Drinkbox Studios recently released Severed, by most accounts a great game that very well could end up being the last of its kind on PlayStation Vita. While it would be easy to declare Severed as the point where the Vita figuratively dies, the truth is that the handheld has been “dead” for awhile, with Sony themselves referring to it as a legacy system. Whether you love the Vita or barely even remember that it exists, it’s hard to deny that the system has largely been a failure. Although the system has a small but passionate fanbase and still enjoys healthy support from third-party developers, Sony is essentially done with the Vita and at this point, there’s little reason to pick one up unless you’re a big fan of indie games. So how did we get to the point where arguably the best handheld gaming hardware of all time failed to make much of an impact on the gaming industry at large? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than just having more people playing games on their smartphones these days.
10. Shift in Mobile Gaming Market
If you were to ask Sony what the primary reason behind the Vita’s failure is, they would probably cite the rise of smartphones as the culprit. Shuhei Yoshida said as much last year when asked whether or not Sony would ever release a Vita successor, claiming that “the climate is not healthy for now because of the huge dominance of mobile gaming.” While the mobile gaming market isn’t the sole reason for the Vita’s lackluster reception (Nintendo’s 3DS did pretty well for itself in spite of competition from smartphones and tablets), it’s definitely one of the main reasons the Vita failed to make much of an impact.
Although the Vita still arguably offers a superior gaming experience thanks to the device’s physical controls and graphical capabilities (an advantage which admittedly has become less important since 2012), there just isn’t much need anymore for a dedicated handheld gaming device in a world where everyone already has a perfectly functional gaming machine in their pocket. People can only carry so many things around with them and there’s simply no way they’re going to choose the Vita over their phone. The Vita still has its place, but there just isn’t really a place for it anymore in a world awash with smartphones and tablets that can do pretty much the same thing and more.
9. High Cost of Hardware
The PlayStation Vita launched in February 2012 in North America for $250 (there was also a $300 3G compatible version but no one really paid much attention to it), which, all things considered, was a very reasonable price for such a powerful handheld gaming console. The problem is that this price was still too high for most consumers to take the plunge, especially when compared to the significantly cheaper 3DS. At the time, you could buy a PS3 or Xbox 360 for only about $50 more than the asking price of a Vita, not to mention that you could also get a good phone for that price or cheaper. Factor all this together and the Vita’s price, though totally fair, was simply more than most were willing to pay.
8. Expensive Memory Cards
Although the Vita’s high initial price point definitely didn’t do it any favors, it actually wasn’t the system’s biggest barrier to entry from a cost perspective. Consumers expected to pay a premium for Vita hardware since it was marketed as a premium handheld, but what they didn’t count on was Sony gouging them with expensive proprietary memory cards. Rather than make the Vita compatible with cheaper, more widely-available cards such as SDHC flash memory, Sony instead forced customers to buy cards that topped out at $100 for 32GB; in contrast, 32GB SDHC cards sold for around $20 at the time.
This wouldn’t have been such a big deal if consumers had been given other options, but with no built-in hard drive and no other compatible memory solutions, customers were forced to pony up for one of these high-priced memory cards and this not only pissed early adopters off, but also deterred potential customers from purchasing a unit. After all, who really wants to buy a memory card sold for one third the price of the product they’re buying it for?
7. The PS4 Remote Play Gambit
Sony seemed to lose hope for the Vita quite early on, but tried to set things right by piggybacking off their newer, more successful game system: the PlayStation 4. Sony spent considerable time and resources trying to pivot the Vita from being a great piece of hardware in its own right to being a perfect companion device for the PS4. Using remote play, the Vita can be synced with a PS4 over Wi-Fi and used to operate the system, which is a useful feature if you don’t have access to your television or are looking to play your PS4 on the go (which in practice is rather difficult given that you need a very strong Wi-Fi signal for it to work properly). The Vita’s remote play capabilities are actually quite impressive and some games, such as Destiny and Fallout 4, play surprisingly well on the device., but this is definitely more of a novelty feature than a system seller. Not many people want to buy a $250 handheld just to play their PS4 games in another room of their house.
