The Vita has been out for a few years now and it’s quite clear that it is a failure in terms of a product. The Vita had great potential, but with high memory prices, limited marketing, and a library that consists of only a handful of different genres it has lost nearly all potential and momentum. There have been a few articles & discussions posing the question “Should Sony make another handheld after the Vita?” or something similar over the past few weeks. Sony does need to make another handheld for the sake of actually providing competition to Nintendo, but it can’t make the same mistakes it did last time.
Exclusives are Not Enough
The Vita has a decent amount of exclusives within its small library, but a large majority of those games come with baggage that prevent them from driving people to purchase the Vita (especially in the West). Let’s get the obvious one out of the way: a fair amount of exclusives to the Vita are heavily Japanese-oriented. This type of game never translates over in the West well (outside of a cult following). This doesn’t mean that these games are bad, however. Take, for example, Soul Sacrifice, which is a great game, but it’s a Monster Hunter-esque game, and even Monster Hunter itself doesn’t generate anywhere near the same response in the West as it does in the East. Yet, this is just a smaller part of the Vita’s current plight with its library that stems from something far greater: almost all of the AAA titles available on the Vita are side entries to existing franchises.
Let’s look at a short list of the AAA games that are available on the Vita:
- Killzone Mercenary
- Resistance Burning Skies
- Assassins Creed III Liberation
- Uncharted Golden Abyss
- Gravity Rush
- Little Big Planet
- Borderlands 2
There is a pattern that emerges with these games that only one is exempt from: out of that entire list, Gravity Rush is the only game that is an exclusive franchise to the Vita. Note the key words there: exclusive franchise. Every other game is from somewhere else; even if it’s a unique entry on the Vita, the franchise itself is primarily elsewhere, and that’s a big problem. This is where we run into a cultural issue frequently encountered when talking about portable vs home consoles: we in the West enjoy them for different reasons than the East.
As I discussed in a previous article regarding Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate needing a Wii U Release:
When you live in an environment that you don’t need a car, what do you turn to? Public Transportation. Trains, buses, and subways become the main modes of transportation in a highly urbanized environment because they are far more efficient and practical. Now that you are no longer driving, you are going to need something to do while sitting on the train waiting for your destination, and what will you do to pass the time? Play on your 3DS. This is one of the major reasons why portable gaming is such a big deal in Japan. Being a highly urbanized country means you are close to people and getting to places means waiting (instead of actively driving). So if you are going to play games, having something portable is perfect. You don’t need online connectivity because you can simply meet up with your friends; you simply need something to do on the way to your destinations, and you want to have something with you at all times because you are on the go.
The West however, is a little different:
The West, while having plenty of highly urbanized areas, for the most part is anything but that. There are huge tracts of land between cities and towns…Those urbanized areas are quite small compared to the rest of the USA. That means our playing habits in the West are far different. We don’t meet up in a public place and play Monster Hunter; we go home and play online or to a friends house and play there…on the couch. My friends range (in distance to me) from twenty minutes away up to nearly four hours away, and those that are four hours away are only over in the next state. It’s impractical for us to meet up and play together every occasion we want to and this is where online comes in, but more importantly, where couch gaming comes in, not portable.
I am almost positive some of you thinking, “What does this have to do with anything, they are still exclusives!” You’re right, they are exclusives, but as I mentioned before, that is problematized for us in the West, because they are inferior to their home console counterparts.
Perception is Everything
There is a certain perception when it comes to portable games: they are inferior to console games. It’s not an entirely incorrect perception; a portable console obviously has less power then a home console (or PC) and thus is more limited in what it can do. The fault of this perception, however, comes in assuming that less power equals less enjoyment, which generally isn’t the case unless the game exists in another (more powerful) form by which to make a comparison. Enter the Vita’s library: games that should be a show of strength for the portable console, instead, are seen as a weakness. Why? Because you have their home console versions to which we may make comparisons, and we all know that the handheld version of a franchise is not going to hold up to its home console counterpart, due, in part, to a lack of resources and possibly the team of programmers who are going to be working on it. Combined with the fact that the West has a heavy preference towards console versions of games and suddenly, the Vita’s library doesn’t look as appealing. Let’s be clear here: these side-entry games are not to be confused with spin-offs that take an existing franchise and use those assets for a different genre; these side-entry games are (lesser) iterations of the main series that they come from.
The best way to explain this thinking is through a simple question, If you had a choice between console A and console B, and console A had multiple entries of franchises made for the system, and console B had side entries of franchises made from console A, which console would you buy? I think it’s quite obvious that you would go for the console that those franchises were designed for. To further support my point, here is the same comparison in picture form:
These side entry games don’t create the drive that an exclusive franchise to a console does; they serve as a great product to have when people already own the console, but not when you need people to buy the console for those games.
PSP vs. 3DS
The worst part of this whole situation with the Vita is that Sony didn’t make this mistake with the PSP. It had side-entries, spin-offs, and exclusive franchises on the PSP and provided meaningful competition to the DS at the time.
Take a look at the 3DS and the fair amount of franchises specially made for it:
- Professor Layton
- Fire Emblem
- Mario & Luigi
- Bravely Default
- Final Fantasy Theatrhythm
- Monster Hunter 4
- Code Name Steam
In addition to having popular existing franchises making their debut on the console, it had multiple entries of those as well:
- Super Mario
- New Super Mario
- A Link between Worlds
- Luigi’s Mansion
This is just a quick glance at the 3DS’s library and within it you can see a nice spread of games to entice you to purchase the console as well as games to buy once you are already an owner.
Now let’s take a quick look at the PSP’s specific franchises:
- Metal Gear Ac!d
- Monster Hunter 2 (at the time)
Once again we also have a fair amount of games from existing franchises making their debut:
- Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops
- God of War
- Jak and Daxter
- FF7: Crises Core
- Grand Theft Auto
Once again, just a quick glance, but it gives you an idea of the nice spread of games from both existing franchises and franchises unique to the system itself.
The Take Away
This is what Sony needs to take away from the Vita; almost all of its issues revolve around its library and the perception of games in that library. It lacks its own exclusive AAA franchises for the platform to entice people to purchase one, and the exclusives it does have are all (with an exception of a handful) part of existing franchises for which you can get a (better) fix elsewhere, and finally, the rest of its library consists of ports, indies, and heavily Japanese-oriented games. If Sony is to create another handheld and expect it to compete in this current environment, they need to realize that promoting said product as a portable console with the power of a home console isn’t going to cut it. It needs to provide unique reasons to own it, and when it comes to a gaming device, that means a library of games that people want that they cannot get (better) versions of elsewhere.