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Has remote play and PS4 given Vita a new lease of life?

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Sony’s handheld games business has been in decline for a number of years now, but there’s no denying its continued importance to the PlayStation ecosystem. Nowhere is this clearer than in the unexpected journey Sony has taken with Vita, a machine the company has transformed since it was first revealed in June 2011. It was always going to be tough to match the success of PSP, which overachieved by selling in excess of 75 million units, but Sony Computer Entertainment UK managing director Fergal Gara put it kindly last week when describing Vita in an interview with Digital Spy. “It's not the biggest seller we've ever had,” he said, “but it is still a very much loved and much respected machine.”

Vita launched at a relatively high price in February 2012 and has underperformed at retail ever since. Even with long overdue price cuts now implemented, Sony expects to sell a combined total of just five million Vitas before March 2014, down from seven million in the previous 12 months. However you stack it, the numbers aren’t pretty, especially when 3DS has overcome its own turbulent launch and now looks set to go down in history as a worthy DS successor.

So what’s gone wrong with Vita? From social network features to cameras, motion sensors, touchscreen, rear touch pad, GPS and Cross Play with PS3, some critics have labelled the system a Jack of all trades and a master of none. Sony certainly wanted to cover a lot of bases with Vita at launch, and if anything, this strategy has expanded post-launch, whether through long-term design or the simple need to adapt to ensure survival.

These days, Vita is no longer marketed solely as a gaming platform in its own right, but perhaps just as heavily as a companion device. This is perhaps the very thing that'll save the machine. Sony has made Vita Remote Play a requirement for all PS4 games (barring those that support specific hardware like the PS4 Camera), and just in time for the next-gen console’s launch, the company’s UK arm worked with retailers to release hardware bundles that include both systems for a slightly reduced price. Good, but not good enough.

Remote Play is jam-packed with potential, but anecdotal reports claim Sony’s second screen gaming solution suffers on slower internet connections and that sometimes it can only be used within a few feet of the TV. The tech wizards at Digital Foundry also raise concerns about image quality, frame-rate drops, screen size and latency, meaning it’s “a cute function that's useful for some games but not for others”. 

It seems unlikely that remote play alone will save Vita, especially if it's simply a 'cute function'. However, I've high hopes for Vita TV. Released in Japan in November, and expected to launch in the west in 2014, it’s a standalone micro-console which brings portable gaming and media experiences to TV screens. Measuring 6.5cm by 10.5cm, Vita TV features the chip set and system software of the PS Vita. Using the micro-console and a DualShock 3 controller, Vita TV can play select Vita, PSP and older, classic PlayStation games on a TV.

Other Vita functions like movies and eBooks will travel through the device but, most promisingly, Vita TV enables users to play PS4 remotely too. The feature is currently limited to local use (so, on a second screen within your home), and while there’s definitely a visual hit, there appears to be no lag whatsoever. If support is ever expanded to let users play PS4 more remotely, say round at a friend’s house without the need to bring their console, it could be a system seller. It's another thing that could save Vita as a brand, even if the handheld itself doesn't gain quite as much.

Sony continues to add new strings to Vita’s bow, but is this enough? In an increasingly competitive handheld market, swamped with gadgets catering to every social and entertainment need, Sony’s willingness to experiment suggests it believes Vita’s success may now be based on the machine's ability to adapt and interact with other devices. However, Sony isn't throwing all its eggs into Vita's basket--the PS4 plays nicely with phones and tablets, via the PlayStation App. And at £140 / $180, it's still a seriously expensive companion device. Vita is by no means a 'dead console', but--as it approaches its second birthday--it's a very different machine to the one that was released in 2012. Will the Vita reach its 3rd birthday? Ironically, it seems that Vita TV and PS4 (not PS Vita itself) will be the devices that answer this pressing question...

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17 comments

  • Shigeruken - December 9, 2013 11:43 p.m.

    Just found out that the new Gundam Musou game is hitting the Vita alongside the PS3, it's not as good as a Gundam Vs Gundam game, but it'll be a great substitute. Hopefully more Japanese games see Vita releases too. (Persona 5 please).
  • Shigeruken - December 4, 2013 8:33 p.m.

    For a couple of months after I got my Vita, I hardly used anything else. I played through Person 4: Golden, and spent weeks with Gundam Seed Battle Destiny, and I played the Uncharted game until it got tedious and boring after about 10 hours. Then there was nothing else I felt compelled to play until Killzone was released. That had a decent campaing, but the botched multiplayer and constant connection issues (which weren't fixed for weeks) forced me to stop playing. If a little more effort was put into the system, or if Sony convinced Japanese developers which announced and suspended vita ports or PS3 games to release them, it could have become my main system. (After my PC of course). Seriously, if the new Gundam Vs game hit the Vita I wouldn't play anything else for months.
  • LordGoomy - December 4, 2013 5:20 p.m.

