The death of handheld gaming? Not quite.
At September’s Tokyo Game Show, Sony held a pre-show press conference to announce two new devices for their line. One was the not-so-surprising updated PS Vita Slim and the other a new console. Meet the PlayStation Vita TV, which since its reveal has had the internet humming as to what it has to offer. What exactly is it, and where does it fit into the videogame hierarchy?
The PS Vita TV is a 6x10cm console that allows you to play over 1,300 Vita, PSP and classic PlayStation titles on a TV. The microconsole will be able to access a number of streaming apps – Hulu, Tsutaya TV and Nico Nico Douga initially – and offers PlayStation 4 cross-functionality. Set to be released at 9,480 yen (approx. $95), the tiny console will focus on breaking into the Asian market, with no dates set for a European/American release yet. Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) President Andrew House told the press at a round table interview the day after the event:
“SCE will release the PS Vita TV in Japan Nov 14, 2013, and in other countries after that. The reason why it will be launched in Japan earlier than in other countries is that there is no leading company in Japan’s video streaming market. The company is planning to sell the PS Vita TV in China, South Korea, etc, but not in the US and European market at this point.”
Why the Vita TV?
There’s a bit of confusion as to when we can get our hand on this device – especially since we only have Shunhei Yoshida, President of SCE’s Worldwide Studios, ambiguous “stay tuned.” tweet to go by. So why people are so excited by this little console? Is this beefed up Ouya with all the bells and whistles that the Android-run Kickstarter sensation seemed to lack going to be the game changer for the industry? Or just another lowpriced gimmicky gadget?
The portable console to TV idea isn’t new, but many of us are optimistic about this next attempt nevertheless. The idea of visiting nostalgia land by replaying some of our favourite PS1 games always makes us feel warm and fuzzy. The PS4 cross-functionality to later include remote play is also a plus; it could even be just the simple fact that the Vita TV is significantly cheaper than other gaming devices and makes for a decent set-top box. With room for improvement, it’s a pretty solid piece of tech, in theory.
Handhelds vs. smartphones
Reports show that handheld gaming is far from dead, with the Nintendo 3DS being the best selling console in the US for the fourth consecutive month (we won’t talk about the poor PS Vita). However, with smartphones and tablets offering countless games, apps, doohickies, movies, books and all that jazz it’s easy to see why perhaps people prefer tablets over a 3DS – where games can sometimes cost £30. We’re already seeing tablets and smartphones winning out against optimised gaming devices. Data from App Annie and IDC reveal that iOS and Google Play revenue is 4x higher than those of handheld gaming devices.
A study by Asymco also shows that it’s not just portable gaming devices that are being outshone by mobiles; author Horace Schmidt writes:
“More people will hire mobile devices for their primary gaming activity. And as mobile devices get inexorably better, they will be hired for use in the setting where consoles have been king: the living room…”
This doesn’t necessarily mean the handhelds should immediately be thrown into the abyss of irrelevance, but they are in trouble. While from a gamer’s perspective, they perform far better than smartphones and tablets – they’re steadily slipping into gaming limbo. They’re not as complex and awe-inspiring as our stationary console at home, but aren’t necessarily as simple and accessible as smartphones. Their portability suggests that they should work well on the go, but gaming on the go isn’t for that immersive, addictive gameplay that some handheld exclusives attempt offer – the ones that have you hooked, until you realise it’s already 3am and you’ve got work in 5 hours (we’ve all been there). If you’re playing at home, where you decide if you want to switch on your Wii, PS3 or Xbox360 or your DS – which would you go with?
Portable gaming doom
So does this mean that the PS Vita TV could end all portable gaming devices? Maybe. Admittedly not a definitive answer, but while the 3DS, PSP, and Vita all have amazing, eclectic games collections, the loss of love for the handheld gaming devices started before we even got a whiff of the Vita TV. It seems there isn’t much room for dedicated handhelds when we’re hooked on GTA at home and Candy Crush when out.
So instead of looking at the Vita TV as the portable gaming enemy, we can look at it as an answer to the decline of their popularity. If the Vita TV falls flat on its ass, gaming on smartphones and tablets could take over, which no hardcore gamer really wants. If the PS Vita TV is successful, it could offer awesome handheld exclusive games a cheaper new home whilst acting like a secondary TV set-top box. Rather than signifying the death of handheld gaming, the Vita TV could, in a weird way, be its redemption.
images: Sony Computer Electronics & Nintendo