PS Plus will no longer offer free titles on PS3 or PS Vita from March 2019 onwards, it was announced last month. I can see why Sony might be keen to phase out their previous home console after PS4’s heavyweight success, but why throw their Vita baby out with the bathwater?
Here’s a quote from Shuhei Yoshida in 2015, speaking about the possibility of a new PS Vita model hitting markets:
“People have mobile phones and it’s so easy to play games on smartphones. And many games on smartphones are free, or free to start. I myself am a huge fan of PlayStation Vita and we worked really hard on designing every aspect. Touch-based games are fun – there are many games with really good design. But having sticks and buttons make things totally different. So I hope, like many of you, that this culture of playing portable games continues but the climate is not healthy for now because of the huge dominance of mobile gaming.”
Even before the Nintendo Switch arrived to blow expectations out the water, the handheld gaming market was certainly not unhealthy. 3DS had been surviving with a consistent stream of releases and a high install base for years. Sony got lazy.
There are a wealth of reasons the mobile market could have come second to a handheld console. Who wants to store GB upon GB worth of release titles on their phone the whole time, and restrict themselves to whichever poor touch control scheme the developer decided to choose? Mobile gaming did, of course, explode – nobody’s denying that. But did it explode to the point of putting dedicated handheld machines in the ground? Just look at Switch for your answer.
Regardless of Sony’s mistakes with the Vita (and oh my God are there so many), deciding to kill it off with the PS3 reveals just how deep those mistake-induced scars run.
Initially, the Vita was toted as console-quality gameplay on the loo. Of course, it was not console quality. You could perhaps stretch your wifi to give you a laggy, jaw grindingly frustrating semblance of a low-power PS4 title in Remote Play while on the john but that’s often more of a strain than your actual WC business. I’ll stop with the toilet jokes now.
So, when Vita followers realised their Uncharted: Golden Abyss cartridge was as good as it was going to get, they turned to what the device did do well – indies and throwbacks. Severed, Spelunky, Don’t Starve, Teslagrad – all these indie titles were either introduced to me by PS Plus or through PS Plus sales on Vita. I still play these titles to this day, dusting off the (in my opinion) beautifully designed handheld to squeeze a little more life out of its shell while my Switch takes a break from running actual console-quality titles. I’m also a child of the PS2 era – when whole worlds sprang into imaginations and 3D officially became a thing. Jak and Daxter, God of War, Ratchet and Clank, Final Fantasy – you can bet I have every classic Sony decided to eek onto the system installed on my eye wateringly overpriced memory card.
These two markets are where the PS Vita excels. Indies can turn a disappointing mini playstation into a hub of creativity and unique experiences, and PS2 and PSOne titles require a fraction of the power this thing is designed to output for a fully fledged, deeply realised game. These two markets are where the PS Vita died. The hand holding the knife was Sony’s inability, or bizarre decision not, to provide what players were actually using their device for. Instead, they tried to wedge it back into its existing eco system with dodgy Remote Play and disjointed second screen attempts.
These two markets represent everything PS Plus was offering the PS Vita in 2018. With Switch eShop open in one hand and Sony’s needlessly complicated Vita storefront in the other, I rarely pop in for a quick browse of latest Vita releases. The only way new games make it onto the system now is through PS Plus, in a ‘why not?’ scenario. Get rid of PS Plus, and you can easily get rid of indie and retro titles being installed onto the millions of devices around the world.
So why are they doing it? It’s simple. The Vita turned out to be something they didn’t expect. The black sheep of the PlayStation range, execs see no way of slotting it into the family tree in such a way that would support the golden boy, PS4. Remote Play all but failed and the whole second screen attempt was even laughed at by Wii U, an equally disappointing child. On top of that Sony won’t make enough money from porting retro titles and supporting indies to justify the device’s existence in its own right to the powers that be. Sure, I love my Vita. I love what I use it for – indies and throwbacks – but Sony never wanted it to be used for that. So they’ve quietly shuffled their disappointing child to the back of the family photo behind a Great Aunt or two who we all know will probably bust it in a few months anyway.