Oh how we loved you, but where did it all go wrong?
I can still remember the first time I got my grubby little mitts on the PlayStation Vita. Complete with twin analogue sticks, a five-inch OLED crystal clear screen and a rear touchscreen crying out for a creative developer to cleverly incorporate into a game, it exuded quality. Sony had produced a magnificent handheld console with a slew of features to make it the perfect portable companion to the PlayStation 3. It was an exciting time.
Train commutes became an eagerly anticipated part of the day; I could play Uncharted: Golden Abyss, or a little later on, crack through season after season on FIFA, raising Gillingham FC from League 2 to champions of the Premier League.
The Vita was originally announced at E3 2011, however it was during my post-E3 analysis of the 2012 event that it registered: there were very few releases unveiled for the Vita. “Still finding its legs?” I pondered. Of course, as we all know, it’s not unusual for new hardware to release virtually bereft of software, but the big international games shows of 2013 and 2014 ticked by without news of significant releases. At this year’s E3, the Vita was barely mentioned.
Originally conceived as a handheld that first-person shooter fans could take from their console sessions and continue to fight on the fly, the device did eventually find a niche in JRPG gamers, but that was never going to fuel publisher interest or indeed put food on the table.
Timing was never on Sony’s side. Even when the Vita launched in 2011, portable gaming was moving to smartphones with players investing in cheaper IOS titles on a platform they already owned. Nintendo realised this quite early and invested heavily in developing unique software for its 3DS. With little third-party publisher support and a baffling lack of interest from Sony itself, the Vita’s continued existence took a safe route, relying on inexpensive ports of console games. The momentum was well and truly lost.
Additionally, the high cost on release slowed down initial sales and the price cut came too late – interest had already waned. Designing the system with costly proprietary memory cards provided yet another retail barrier, when so much of the Vita’s content was digital. Once sales dropped, so did first and third party enthusiasm – inevitably, original triple-A games failed to materialise, and you can’t push a platform without console-selling software.
Earlier this year, SCE President and Global Andrew House spoke at the Sony 2015 Investor Relations Day and called the PlayStation Vita a ‘legacy platform’. Social media erupted, decrying House for supposedly admitting that the company had all but buried the handheld.
This wasn’t a startling revelation. It would appear that Sony has been willing to let the Vita dwindle away and quietly expire in a corner for some time now.
The real tragedy is how such an excellent piece of hardware with huge potential could be allowed to die such an undignified death. It now seems ironic that the name chosen for Sony’s great handheld hope translates as ‘life’ in Italian.