    I think this article is ignoring the most compelling reason to buy a Vita, even stronger than Remote Play- Playstation Plus. I am a PS3 owner with PS Plus, but I don't yet own a Vita. I am probably going to pick one up someday, though, because PS Plus has given me seven major, AAA-caliber Vita games in the few months that I have had it, and I haven't even downloaded the December games yet. I could easily buy a Vita, never purchase a single game for it, and have more to play than I will ever need thanks to PS Plus. I almost feel obligated to buy a Vita at this point so that I can actually use all this free stuff. I think we can agree that Sony has done an excellent job with PS Plus across the board. They gave away a bunch of the Vita's flagship games- that's pretty amazing. I'm still not convinced about Vita TV, though. We don't even have a confirmed localization yet, and the messaging doesn't feel like it is clear and attractive enough to attract the average consumer who doesn't visit websites like this one very much.
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - December 4, 2013 11:54 a.m.

    Trust me, the Vita is dead and remote play is not going to resurrect it. The Best Buy I went to on Black Friday sold out of PSPs and still had plenty of PS Vitas on the shelf, despite the fact that Best Buy doesn't even sell PSP games anymore.
  • hester2 - December 4, 2013 10:06 a.m.

    I want to see more JRPG's coming out for it. The ability to switch the system to standby mode and pick up where you left off is perfect for a genre known for long games. The ability to actually play Persona 4 and P3P at my own pace instead of having to set aside over an hour per play session is the reason I was finally able to fall in love with the series. Same goes for SMT IV on 3DS.
  • nick-stancato - December 4, 2013 9:02 a.m.

    Vita needs games. and not just Indies; we need full releases to market and sell the system. After Tearaway, Sony hasnt even announced any new 1st party games for the system and most of the 3rd party games announced only have Japanese release dates as of yet. And Sony needs to market it. Sony is really, really bad at marketing
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - December 4, 2013 12:03 p.m.

    Totally agree, but the dorks on here like my colleague, Hollander Cooper, think that people are going to buy a $200 dedicated gaming handheld to play $5 indie games.
  • TheMariner - December 4, 2013 9:02 a.m.

    While I hope the Vita will succeed, I want it to do so on its own merit as opposed to its ability to integrate with other hardware. However, if said ability is what saves the Vita and allows it to stand on its own two legs, then so be it. For my part, Sony just need to release Gravity Rush 2 and I'll be set.
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - December 4, 2013 12:04 p.m.

    Yep, all I want is Gravity Rush 2
  • rainn'sgaydar - December 4, 2013 8:15 a.m.

    My hope is that Vita TV will help create the install base that generates more third party support. Although, while I understand why other people are hesitant to buy in, I think the Vita is a worthy investment as is. Especially with deals like the current Amazon bundle, it seems like any PS4 owner who can afford one should jump on board the Vita wagon. But like I said, I understand there's more to it for other people, so to each his own.
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - December 4, 2013 12:05 p.m.

    Vita TV isn't even coming to North America, though
  • rainn'sgaydar - December 4, 2013 1:14 p.m.

    It still could. The article even said it's "expected to launch in the west in 2014." Think I saw a quote of Shuhei saying they were surprised by the response Vita TV got over here, so it certainly COULD be coming. Though speculation is only exactly that, speculation.
  • Cyberninja - December 4, 2013 8:12 a.m.

    I feel the PS4 should not be the reason Vita lives or dies, it should be able to stand on its own strengths and weaknesses, like to be honest I didn't buy a game this year because I knew it would end up on PS + because they don't have much else and I was right, I feel if they had more games then I would be inclined to buy more, after this year I only bought two vita games, Dragon's Crown because I won a free PS3 version and Muramasa Rebirth because it was on sale, that isn't very good for the Vita in my Opinion. Yet with 3DS I lost count of what I bought for it in this year alone. I feel once Vita starts having heavy hitters then it will be in the game, after all the only game we have to look forward to at this moment is Freedom Wars
  • rainn'sgaydar - December 4, 2013 1:19 p.m.

    I took the same approach with Vita games this year, with the exception of a few cross-buy titles I ended up buying. And I may end up with Ys sometime early 2014, but there's no way I'm buying a game like Tearaway when it will be free on Plus in 6-8 months. Did the same for Soul Sacrifice, which worked out just fine.
  • Cyberninja - December 4, 2013 3:24 p.m.

    Exactly I was like SS looks cool but it will be free sooner or later and I will also wait for tearaway unless I can get it for $10 since I don't have money I could spend on something that is only a few hours long. Ys and Sorcery Saga are the only localized Vitas I will buy and I will probably import P4 DAN
  • JMarsella09 - December 4, 2013 7:51 a.m.

    It really just needs more games people want. I bought mine because of Persona 4 Golden and Gravity Rush, and have been able to make good use out of it with PS+ and a handful of good ports, but it really needs wider appeal.

Showing 1-17 of 17 comments

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