Posted by John on October 8, 2011

Vita’s learned harsh lessons from PS3 - That’s why it’ll succeed

PlayStation Vita’s is the most exciting Sony launch - the most desirable Sony product, no less - since PSone over 15 years ago. And if you’d told us a few months ago we’d be saying that about PSP2, we’d have suggested you cut back on the 3DTV… and horse tranquillizers.

“Vita’s pricing is certainly rather attractive, given the expectations that surrounded it before any such announcement was made,” says Screen Digest analyst Steve Bailey of the €299 machine. “Hardware cost, plus strong marketing, are two key pillars for successfully stimulating uptake of new specialist hardware.

“If the games are good enough, people will adopt it. And ‘good’ isn’t just a question of traditional review quality, but of leveraging the innovations of the format, as we saw with Wii Fit - despite its price, it struck a major chord with people by progressing what the console represented. Generating reams of content these days is easy. Generating entertaining and alluring content that people actually care about - the foremost reason they buy hardware - is the challenge.”

To know what Vita’s doing right in this regard, it’s vital to look at what PSP did wrong. Of the 24 titles for its ‘05 launch, there were four new IPs: Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, Smartbomb, Lumines and World Tour Soccer.

Of those, only Lumines - a widescreen supernova of a puzzle game - really shone. Of the rest, mired in a moribund sea of EA and Activision ports and spin-offs, only Ridge Racer made the idea of a ‘PlayStation in your pocket’ seem even slightly irresistible.

Why play lesser versions of what you’ve just been playing at home? PSP should have answered that question within its first six months or given up trying. It did neither.

It became a handheld defined more by what it couldn’t do than what it could. It couldn’t produce a flagship FPS because it lacked a second analogue stick; it couldn’t fit into people’s pockets because it was too damn big, nor into their schedules because it demanded console-like play sessions.

It couldn’t play many media formats, the content wasn’t there for the ones it could, and it couldn’t store enough anyway. The disastrous sales of UMD movies (Paramount, Warner Bros. and even Sony were scaling back releases as early as 2006) reflected consumers’ utter distaste for a proprietary disc format. And, of course, it couldn’t stop piracy.

The ease with which pirates could download and play PSP games on release was “sickening” according to SCEA marketing boss Peter Dille, who in 2009 told Gamasutra that “the toothpaste is out of the tube”. Meaning: with over 50million units on the market with fundamental vulnerabilities, solving the problem via new hardware was next to impossible.

This, combined with the high cost and poor availability of PSP dev-kits, made studios think twice about making games. Plus the indie community, in particular - in many ways the secret of iPhone’s success - were shut out.

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