Saturday, February 18, 2017

Opportunities and challenges for the five year-old Vita

Well, we made it! The Vita is five years old, and Sony is, somehow and begrudgingly, still making the little box of magic, even if they're getting harder to find and buy in the west. Yet, while there's that air of celebration of hitting five years of OLED-vibrant life, the Vita faces a narrow and darkening path ahead.

None of this piece is rocket science, but should clarify that path for anyone thinking of grabbing a Vita.

Vita Full of Opportunities

The Only Way is Japan

NIS, Vanillaware, Falcom, Gust, 5pb, Extend and others continue to deliver on the Vita. With their RPG/VN/otome engines pretty much max-optimised for the handheld, they can turn out storied adventures at whatever pace their small teams can manage. Japanese gamers still lap them up in sufficient numbers to dent the Media Create chart and ensure steady sales.

And, as those sales aren't massive, a western version on Vita, PS4 and Steam seems to be the new way that publishers can maximise revenue. As long as those Vita sales don't drop below some critical point, there's little reason for publishers to give up the ghost. That's key to attracting the latest generation of anime and otome fans who seem to be snapping up Vita hardware more than any other market (source: me staring at Twitter).

Retro is the way forward

Look at the games market today, there is a vast and growing schism between the tiny number of AAA games at the top of the charts, and what people are actually playing. Demakes, 8-bit nostalgia titles but packed with modern gameplay provide a growing range of titles that will fit well on the Vita and its ageing hardware.

In fact, the backward trend in accelerating, we've gone from Fez to Shovel Knight to Downwell in two years. Now games like Z-Exemplar and positively ancient looking titles are all over Steam and iOS, and would make easy Vita ports. The barrier to entry is falling and Sony still seems willing to give out dev kits. Add in the few porting teams, Armature, BlitWorks, Sickhead and others, still willing to work on games that have potential, and we should be good for another year.

As an added bonus, publishers like Qubic and Ratalaika are rapidly bringing over fun Steam and mobile games to the Vita. If this new market persists, and doesn't get saturated, that's another fun source of games for us!

Threats to the PS Vita

The End is Nigh

The larger publishers are already giving up on the Vita, and that process won't slow down. Bandai (except for 2018's new Digimon), Square and even Koei Tecmo seem to be easing off the gas pedal. That's just business for them, so while their decisions may hurt and annoy Vita owners, it is nothing Dreamcast, Wii and other minority platform gamers haven't seen before.

Worse, Sony's limits on production are driving buyers to the second hand market, which will lead to more battery/screen issues. While importing is less of a hassle than it used to be, in fact its a delight with the many colors and models on offer, some are still wary.

Nintendo Switch 

While 3DS and Vita have long been considered enemies, they were always really covering two different markets, with a little crossover. But Switch is a whole new beast, packed with near cutting edge mobile Tegra technology, it is what the Vita 2 would be, if Sony would have bothered.

Already, a few games that were on Vita in Japan are heading west on the Switch, Puyo Puyo Tetris, and Project Setsuna are quick and easy ports for Nintendo's partners. More importantly, indies can bring their games to Switch with less optimisation and culling of visuals or features for the Vita, although Switch is not as powerful as some were hoping!

This puts Vita another rung down the ladder when it comes to port considerations, especially as Nintendo will be keen to court developers to bump up its notoriously weak third-party roster. And, Switch does seem easier to port to.

So, there's good news and bad news as the Vita celebrates its fifth birthday, but looking on the bright side, as long as those batteries and OLED screens hold out, there's no real reason why a launch day machine might not see its sixth or seventh birthday with a steady supply of titles still coming. 

1 comment: