During Sony's E3 press conference yesterday, the company's presenters took a few opportunities to rib Microsoft about Xbox One's performance versus PlayStation 4. The sassiest, oh-no-he-didn't barb accompanied the PlayStation 4 discussion, which became an opportunity to snark about Microsoft's recent abandonment of Kinect 2.
But while Sony executives strutted about the albatross Kinect has become, the PlayStation Vita was quietly dangling around their own neck. Oh, sure, they mentioned Vita a few times. It appeared in plenty of photos, too. At one point, the script for the evening even explicitly stated, "Vita will continue to be a pillar for us." It wasn't treated like a pillar, though. It was more like the embarrassing drunk uncle snoring on the couch, and it rarely appeared single in photos — always in PlayStation family snapshots, as it were, alongside all the other, more popular products Sony would like to remind you of.
What we didn't see highlighted were any Vita-exclusive titles. In fact, Sony's actively avoiding the name "Vita," having gone so far as to announce a new piece of hardware called PlayStation TV... which of course was called Vita TV in Japan. Vita may have a place at Sony's dinner table, but you increasingly get the sense that it's only out of a sense of obligation.
As a fan of portable games and of the Vita in particular, I find the embarrassed silence that surrounds the system frustrating. Yeah, Vita has sold so poorly it makes Wii U look like an aspirational model of capitalistic triumph, but the way to fix Vita's fortunes isn't to talk around it. You talk about it. You make killer apps worth talking about — like Nintendo seems to have done with Mario Kart 8 on Wii U. I doubt that single game will save the system, but it certainly will encourage people to consider getting one, and Nintendo has promoted it hard.
What's really frustrating is that Vita has games already — plenty of them, especially when you factor in PSP backward-compatibility and PS1 classics.
And when you take PlayStation Now's upcoming streaming features into account, Vita is an amazing, content-rich platform. I guarantee when the E3 show floor opens later today, the Sony booth will have a massive section dedicated to slick indie games on Vita. In its own way, I suppose that's a small vote of confidence... but it's for insiders only. The 60,000 people at the show will see the Vita in action, but to the millions watching the company's statement of intent for the year last night, Vita may as well be dead and buried.
You'd think that with Vita's mostly excellent new redesign, Sony would take E3 2014 as a chance to rededicate itself to Vita rather than sweep it under the rug. Sure, it makes sense to focus on the impressive success of the PS4, but talking up its handheld companion a bit wouldn't diminish Vita's success. On the contrary, the ecosystem Sony has created between PS4 and Vita calls to mind Nintendo's Wii U and GamePad synergy... but optional, and better. Kind of like the PlayStation Camera vs. Kinect relationship they beat on last night.
Sony showed some intriguing titles last night, and as expected gave innovative indie developers more of a chance to shine, but Vita's silent plunge into obscurity feels like a massive missed opportunity. I'm sure Vita will continue to be dragged along in a sort of miserable half-life thanks to those PS4 connections and Sony's general obstinance, but it deserves better. Hopefully Sony will give the platform the public vote of confidence it's earned — and sooner rather than later.