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.
"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