in Otaku

Playstation Vita, one year after..

It has been quite a while I own a Playstation Vita (or PS Vita in short). For those who don’t know what is PS Vita, it is a handheld game console launched by Sony in late 2011. The game console is supposed to be Sony’s effort in tapping and defending its handheld console market predominantly owned by Nintendo with its DS & 3DS line.

PS Vita succeeds Sony’s prior handheld console named Playstation Portable (or PSP in short) with improvements in terms of screens and other sensors. The notable features not found in its preceding console include capacitive high-definition touchscreen slapped into its screen, front and rear facing cameras that enable its users for video conferencing and taking pictures, back touch sensors to augment the gaming experience, gyroscope sensors to detect movements of the console, wifi and cellular data support for local and internet connection, and other tweaks found inside it that made Sony deemed it as next-gen handheld console.

I had been lucky to own it sooner than my peers here in Indonesia, even before it officially hit local stores. Was very excited with all of the pre-launch news about its specs and potential that I immediately saved my allowances each month so I could buy it once it has been launched. Once I finally got my hands on it, I knew that this was I had been waiting for.But, after a year owning it, I find myself less and less with the console.. Here’s why:

Although PS Vita truly has the potential of becoming a great gaming platform, Sony finds itself being squeezed in mobile gaming market share by iOS and Android. These new platforms started as an Operating System (OS) for smartphones developed by Apple and Google, respectively. However, both companies managed to create an interesting ecosystem of platform and apps that caters to most consumers’ need (and what I mean by ‘consumers’ is your general people who are not gamers by default). They opened their platforms to third-party app developers so anyone can make any apps and sell them to any people sporting a device that supports the OS. The number of people who own one of these devices is significantly higher than people who own PS Vita. As it turns out, one category of apps that is popular among these people: game.

The demand for gaming apps in these platforms is so lucrative that developers begin flocking them. During its infancy, only indie and small developers were the ones who provide the platforms with their simple and creative games. But simple doesn’t always equate to boring, as with Rovio proved with their Angry Birds game. Rovio became a multi-million business starting with its simple games of catapulting birds into stack of piggies that captivated millions of iOS and Android users. The game only sold at USD 1 each, but multiplied with millions of people who actually download it, the figures started to matter. Major gaming companies followed suit this example and began releasing their titles in these platforms. Electronic Arts started to launch its Need for Speed and FIFA series, Japanese Square Enix jumped in with their originally developed Chaos Rings or Final Fantasy franchises, and even other newly founded game companies reaped thousands or even millions of cash each day with titles like Clash of Clans or Candy Crush Saga.

Supposedly, developing games for these platforms are much cheaper than for an established console. Most of their users are an average people who don’t expect complex story-telling, enthralling graphics and visual effects. Most of them could get by with simple games with compelling graphics and good enough effects that could help them get through idle times while queueing in line or on their way commuting to office/school. ¬†Even two people who dropped from university could reap millions of dollar through a single app that they developed. This becomes one of the pull factor that entices many game developers to pour their resources on these platforms.

Some may argue that although these platforms create another competition in the mobile gaming market, they don’t actually compete each other as they have different market segment. iOS and Android are more suitable for casual gamers who play games in between their daily activities just to kill time, while handheld console caters for hardcore gamers who actually allocate some of their time just to play games. But when seen in developers’ point of view, they have to decide where their limited resources have to be invested on to gain the best profit and business. Add that with the immense reach and promising profitability offered by iOS and Android, these, I believe, become important factor that makes handheld console less alluring.

Sony did take several iniatiatives to curb the effect of new mobile gaming platforms. One of the most apparent initiatives was by slashing PS Vita price by roughly USD 50, improving the quality its online game market dubbed Playstation Network and even offering subscription program called PS Plus where its subscribers can download selected games for free and receive discounts and other subscribers-only offerings, provided their subscription is still active. However, these efforts are still yet to make an impact.

Despite all of those efforts, the underlying problem still haunts PS Vita survival: lack of interesting games. As of now, after more than a year I own PS Vita, I only play a handful of games on it due to lack of impressive games available on its lines. Buying original games can not be considered a cheap feat in console gaming, as such, selective habit must be exercised before deciding to buy a game. This habit includes reading previews, looking for testimonial, or even borrowing the games first before actually buying it. However, this habit is mostly got overridden by strong impulse from impressive games, those oh-I-can-not-miss-this-game feel. There are only a handful of games that pass with flying colors from game reviewers or offer unique experience to entice gamers. Some of the games who actually got a good review were just a port of an old game that had been released in another platform. Many of its games were left untranslated to people outside Japan. For me, this is the most crucial thing that Sony has to tackle so PS Vita could live to its full potential.

Attracting more developers to produce great games is imminent. I believe their target, hardcore gamers, will jump to where their favorite games go to. As for me, I am hoping that my games collection will grow from a mere 6 titles so I can spend more time enjoying PS Vita full potential.

Let’s see where it will go next..