If you’ve followed the story thus far, then you already know that I have some very high hopes in terms of what the PlayStation Vita will bring to the handheld market. The device is a representation of everything a portable console can and should be. It blends in well with Sony’s core gamer DNA. Unfortunately, while it’s doing so many things right, at the same time it also screams hypocrisy in the worst way.
For over a year now (remember the Vita as we know it debuted as ‘NGP’ at PlayStation meeting 2011) we’ve all been told about how the Vita is about the core gamer audience and experience. Even I, a jaded games writer seeking salvation from all of the touch portable/phone gaming, bought into the whole concept and idea. I thought to myself, “Wow, finally a grown up handheld”.
At E3 last year, after finally getting some hands on time with it, I was just oozing over how damn sexy the device was and how great all of the first party stuff looked. Then in the fall I had the chance to get up close and personal with the big guns from all of the 3rd party studios (EA Sports, Capcom, and Ubisoft). Each preview event thereafter would help in raising my level of anticipation even higher than the previous.
This winter the Vita would begin the final climb leading to its launch. That’s when it happened. That’s when I noticed a few iOS titles sneak through the cracks and make it into the launch lineup for the device.
From a business perspective, I can understand Sony’s thinking behind it. There’s power in numbers (and money in licensing) and at a console launch nothing says “buy me” like a crap ton of games. However, is it worth the cost of sacrificing not just the level of quality but the whole point behind your console to begin with?
Those are the questions that come to mind when I see games like the Gameloft-developed iOS titles, Asphalt Injection and Dungeon Hunter Alliance (both clear-cut derivatives from the iOS versions). It’s nothing personal against the famed iOS developer, but they don’t exactly have a spotless track record when it comes to delivering unique or first-of-its-kind ideas when it comes to game development. On top of it all, the games are at least four times more than what they cost on any other platform…for pretty much the same kind of experience.
The thing is, under any other circumstances (and especially on the PSP), these would have been considered PlayStation Minis, just like other Gameloft gems like N.O.V.A and Hero of Sparta. Yet, when theres a launch at hand, and it’s convenient to do so, they’re now considered retail products. Why are they suddenly the exception?
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my fair share of iOS and Android stuff, but a big part as to why it’s passable on those respective platforms is because I’m playing these minature titles on devices that can play games as a secondary function. On top of that, the bite-sized prices match the bite-sized gameplay that’s offered. It serves its quick-fix purpose, but its also not on par with what’s expected from a dedicated portable gaming console like Sony’s Vita.
Having these kind of titles tied into the Vita’s otherwise robust offering doesn’t do much to add value to the platform. If anything, it gives it a cheap “we can do phone stuff too” approach. Something, at least from the impression that I was under, Sony was trying to avoid with the Vita to begin with.
Would it be in Sony’s best interest from a manufacturer standpoint — one who’s trying to get a new platform off the ground — to tell developers to shove it? Absolutely not and I’m not suggesting that either. However, setting some kind of guideline as to what can and should be deemed full retail product should be established. Selling a PS Mini in PS Vita clothing isn’t going to help win over anyone, anytime soon. And in the end, all that it does is send mixed signals about what’s trying to be done with the Vita, if anyone even knows for sure what exactly that is at this point.
It seems that even SCEA President and CEO Jack Tretton isn’t too sure about what the exact direction is, stating in a recent interview with Vox Games: “If you’re not a gamer, maybe you won’t get it day one… eventually, ideally we’ll get to you.”
So, which one is it going to be Jack? Will the Vita get some kind of quality control and stick to it’s core gamer guns, or will it become some kind of breeding ground for overpriced, underachieving iOS shovelware, all for the sake of quickly beefing up the software total and reaching the casual gamer (who isn’t interested in your device to begin with). I sincerely hope it isn’t the latter, because it will only devalue the platform as a whole while totally defeating it’s entire purpose.