6. Half-Baked Support For Old Games
With its dual-stick control layout and beautiful LED screen, the Vita is arguably the greatest handheld gaming device ever made for actually playing games. This also means that the Vita is a fantastic device for playing old games, and with Sony’s enormous back catalog, you would think that they would have bent over backwards to get every notable PS One and PSP game onto the platform for resale purposes. Yeah, about that …
While Sony has released a number of great PS One classics and PSP games for the Vita, their overall backwards compatibility support has been embarrassing. Even to this day, over four years after the Vita’s release, certain games actually require shortcuts and workarounds in order to be playable on the device, which is just absurd. And we’re not talking obscure games here; the entire Crash Bandicoot and Spyro series — two of the most popular franchises from the PS One era — are not officially supported on Vita, despite being available for download on PlayStation 3. And really, that isn’t even the worst example of Sony’s bungling of Vita backwards compatibility …
5. No PS2 Games Support
It’s bad enough that Sony’s support for PS One Classics and PSP games has been lackluster at best, but the fact that they didn’t go the extra mile and turn the Vita into a platform for releasing PlayStation 2 games is actually rather mind-boggling. The PS2 is the best selling console of all time and also has one of the largest game libraries ever, so you would think that Sony would want to tap into this past success to bolster one of its newer products. Now, PS2 emulation would probably be next to impossible on Vita given that the system probably can’t handle it, but Sony definitely could have ported some of its more successful games over. To be fair, they already sort of did this with compilation titles such as The Ratchet & Clank Collection, which includes HD remasters of the PS2 games, but this isn’t quite the same thing as being able to download a classic PS2 title for $10 right on your Vita. At the end of the day, PS One classics are nice, but PS2 would have been even better.
4. Few Killer Apps
While it’s debatable whether having exclusive games is really all that important to a console’s success (the Wii U has a great library of exclusives and hos sold abysmally, while the PS4 has few must-have exclusives and is currently dominating the market), the Vita’s overall lack of unique games definitely didn’t do it any favors. The main problem is that the Vita had little support even in the beginning. After the system’s strong February 2012 launch, which featured a great lineup of both first and third-party games, there was a sizable void in content drops that never really went away.
Now, it must be said that the Vita is a great platform for more niche, indie titles, but even most of these are available on other platforms and they definitely don’t appeal to every gamer. Vita owners were promised games that looked and played like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, but over four years later, that game is still arguably the most compelling reason to own the system … and it was a launch game! The Vita has simply never had much in the way of system-selling games and thus, most people never had a very good reason for wanting to pick one up.
3. Crappy AAA Games
One of the Vita’s big initial selling points was that it provided console-like gaming experiences on the go and in some cases, this was true. Early titles like Uncharted Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048 delivered knockout visuals and meaty experiences, to the point where they indeed felt like console games shrunk down to the Vita’s size. Unfortunately, after that initial first round of AAA glory, the overall quality of these big releases began to dip dramatically. Crappy spinoffs of popular console franchises became the norm, with titles like Resistance: Burning Skies and Call of Duty: Declassified representing the worst aspects of their respective series. Not everything was bad of course, as Killzone Mercenary turned out to be a worthy addition to the popular shooter franchise, but a bad game is a bad game regardless of platform. Unfortunately for the Vita, it got a lot of stinkers that just made people want to go play AAA games on their consoles instead.
2. Didn’t Follow The Nintendo 3DS’s Example
It’s easy to forget now, but the Nintendo 3DS got off to a very rocky start, perhaps even worse than the Vita’s. For awhile it looked like the system’s days were numbered, but rather than bury their head in the sand, Nintendo doubled down on trying to reverse the 3DS’s fortunes. They introduced a dramatic price drop less than six months after release and started to invest in building a fantastic library of games that couldn’t be played anywhere else. Rather than follow Nintendo’s lead when they fell into a similar situation with the Vita, Sony essentially threw in the towel and refused to budge. It took them a couple years to drop the price and they pretty much just let indie developers keep the system on life support with their own games. The 3DS proved that there was still a market for dedicated handhelds, but Sony chose to ignore what worked for them and made one failed attempt after another to kickstart sales. Unfortunately, the 3DS’s lower price and significantly better library of games didn’t do the Vita any favors either.
1. Sony Chose To Ignore It
As Kotaku’s Jason Schreier pointed out last year, Sony is the reason why the Vita failed. It wasn’t mobile gaming or some other boogeyman, it was simply a case of Sony shooting themselves in the foot for years (his words, not mine). One need only look at Sony’s apathetic treatment of the Vita over the last few years to see this. Numerous trade shows have gone by with Sony barely acknowledging the system’s existence, which seems like a peculiar business strategy for a product they spent a lot of time and money creating in the first place.
The Vita was an exciting device when it hit the market back in 2012 (pretty graphics! two analog sticks!) but as soon as the system’s fortunes began to turn the other way, Sony started acting as if the Vita didn’t exist. Perhaps there was nothing Sony could have done and the Vita was always destined for failure, but it would have been reassuring — especially for Vita owners who knew how great it really was — if Sony had at least tried to right the ship rather than set fire to the whole thing.