player we hope that it’s the former. At the end of last we finally saw the expansion of the service to a total of 18 countries and this is a fantastic step in the right direction but there is still more that needs to be done. This expansion programme needs to continue throughout 2014 and ideally Sony Computer Entertainment should aim to increase this by at least 50% again. Considering its traditionally strong role as a PlayStation territory,  priority should be given to EU countries mot yet supported.

It’s not just more territories that PSM needs though.  The concept of a standardised gaming platform across mobile devices is something that Sony should take grearer advantage of so PSM desperately needs to be accessible on more devices. It’s no longer acceptable that we can only play PlayStation Mobile games on the PS Vita or predominantly Sony Xperia devices. A larger range of non-Sony phones and tablets will help to bring PSM to the masses. And to help promote the format further, these new gamers need an incentive to try PSM for themselves – one or two complimentary games to start people off could be all that they need…

I do appreciate that there are still gamers out there who are avoiding the format because of it’s lack of Leaderboards and Trophies. Please don’t let this put you off trying PlayStation Mobile. There are an incredible number of great games out there and you are missing out on some real gems. Since the recent update to the platform, developers are adding Leaderboards to many of their older games and we know that Trophy support is on its way at some point. Please try to remember that Trophies didn’t always exist on the PS3 and we never had them on the PS One, PS2, PSP and that never affected the quality of the games.

The PSM store is also in desperate need of a revamp. PlayStation Mobile games are only visible on a PSM compatible device meaning that these games are sidelined and – in the eyes of gamers – given a lower priority than their PSP, PS Vita, PS3 and PS4 counterparts. There is no way to view, let alone purchase PlayStation Mobile games on the PS3 or web-based store in the same way that you can full-blown PS Vita games and queue them up for downloading at a later date. The ability to view these would increase their profile – and in turn sales – dramatically. Gamers frequently have spare funds in their PSN accounts and with most PSM games being targetted at the “pocket money” price range, this is a perfect way to generate additional sales.

Next up for PlayStation Mobile is the area of promotion.  At present, most coverage comes from developers themselves or websites dedicated to the Vita and / or mobile gaming. While PS Vita, PS3 and PS4 games receive frequent publicity through the PlayStation Blog, it is rare to see new announcements for PlayStation Mobile games. Equally, each weekly PSN Store update tends to list all the latest games added, the latest deals and offers and all of the new DLC released but no matter how many new PSM titles are available, it is extremely rare that these are mentioned. Developers work just as hard creating these games, and many of them are more dependent on publicity than the “bigger” developers, so why do they have to fight so hard for publicity? Joking aside, it takes mere moments to add the latest PSM games to the Blog update so we feel that 2014 is the year that this should be done as standard.

Finally regular visitors to Vita Player will know that we are staunch supporters of PlayStation Mobile and it’s developers so we’d like to ask all gamers to try to do something to help us with a small experiment to support the format briefly. As I’ve said, games for PSM are not expensive and with games starting at £0.40 and most selling for under £2 there’s no reason for anyone not to take a chance on buying any or at least one or two to try them out. There are developers out there who have worked tirelessly supporting the platform but because of low sales they are now cutting back or planning on leaving PSM completely so they need help and this is where YOU can help in several ways…

