To my mind, Jason did a pretty comprehensive write-up yesterday on what the PS Vita is while also pointing out where the new handheld is problematically not as the follow-up to the seven-year-old PSP. Well, I have some thoughts on where the console needs to be in the coming months if it's to meet or hopefully even exceed the flawed PSP this generation.
I have to imagine the execs at Sony responsible for the Vita's rollout have been thinking deeply about how to build and sustain an audience for the new platform—it's after all, what they're paid the big dollars to do—but based on the way things like the memory card pricing and lack of support for the PSP to Vita transfer system, the hardware and entertainment giant may have spent so much time looking in at how they perceive the Vita (or how they want to it be seem by consumers, at least) that it might have made them a little myopic regarding how you, me, and everyone else on the ground who're actually playing these things look at it.
After the break, I have 10 recommendations—take 'em or leave 'em—for the Vita to not only survive but succeed.
10. Keep it up with the social features—and make sure third-party developers are onboard too
One of the features that seems to be garnering the most praise among the hardware's first wave of reviewers is the Near function which identifies nearby gamers and generally tries to make the new console a less lonely experience than than the PSP tended to be over a network. I'm not saying Sony needs to dive head first into a bunch of Web 2.0 nonsense, plugging social networking errata into games (I can count on one hand the number of gamers I know who've Tweeted from a console game).
At the same time, I hope Sony continues to embrace the spirit of something like Near going forward, ways to get get more gamers playing the software together and doing connectedness on par or even better than consoles have in terms of introducing us to players outside of our usual circle.
9. Games: give us something beyond PS3-alikes
This is a biggie, but for the time being, let's allow it to hang back here near the end of the list. But the software philosophy for the PSP (until the introduction of Minis, at least) seemed predicated on the idea that players wanted the same kind of games they could play on consoles, only on a smaller screen and minus a thumbstick.
Okay, that's maybe being a little unfair, but it did feel like the prevailing mindset was that the secret to the new console's success was console-sized experiences on the handheld and along the same lines what were essentially ports of PS2 games (tellingly, quite a few first-party PSP games made the leap to the PS2 eventually). We need games that respect the commute, tuned for a few minutes of drop-in/drop-out play.
8. Don't be afraid to invite non-Sony software support (iTunes integration, etc.)
I hope I'm not getting too mixed in my messages here, but this is an area where I hope the Vita emulates its console big brother: working with app developers to bring all sorts of interesting tools to the console with its own take on the iTunes App Store. I think it's unrealistic to hope for something like iTunes integration (you know, since Sony has their own music and video service), but certainly Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, and the like might find their way onto the handheld. Ditto the Kindle app or the New York Times reader, just completely embracing a full, rich marketplace of non-game software.
7. Know what the Vita is (and sell it as that)
Along the same lines, never lose sight that this is a game console. An issue that plagued the PS3 during its launch (and to a certain extent the PSP) was that both were attempting to be everything to everyone. The PS3 was supposed to be a full-scale home media solution, your high-def home video player, your game console, your Internet browser, and on and on. And at this point, we're comfortable with a lot of these features being in a console (we almost expect it now) but at the time, that was most of the messaging while the game component kind of got lost in the shuffle.
I'll wager that if you have all of your music in iTunes, the PS Vita will not be your new, default music player and you're probably not going to be buying The Dark Knight Rises day one when it hits digital download services to watch on the five inch screen. And I hope going forward, Sony is savvy enough to stop trying to sell their new hardware that way, making sure that it leads with the games and, of yeah, it can also do all of these other cool things.
6. Lure in users new and old with some kind of incentive program
Blue sky, wishful thinking stuff here, but I have to imagine there's been a certain breach of trust for the PSP faithful who thought they might be able to take that stack of UMDs and have some reasonable way of playing them on the Vita. Well, after a complicated launch of the PSP Passport system in Japan that saw inconsistent and erratic pricing for the conversion service, Sony nixed it all together for the U.S. launch. And while I'm sure gamers would have bristled at having to effectively pay some more to play the games they already bought, unless they plan to rock both the Vita and the PSP, their only option at this point is to pay full price for a download over PSN.
With all of that in mind, it'd be great if Sony provided some kind of program akin to Club Nintendo to award gamers who spend their hard-earned money on software, really following though with free game and movie downloads or something similar as a sign of good faith.
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