The launch of PS Vita both in Japan and internationally seems to have been met with a reception of indifference, going by sales figures, internet comments and my own anecdotal evidence gathered from friends, none of whom are considering purchase of a new portable system any time soon.
And then there’s me. I was counting down the days to launch ever since a date was available and praising the device in hyperbolic terms as the pinnacle of human achievement. This is the gaming system I was waiting for, and after a week of owning one and playing it heavily enough to fully discharge the battery daily, my enthusiasm has not diminished.
It is encouraging that among the relatively small pocket of early adopters, feedback generally echoes my own glowing appraisal. Satisfaction is very high; people are enjoying the hardware and launch software available. It is clear that this is a very special product with a near universally liked design.
The problem is not in the product itself but in the market conditions it enters; a market which has undergone a paradigm shift in this post-iPhone world. Dedicated portable gaming systems are squeezed into a middle segment between home consoles at the top end and phones which have eaten the bottom out. These increasingly capable phones are playing host to rich gaming experiences at attractive prices, which, for many people, have sufficient entertainment value to tide them over until returning to the console hub in the living room.
Although its biggest influence is its own predecessor, the Vita picks up a lot of tricks from today’s popular smartphones. Touch, tilt and camera join the standard buttons in its suite of interface options, while the UI has been revamped to feature multiple home screens with trays of app icons. Additionally it is possible to multitask with many built-in applications able to run simultaneously even while a game is running. Clearly Sony has thought to reserve more resources for the user experience than were allotted to the PS3, still without its highly requested global voice chat which instead debuts with the Vita.
Despite all the successes of the Vita design team, you have to question the thought process of the people in marketing. They are positioning Vita as an accessory to the PS3, allowing users to start a game on the television then to pass it over to the Vita when heading out. At a time when consumers are more careful to spend money than ever before, it seems ridiculous to offer a premium device as merely an extension of another premium device. The considerable suite of features that Vita independently offers must be conveyed to the masses in order to give it a perception of a good value proposition.
I will continue to enjoy my shiny new toy, but I do need to masses to join me if it is to achieve its full potential and garner significant backing from developers. Ultimately a less-than-stellar reception to launch is not indicative of long-term success. As more games come to market and the hardware slides into a price range more acceptable to the average Joe’s budget, success is inevitable, even if the market for such a device has shrunk somewhat. When the quality is this high, there will always be takers. For the first time of this generation, the console experience is fully encapsulated in portable form, rather than some cheap interpretation.