Should Sony rejoin the portable gaming arms race or should they concentrate their efforts on the PS4?
There’s no denying that at the time of launch, the PSVita was a fantastic piece of kit. The OLED multi-touch Screen, the rear touch pad, the gyroscope and the fantastic build quality oozed class. But 6 years on and hardware sales have slowed to a crawl in America and Western Europe and software releases are few and far between. When asked, Sony admit the PSVita has failed to hit expectations. Sony’s Jim Ryan said “I don’t know if it was that it was more technology people had to carry around, or more things to charge, or whether their phone or tablet were taking care of that. But once the content slowed in that pipeline, it became hard to keep the Vita as a going concern.”. An ever growing number games that were announced for the PSVita are now skipping Sony’s handheld in favour of porting to the Nintendo Switch; a hybrid console that has exploded onto the scene, selling almost 5m units in a matter of months.
For many PSVita fans, especially those that were there on day one and are still picking up the few games that release now, that’s uncomfortable reading. The continued success of the Nintendo 3DS/2DS and the impressive launch of the Switch demonstrates that there is still a future for handheld console gaming – but not for the PSVita. Sony appear to be done with handheld gaming for now, but should they be looking to get back in on the action?
Not at the expense of the PS4
One of the main reasons that the PSVita failed to maximise its potential was due to the drop off in support from Sony. In the 6 years since the PSVita launched, Sony published 87 first and second party games on the system. That’s an average of 14 a year. 39 (or 44%) of these are available on the PS3 and/or the PS4 and were ported to PSVita. They’ve not published a game for the PSVita since 2015. Namco Bandai have now published more games on the PSVita than Sony have.
The fact is, the install base of the PSVita was not big enough to warrant continued support and the install base wouldn’t grow without investment in “must play” titles. The very definition of a vicious circle. Sony have a finite number of first party developers and right now, they have them all focused on the PS4 or PSVR to maintain their momentum. The PS4 is very important to Sony right now – the impressive sales of the console and its software are offsetting the losses elsewhere in the company (I’m looking at you Sony Pictures). Sony will not want to jeopardise the PS4 by refocusing their studios on a new hybrid handheld, at least, not until the PS4 comes to the end of it’s life span.
Only if it’s PS4 compatible
The only alternative to this is to make a potential PSVita successor compatible with PS4 games. The Nintendo Switch has shown that, even with all of its limitations, there’s a market for a hybrid console that can play full console games. It’d make sense for Sony to capitalise on their extensive PS4 catalogue which would mean they wouldn’t have to divert much resource away from their flagship console.
But Only For the Right Price
One of the other reasons why the PSVita struggled, at least in the early days, is because it was deemed as too expensive by many potential customers. The 5 inch OLED multi-touch screen (which became a LED screen in the 2000 version), three-axis gyroscope, three-axis accelerometer, front and rear cameras as well as the ARM® Cortex™-A9 core processor and 128MB VRAM were pretty amazing for their time but came from the “Spared no expense” John Hammond school of development. This meant the Vita was released with a price of $249 (for the 3G-less model) without a memory card; more than most people were willing to spend.
If the PSVita 2 is to make use of the PS4 game catalogue (or to offer games at that level), it would need at least a 1.84 teraflops capable GPU and a decent CPU as well as 8GB of RAM. While the costs of these components has fallen over the past few years and could be put together relatively inexpensively, the one thing a portable gaming does need that is still quite expensive is a screen.
The Nintendo Switch keeps the screen cost down by going with a 6.2-inch capacitive multi-touch display that’s capable of 720p (the lowest resolution that’s defined as ‘High definition’). If Sony were to produce a PSVita 2, you’d expect that they’d go for similar sized screen but with a higher resolution.
So… Should They make a Hybrid PSVita 2/PS4?
Sony have learnt from their mistakes before. The difficult architecture and high price of the PS3 resulted in the easy-to-develop-for and inexpensive PS4 which is still lighting up the hardware sales charts. If they were to learn somethings from the PSVita’s slow down, it would be that a handheld gaming console needs to do something that mobile/tablet gaming doesn’t and that people are willing to pay a higher price if the games are “must plays”. This is knowledge that Nintendo have shown in abundance with the 3DS and the Switch.
Sony probably don’t have the capacity or resources to create a whole suit of new “must play” games for a handheld without harming the PS4 right now, but if they could build a hybrid handheld that played PS4 games as well as a few exclusives, they’d have a hot product on their hands – if they could nail the price.
If Sony could get the components cheap enough and they could build a handheld that could play the full fat versions of Fallout 4, Call of Duty, FIFA & Horizon Zero Dawn on the fly, they’d have a hybrid worth it’s weight in gold. Balancing the price against capability will be their biggest hurdle and if they can overcome that, they’d have a handheld that had a tonne of “must play” games from Day 1, that isn’t cannibalizing the PS4 and does something that mobile/tablet gaming doesn’t. Come on Sony. Get to it.