The PS Vita and Handheld Gaming

At E3 2011, Sony unveiled the Playstation Vita, previously NGP. Vita is the best-looking handheld to date, rivaling its home-console counterparts. It features touch-screen and rear touch-pads in an effort to combat Nintendo and the 3DS dominance in the handheld field. Unfortunately, I don’t see this doing the job.

Everything Nintendo does wrong with the Wii, it does right with the Nintendo DS. Think about it: who plays more handheld games? On handhelds devoted to gaming, the answer is obvious – young children. But why? From personal experience, I can tell you that most of my handheld gaming took place in the car or waiting somewhere. Unable to drive, we, as children, found ourselves stranded in the backseat. If a babysitter wasn’t available, we had to join mom and dad on various trips into town. While they drove and took care of business, we entertained ourselves with Gameboys, ripe with games catering to a young and innocent generation – Zelda, Pok’emon and Mario among others.

However, once we’ve eclipsed the age 16 mark – really starting to dig into the T- and M-rated fields of hardcore gaming – we have a car, a job, and are taking care of ourselves. The time we had for playing games on handhelds is converted to driving ourselves and hanging out with friends.

The PSP was not necessarily a poor system (though the awkward new media and other things are certainly not to be overlooked). The hardcore community Sony is trying to appeal to simply doesn’t have the opportunity to devote to a handheld. Most of the titles shipping on Vita are new titles in established franchises with console counterparts. While some of these are exclusive experiences, there remain a wealth of options on the big screen, making it less appealing. Additionally, with age comes friends who come over and hang out at random because they can drive themselves. Those who discuss things over a Playstation- or Xbox-shaped watercooler do so because of the ease of multiplayer. One system, one disc (barring the death of local multiplayer, but that’s a rant for another day) and one TV much larger than the screen of a handheld.

Let’s not forget the bustling scene that is the cell phone as a gaming platform. This is a convenient opportunity for developers to get titles to a place that consumers are already carrying around, further minimizing the need for a game-devoted handheld.

Sony is doing themselves a big favor with the $250 price point. When the PSP was released, it was sitting just over $200 – about $75 more than Nintendo’s newly-launched DS, which outsold it without comparison. At the time, it was really expensive as far as handhelds go. This time around, Sony is matching the 3DS, which should at least give it a chance.

Don’t get me wrong – the Vita is a powerful piece of hardware with real potential, and I’m just as excited as the next guy. Hopefully Sony can get it into the hands of the hardcore crowd.

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