  1. Rather than buying a game at retail next time you go to your local game store or spending the same amount on the PSN Store for a full price AAA title, why not spend the same amount on PlayStation Mobile. So instead of spending £30 on a game, split this money and buy a cheap 4Gb memory card. A second hand card can be picked up for under £10 and this is ideal for use to store PSM games on. With the System icons and any retail games you might own, you’ll still have space for around 50 games on the card. Buy a PSN Voucher with what you have left and use that to get yourself some PlayStation Mobile games. Depending on the type of game you’re looking for or how frugal you are, you could get at least 20 or more games for that voucher. Stuck for ideas? Check out our Top 25 PlayStation Mobile Games Guide we will have on the website in the next few days for some suggestions but if they don’t appeal to you, there are plenty of others to choose from. Would it make a difference? Certainly and if enough people took part it could result in thousands of extra game sales for a lot of small independent developers for whom every sale counts.
  2. Not sure about that? Well, we all use the PSN Store whether it’s to buy indie games, DLC or more “mainstream” titles and I think it’s safe to say that almost everyone has spare cash in their account at one time or another and generally will have some money in their account, even if it’s only a pound or two. Certainly not enough for a typical blockbuster or indie game, but certainly enough to support PSM titles. What I am asking is for Vita Player readers and the wider PS Vita owning community reading this is to look at PlayStation Mobile as a new source of gaming each week to use this “gaming loose change”. I’m certainly not calling for everyone to go and spend entire PSN vouchers each week on PSM games but to look at the Mobile store each week and consider buying just one PlayStation Mobile game a week. Even if just our own Twitter followers did that, it would generate over 35,000 sales a year!
  3. Ratings. For those of you who already buy PSM games, please remember to rate the games you buy. Most PSM titles have a relatively low number of ratings given to them. This can be incredibly off-putting to would be purchasers. For example, Snake by Carrot Creations. While it may not  be the greatest game released, at the time of writing this only 35 people have actually rated the game despite well over 1,000 people having purchased it and even the stunning Life Of Pixel has only received 172 ratings. That gives the distinct impression that these games haven’t been purchased at all or simply aren’t worth anyone’s time but this just isn’t the case. Whether you love or loathe a game, it only takes a few seconds to rate it but that shows not only that others have purchased it, but also gives essential feedback to would-be buyers and the developers as well. I’m sure we’ve all looked at the store and avoided games with only one or two ratings or at the very least been cautious until more people have shared their opinions – it’s only natural. Think of it like buying from eBay.

You may not think that these will matter but this could revolutionise PlayStation Mobile in just a matter of months. Developers would have the resources to write more and better games for the format and Sony themselves would have increased enthusiasm to ensure the faster rollout of Trophies so everyone would be a winner. Just give it some thought and check out the PlayStation Mobile section next time you go on the PSN Store and see for yourselves.

PSN Store

The PSN Store right now – whether you look at the web version or the ones running on the PS3 or the Vita itself – are in need of an overhaul. Searching can be a nightmare, navigation isn’t much better and the interface is generally clunky. As I have mentioned earlier, the web-based and PS3 stores have no facility to view Minis or PlayStation Mobile games, movies and TV shows can’t be re-downloaded after purchase and categories seem to be hit and miss, certainly on the web / PS3 store. It has to be said here that the PS Vita store is a much better experience, being closer to the older version of the store found on the PS3, but the current PS3 / web store is slow and cumbersome. As the saying goes, “if is isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Pricing isn’t something to gripe about as – with the exception of SCEE / SCEA published titles – games are priced by the publishers and not Sony so whether a game is over priced or not, this is out of Sony’s hands. The same applies to sales and discounts – there is little point criticising SCEA / SCEE for not offering the same deals that the other has – it’s down to the publisher whether they want to or not. At the end of the day though, I would hope to see some improvements to the store in terms of its layout, structure and general content making it easier to find what you are looking for.

Summary

In closing I know that we’re asking for, and hoping for a lot of changes and improvements over the coming months for the PS Vita. In reality, most of these are not beyond the realms of possibility though and many are already being done or steps are being taken towards making them happen. In store promotion for the PS Vita and it’s digital catalogue could be improved simply through the use of better Point Of Sale material, granting stores access to codes for sale for some of the better games from the PSN Store and encouraging retailers to locate the PS4 and PS Vita together. It’s happened in my local branch of Game and associating the two systems with each other is paying dividends.

Most of these are common sense – it’s just really a case of making sure that the right people in the right places hear what we as gamers want and then take action on it. Everyone has a part to play in this. As gamers we can support developers of all types by purchasing quality titles no matter what the format it is released for, retailers can use what they have at their disposal and Sony can make efforts to promote the Vita and PSM and their games better and make it easier for people to buy as many games as they want to.

One final thing I would ask is for everyone’s help. If you have a blog or website, Facebook or Twitter account, if you agree with what we are asking for please help share this blog post. Feel free to copy and post this on your own websites (as long as you keep the credit intact!), link to it on your social networking account and let people know. If we can shout loud enough together as a PS Vita fan community, maybe we can all get our voices heard and make a real change for the better for 2014…

Simon Plumbe

Site Editor, Vita Player

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About Simon Plumbe 892 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian.Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe

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