High Horse: The PS Vita’s real problems – and how to solve them

High Horse is a rotating opinion column in which GamesRadar editors and guest writers are invited to express their personal thoughts on games, the people who play them and the industry at large.

Too expensive? Let’s put aside that argument for now, and instead focus on besting each other’s Lumines high scores. Not a good enough launch lineup? I completely disagree. As for the high cost of the memory, I’ll grant you that – but that’s not what really rankles me about the PlayStation Vita. Instead, I’m not entirely convinced that Sony can adapt to the digital climate fast enough. Here’s why:

The price needs to be nice

Sony has made some big strides with building up the PlayStation Store in the five-plus years that the PS3 has been around. That said, even with the measures it’s taking with the Vita’s sales mechanisms, I’m not wholly convinced Sony has the flexibility required to change with the times. I applaud the fact that gamers who buy downloadable games can get a 10 percent discount versus picking up a physical copy. That precedent was set in Japan on the PS3 with Gran Turismo 5 Prologue a few years back. But it shouldn’t have taken so long, and it should’ve been established with the PSP.

While the PSP had no shortage of amazing games – Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, and the Syphon Filter games come to mind – the climate has changed. Ten years ago, gamers could scoff at mobile gaming evangelists swearing that cell phone games would be the future. Now you can’t walk into the mall without seeing something tangentially related to Angry Birds. Shorter, smaller games are what’s in vogue for portable gaming, and have been for some time. And pardon me for beating a dead horse in High Horse, but there's real competition out there in the portable space outside of just Nintendo...

Above: The Vita's best opportunities must come from smart digital games like Mutant Blobs Attack!!! alongside big titles

Digitally distributed platform exclusives will be key to getting interest from gamers. A game like Drinkbox’s Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack!!!, which was financed by Sony's Pub Fund, points the way.

It’s a title that’s priced just above consumer expectations of iPhone games, but lower than the expectations for a Sony handheld. The Vita (along with the Nintendo 3DS) needs much more of these low-priced but cleverly constructed titles around. I’m not entirely sure that keeping the Minis flag flying is going to get the job done – that only serves to marginalize those games.

Give us more games with the craft and cleverness of Mutant Blobs Attack!!!, and you’ll see me much more motivated to drop big bucks on purchasing my own personal Vita (instead of just hogging one of the office systems).

The ghost of UMD Passport

Sony’s reluctance to implement UMD Passport in the West could point to a variety of conspiracy theories. But whatever your take, we can all agree on one thing: gamers want to be able to have access to the games they’ve already purchased. And many of us have a shelf full of UMDs that we’d love to digitize and clear some shelf space. We don't mind paying an extra few dollars per game to transfer them over.

The fact that one section of the world had access to this feature, but the rest of us are denied it, hurts the Vita. I sincerely hope that Sony has a plan in place, but judging by how it handled PSPgo and digital distribution, I find it hard to be optimistic.

Above: $10 digital transfers of your old PSP games? Keep dreamin'...

One potential solution that works for the company and will reward its loyal fans: heavier integration of PlayStation Plus into the Vita in the coming months. When it launched 18 months ago, the service was derided as a scam for Sony to charge money for things Xbox Live already delivers for free. Yet, over time, I’ve witnessed friends around the country tweeting and posting status updates promoting whatever free game is popping up for PS Plus subscribers. Why not offer deeper discounts for Plus subscribers looking to purchase digital versions of Vita games, instead of just the usual 10 percent?

I think it’s one of the few methods Sony can use to stay competitive with retail channels without stepping on toes. Amazon can break out a lighting deal and spread the news within minutes to an hour. Other shops can price match, and used games will always end up cheaper. If Sony aggressively markets extra-discounted pricing through Plus subscriptions, it’ll help them greatly. It’s all about rewarding the gamer: for his loyalty, and with properly priced games. If Sony can do that, the Vita has a long life ahead of it.

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  • MaelstromKING - February 29, 2012 3:24 p.m.

    I don't think it's reasonable to pay $10 to re-stock a digital version of a UMD game, that in and of itself is expensive. I just can't shake steam's sale success. The sooner Microsoft and Sony catch up in making things accessible to more people at cheaper rates the more money there will be to be made by each of them.
  • Swagsalot - February 25, 2012 5:51 a.m.

    The last paragraph mentions an Amazon 'lighting' deal, I think you meant to say 'lightning'. Anyways, great article! A lot more abstract ideas to help the Vita, unlike the usual "better games!!" or "cheaper!!!" arguments made by everyone.
  • rxb - February 25, 2012 4:45 a.m.

