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.

News by Mike Williams, .

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

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  • Avatar for CK20XX #1 CK20XX 4 years 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.
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  • Avatar for Natabuu #2 Natabuu 4 years 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.
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  • Avatar for Y7748837 #3 Y7748837 4 years ago
    I currently have PS+ and never use my PS3 and Vita, despite access to new free games every month. I could see myself turning to Vita more and more, however, if they take a note out of Valve's book and do huge discount sales a few times a year. They seem to be testing the waters with sales but they could still go lower.

    If they did, though? I would buy myself a huge backlog of PSN games. Bring it on.Edited January 2014 by Y7748837
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  • Avatar for Folkenhellfang #4 Folkenhellfang 4 years ago
    The story of the Vita is more about Monster Hunter. Sony didn't secure it, even though it was a center piece of the NGP announcement presser. This handheld generation would be pretty different if the Vita had its home territory in hand like the PSP did. I still believe that Nintendo flinched over the NGP too soon, only to secure the exclusive on Monster Hunter just a scant few months later. But hey, coulda, shoulda and all that.
    I think the Go was pretty sweet, all things considered. Five digital copies per purchase at that point ment both of my children and my wife had Gran Turismo on our two Gos, PSP 1k, and a PSP 2k for 35 bucks. Let's just not think about all the hardware involved.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #5 touchofkiel 4 years 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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  • Avatar for qwilman #6 qwilman 4 years ago
    I don't think this is surprising at all. Sony's been trying to sneak pills of going all-digital into their meals since the PSP days. The PSP Go really feels like it was a dry run for this sort of thing, I think the Vita having a disc slot in it was done somewhat begrudgingly.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #7 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    Does Sony really want to be comparing its newest handheld to iPod, a product that has plummeted in popularity and is slowly being phased out of Apple's product line? