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PlayStation Vita Could Shift Towards Digital-Only

Sony believes the Vita is "the iPod of handheld gaming" and is starting to trend towards a digital-only future.

By Mike Williams. Published 3 months ago

Does anyone remember the PSP Go? It was the PlayStation Portable released without a UMD drive, meaning the only way to get games on the system was by downloading them from the PlayStation Store. The PSP Go did not fly in any market as far as I can tell. Perhaps that was because consumers weren't ready for a digital future, the PSP itself was already beginning to trail off in popularity, or perhaps the fact that it cost as much as a regular PSP. Times have changed though. Sony has a new handheld and a new market to work with.

In an interview with VG247, PlayStation UK Managing Director Fergal Gara admits that Sony might be operating in a better climate now and a digital-only future for the PlayStation Vita is a possibility.

"Compared to PS3, Vita has had a higher percentage of games bought digitally since it was first launched," said Gara. "It's interesting and it demonstrates how many people look at it as the iPod of handheld gaming. More Vita games are still consumed through physical game cards than they are through digital, but things are increasingly moving the other way. Could be that in future physical games becomes the side we do without."

Part of the growing digital focus is due to more independent developers bringing their games to the Vita. These developers generally don't have the infrastructure or scale for a retail release of their titles. With more games on the digital side, the idea of a digital-only Vita grows stronger. Gara did say that Sony is not a part of deciding whether a game is physical or digital-only.

The PlayStation Vita has already had one redesign. Could the second go digital-only?

"A lot of our discussions with developers don't center around developing games to better suit digital or physical purchases, or even center around developing specifically for the PS Vita," explained Gara. "We talk a lot with developers about developing the best games for PlayStation in general and how we can properly map any ideas that they may already have to a platform or multiple platforms."

Gara also put the Vita's lack of runaway success down to the fact that tablets and smartphones provide good enough gaming experiences for the average consumer.

"The truth is that the number of people that want the core experience [that Vita offers] is not as big as the number that simply want any sort of game available on the move and, because the likes of a tablet and smart phone are so multi-functional in their use, they will always be very appealing," he said. "Really, I think the reason it hasn't sold more is that it comes down to people thinking: 'Do I need it as well as these other things that are taking my money?'"

It's a pertinent question for consumers, many of whom are already spending $400 or more on iPad or other mobile device. I love my Vita, but I find that while I can surf the web or watch Netflix on it, I generally don't. It is a device solely for gaming for me - especially with the inclusion of Vita Remote Play - and it does its job well. I can't say that I can totally recommend the Vita to my non-gaming friends because it represents a niche that they don't necessarily live in. It's a hard place for the Vita to be, but I hope the device does well in the future

The best community comments so far 16 comments

  • CK20XX 3 months ago

    Eh, no, the Vita's lack of runaway success probably isn't due to tablets and iPads. The mere presence of buttons and a D-pad is enough to make tablets and dedicated game machines like apples and oranges. It's more because the 3DS has been hammering the Vita and the original PSP was a hotbed of piracy, which probably made a lot of developers skittish of the brand.

    Industry managers and analysts seem way too eager to jump onto the digital-only bandwagon. It didn't work for the PSP Go, it didn't work for the Xbox One, and it won't work for the Playstation Vita. The main reason it's worked for Steam is because, unlike game consoles, PCs don't die off every generation. That gave Valve virtually unlimited time for playing their long-term game, and now Steam is known for a humongous library and insane discounts and sales, which make customers happy despite the inherent drawbacks of digital-only platforms.

    Those drawbacks include the lack of physical media's permanence, thus forcing customers to weather fickle corporate tides. Publishers can yank digital games from the marketplace on a whim, they can almost never be resold or even returned if you aren't satisfied, and even streaming is limited by your internet connection and/or your country’s lackluster infrastructure. Also, companies still seem to be figuring out that since digital games are so disposable, like wipes and razor blades, people expect them to be priced accordingly. The digital revolution will always supplement physical media rather than replace it as long as it gives less power to the consumer.

  • Natabuu 3 months ago

    The main problem with the PSP Go is that it was the third revision to a system that was primarily disc-based for most of it's life up to that point. Any UMDs you already owned would not work on the revised system and Sony lacked any kind of upgrade program for North America. Additionally, many key games for the PSP never got released on PSN, making them completely unavailable for the Go or the Vita.

    Over the past year, I have been using PSN sales and my local independent game store to transfer much of my PSP collection over to digital download in anticipation of getting a Vita. By the time I actually got one during Amazon's Black Friday promo, I had already built up a nice digital library of PS1, PSP, & Vita games, either owned outright or connected to my PS+ subscription.

  • touchofkiel 3 months ago

    I'm starting to like the idea of all digital on Vita. I enjoy owning the physical copies, and memory sticks are still too expensive in the eyes of most, I've found that it's pretty convenient to have a lot of games on a single stick, because so many of them are pick-up-and-play, and the Vita's OS is pretty efficient in switching games.

    I like to "be currently playing" a lot of games at the same time, but I have to limit my physical games to one at a time. It doesn't help me play a quick round of, say, Sonic All Stars Racing (though it did happen to be offered free via PS+ recently) when I'm sort of reluctant to even take out my copy of Dragon's Crown.

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