    I do agree cheap online games are a must, but to make money Sony need the licensing fees from full priced games.
  • garnsr - February 24, 2012 10:22 p.m.

    The only thing XBox Live provides for free is the ability to buy games. All three console manufacturers charge too much for digital copies of games. I'd be really surprised to see them really discount old games or DLC, or charge less because they're not really supplying anything but bandwidth while you download. I don't think I've ever really regretted buying any system, I feel like I've gotten my money's worth from everything I've owned (and I never sell systems, so I still own them, and I've owned most of the consoles from the NES to now) and end up with a stack of games and fond memories, so I'm not too worried about the future of the Vita. I want a system, but I need a game to make me buy one.
  • SolidLatino - February 24, 2012 10:19 p.m.

    Two words: Gravity. Rush.
  • Yukichin - February 24, 2012 9:55 p.m.

    I still don't think that mobile phone games will ever overtake traditional games unless they finally up their quality (barring, of course, Square-Enix's ports of Final Fantasy III to the iPhone/iPad). Angry Birds is massively popular, yes, but it's a fun diversion; there's no story, the gameplay is best suited for when you're waiting on someone at a restaurant or movie theatre, and it's just not substantial.
  • garnsr - February 24, 2012 10:33 p.m.

    I don't think the question is whether phone games will overtake traditional games, but whether they've killed off games on portable systems that can only play games, and not make phone calls too. People are more willing to upgrade their phone every year, and lose the ability to play all the stuff they bought for their old, inferior phone, than to buy a whole new game system less than five years after the last one. Phones have the ability to play games with some gameplay, but not for the price that people are willing to pay for them. That's where the problem is, convincing people to pay a reasonable amount of money to play portable games.
  • Japanaman - February 24, 2012 6:46 p.m.

    Same here. I had a PSP, bought some games for it and sold it within 2 years. But then I bought another for a few good games. Then sold it for Rock Band equipment, then got bored of that and got another PSP. Then sold that after getting bored with it, then bought another for some big games, then sold it for some more console games, then got a PSP Go which I really enjoyed, but sold it because I couldn't play Kingdom Hearts on the console. Then, sold my PSP again so I could afford a Vita. I plan on keeping the Vita around because it's so darn beautiful, but unfortunately, only 25% of my PSP games and Minis will run on the Vita.
  • BladedFalcon - February 24, 2012 5:09 p.m.

    I'm more worried about the games themselves. I personally think the Vita launch is a pretty handsome one, but what about the future? not many big name titles come to mind in the near horizon, and much less when speaking about original, new IPs. I was an early adopter of the PSP, and i sold it away 2 years after because there wasn't really that many good games for it in a steady rate. Yes, after taht, the really big hitters appeared on the console, but by then, it was a little too late for people like me and others. I like the VIta as a console, but I'm still on the fence about getting one until I am reassured that it will have a decent stream of games to support it, and not just ports of console games and such.
  • Moondoggie1157 - February 24, 2012 5:36 p.m.

    I'm in the same boat, Falcon. I bought the PSP right when it was launched, and unfortunately sold it before any games I was interested in were released. I really do think Sony has learned from the PSP. the launch has been pretty damn fine, games and all. I'm not an optimistic person at all, but I see the Vita only getting better over time, the only problem is whether or not people are willing to take the risk. I'm not going to lie, I could see another "cult" console here.
  • taokaka - February 24, 2012 5:42 p.m.

    well there's resistance, COD, littlebigplanet, assassins creed, bioshock, silent hill and killzone all hopefully coming out this year and those are just the big name western games, we will also probably see plenty of jrpgs such as final fantasy, persona, little kings story and a bunch of vanillaware games so the line up can satisfy everybody's needs. But even with just what I said I can relate to what you're feeling because even with such franchises appearing on the vita in the near future I'm still not sold on half of them mainly the portabalised console games but hopefully our worries are wrong and the vita turns out to have the best game library of ever, or at the least a very good one.
  • BladedFalcon - February 24, 2012 7:44 p.m.

    Yeah... I mean, you named msotly franchises taht are meant for consoles to begin with, but hey, it's still good support! AND, you did remind me of one game I AM very keen on: Dragon's crown, anything that is related to vanillaware appeals a LOT to me, and I now feel a bit ashamed to have forgotten about that one >>;