High Horse: The PS Vitas real problems and how to solve them

Digital distribution is changing everything. Will the Vita keep up?

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.

We recommend