Editorial: Vita Means Life

Sony began the foray into handheld gaming with the PlayStation Portable in 2004. It was competing with the Nintendo DS at the time, but was also the most powerful portable system on the market on release. Revelations that the firmware could be customised through exploits fueled additional sales as people discovered they could load emulators into the system to play retro titles. Some custom firmwares even made it possible to load PlayStation Portable ROMs directly onto the system, bypassing any copy protection in the process. With eighty million sales behind it the PlayStation Portable was a success, but despite Sony’s effort to patch holes in their security, hackers ultimately were able to downgrade any firmware to one that they could work with, thus leading to the need for a successor to the system.

Enter the PlayStation Vita. Released seven years after its predecessor, it launched into a market in competition to the Nintendo 3DS which was suffering slightly at the time due to the high cost of purchasing the system. Whilst the Vita was a much more powerful system compared to the 3DS, and it being announced at price that was equal to the 3DS, it suffered due to its competitor receiving massive price cuts worldwide. High-profile games like Persona 4 Golden and Little Big Planet PS Vita failed to help shift units, and the loss of the Monster Hunter series to the 3DS swung further sales Nintendo’s way. It did not help either that memory card were incredibly overpriced due to their proprietary nature.

With a beautiful OLED screen to boot!

The PlayStation Vita hardware in all its glory.

Two years after launch the Vita was on life support. Japan’s preference for handheld gaming meant that it still managed good sales in the East, but it was only due to the support of many indie developers in the West that sales were kept alive. Because of this arrangement many niche RPGs and visual novels found a home on the Vita in Japan and were happily snapped up by Western gamers who enjoyed those games. It was a happy time, but one that would not last.

The Vita shipped with 512MB of RAM, twice what was in the PlayStation 3. This was great for ports of the latter console that came to the Vita, but when the PlayStation 4 was released with 8GB of RAM, ports became a little more difficult. Sony promoted the Vita with cross-saving, the ability to start playing on one system and transfering the save to another to carry on. This was great in theory, though few games made use of the feature. Instead many were released on both systems with separate progression, or the PS4 version would receive updates that the Vita did not, breaking cross-save functionality.

The end came for the system earlier this year when Sony announced that PSPlus subscribers would receive their last free Vita game in March 2019. Sony later announced they would no longer be producing hardware or new games for the system, leaving many developers to rely on digital sales for the platform. Sony stated that no new hardware would be announced at E3 this year. Many assumed that they were talking about a potential PlayStation 5, though fans believe this was to quash any idea that a successor to the Vita would be taking its place. Titles that would have found a home on the Vita in the past have already started making their way to the Nintendo Switch. This can be seen with the recent Atelier releases on the system.

It could have saved the PlayStation Vita too.

Hombrew saved the PlayStation portable.

If the Vita had been exploited by hackers in the same way as the PSP it is likely that many more systems would have been sold worldwide. There are many titles that I would not have discovered (and purchased legitimately) had I not been looking through lists of ROMs to download. Despite being larger than it predecessor it still fit in my pocket, something the Switch cannot do. Sony do a ‘Big in Japan’ sale in April each year on the European store and I hope that Vita titles will still be included in it. Discounts on digital games for the system seem to be happening less often, and discounts on PSP titles are very rare. I am in no means a collector, but I would like to pick up more games for the system. Sony killed the store on the PSP, and it is possible they will do the same to the Vita.

I hope Sony return to the handheld market in the future. Mobile gaming has evolved to the point that most titles are free and supported by in-app purchases, but disappear once they are no longer profitable or run correctly on the latest OS. The likelihood of a portable title being removed from the store is incredibly rare, but even if it does happen, it is still available to those who have already purchased it. I like having a library of games installed on a system I carry with me. Until Sony announces something new I have Nintendo, but as we all know, Nintendo does not understand the internet and digital games very well.

3 comments on “Editorial: Vita Means Life”

  1. Vita custom firmware is generally available these days, but people have moved on to more attractive and easier options, such as the NVIDIA Shield.

    I’m not sure that we’ll see Sony enter the handheld space again. It’s largely being consumed by phones, or by hybrid devices like the Switch (and the Shield, for that matter).

  2. @Lusipurr: I’d be happy with a Sony hybrid device, that was almost the promise of cross-save. I think we’ll see Sony back in the handheld space again, but not until after the PS5 is out.

  3. @Imitanis: I hope you’re right, but all the evidence I’ve seen seems to indicate the contrary. Fingers crossed!

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