When the PS Vita was launched it grabbed the attention of gamers and the media alike. The promise of console quality gaming on the go was alluring. And all Sony had to do was deliver on this to make the console a huge global success. A few big killer games and the handheld was set to be a winner.
In The Beginning
To be fair, to start off with Sony did invest in the Vita. We saw an impressive launch line-up with some established PlayStation franchises making an appearance. Ridge Racer, Wipeout, Uncharted and a promised Killzone title – it all made for an exciting launch. Wipeout 2048 not only looked as good as it’s PS3 counterpart but offered Cross Platform play with it too. Uncharted: Golden Abyss wasn’t a port, but a brand new entry in the Nathan Drake saga, making full use of the Vita’s capabilities. But that excitement quickly fizzled out.
Why Are “Killer Games” Essential?
In today’s console market, there is little to differentiate between platforms when it comes to capabilities. People decide what system to buy based on other factors instead. However as gamers often have restricted disposable income tough choices have to be made. This is where the games come in.
With so many titles being available on the PC and all console formats, the system that can offer as many killer games as possible that appeal to their target audience is the one that wins their hard-earned cash. Exclusives help even more. And it’s certainly the case that a good exclusive will be enough to sell a system. One or two major releases and your console will be a smash hit. Hardware manufacturers will be generating income from their platforms that would make would-be bitcoin traders envious enough to open a free account and try and make their fortunes as well.
Where Did The Vita Go Wrong?
While people still insist that it’s the price of memory cards that failed the console, it’s the lack of big name games that stemmed excitement in the hardware. Or at least that was the case in the West. The Vita enjoyed moderate success in Japan both in terms of sales and hardware chart position, and had a steady flow of new games from most major publishers for most of its life. But the rest of the world didn’t seem particularly bothered. Most of the games released were available for other platforms or were average at best.
Many would argue that system selling killer games needed to be big name AAA titles. It almost felt that most of these were exhausted in the Vita’s first year or so, or at least the exclusive releases. After that initial flurry while we still saw AAA titles being released, fewer and fewer were Vita only games. And sadly, many of these major titles – while significant in themselves – we’re exactly big name titles or big enough to persuade someone to buy a console just to play it.
As well as the big names, the Vita had been crying out for true exclusives from the start. Once the initial wave of releases was over and we had our entries in the Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted and other major series, future instalments were usually watered-down affairs. Assassin’s Creed Chronicles took the franchise towards a 2.5D platform adventure format, while the FIFA series moved towards it’s cut-down Legacy approach before abandoning the Vita altogether after just four games.
When we did get exclusive games they weren’t always the sort of title that enticed new buyers to the Vita. More often than not they were continuations of existing series, frequently those developed in Japan. And over time the games that we did have as exclusives were slowly being ported to modern consoles as well. It became somewhat disheartening.
The reality is that exclusives do have a part to play with any console. They can act as the initial hook to draw someone towards a particular platform and while gamers may move on away from that game or franchise and buy/play a more diverse range of games afterwards, it’s the initial lure that’s needed. They buy to play one game, but stay for the rest.
However when it comes to these exclusives, that doesn’t always guarantee that they’re going to be good games. When the original PlayStation was launched a near arcade-perfect port of Namco’s Ridge Racer was used to showcase the console. Its rival, the Sega Saturn delivered its own port with Daytona USA. This could have been a deciding factor for many over what console to buy. But the Sega port was a disaster, letting fans down with a sub-standard conversion. That was later corrected with a new version of the game, but by that time Sony had already dominated the market thanks to its own killer games at launch.
In contrast, the Vita’s release of Ridge Racer was the complete opposite. While it was a great game, it was released in an incomplete state. At retail it only offered players a limited number of cars and tracks. This wasn’t known to those who purchased it, and it seemed like an absolute steal at an RRP of £19.99 – far less than the average £34.99 for other Vita games. What we didn’t know was that the rest of the game was only available as DLC.
Are Exclusives Really Needed?
Games don’t necessarily need to be exclusives for them to play a part in making a console a success though. When people think about the original Gameboy, one of the first games that springs to mind is Tetris, despite the fact that it has been released on almost every format imaginable. But bundling the game with the console associated it with Nintendo forever.
In fact, when it comes to the PS Vita it was widely regarded as having the best portable version of Minecraft when it was released. That port was on a par with its console counterparts on almost every level. Yet this fact was seldom used to market the game. Instead it was generally just thought of by many as a cut-down handheld version, which was never the case. Minecraft actually went on to be the biggest selling game for the PS Vita and deservedly so.
One Game Can Make A Difference
It can be argued that a single game can be the difference maker for a platform. Nintendo has always had various Mario and Zelda titles to rely on. Whilst not so much in recent years, Halo has been a staple part of the XBox gaming world. But it’s hard to think of a standout title for the Vita that would have made someone buy the console outright. It tried to be everything to everyone, but didn’t have the games to back that approach up.
When you do find those elusive killer games, they can make all the difference between buying or even keeping a console you’ve previously purchased. I discussed elsewhere about recently becoming a Nintendo Switch owner and while family gaming and even Mario Kart was one of my priorities for buying one, it actually ended up being Animal Crossing that has captivated our entire family. Between myself, my wife and my daughter we’ve put over 200 hours into the game between us in around a month. Truthfully speaking, that one game alone has made buying the Switch worthwhile and Mario Kart has barely been looked at.
If A PS Vita 2 Happened…
As much as we would all love to see a PS Vita 2, unless Sony are willing to learn from their mistakes it’s not worth them even attempting to do so. It’s clear that Nintendo have been watching them closely over the last few years, putting most right that Sony did wrong. Sony could release the most powerful console in the world, but without some “must have” games to back it up then it simply won’t go anywhere.
The gaming community has lost faith in Sony, at least where handheld systems are concerned. And I sincerely doubt that they could deliver everything needed to make another successful portable console again. Arguably they know what they are doing on a technical level, but they seem unaware of how to sell them to consumers, and that’s what counts – and is why the Vita failed.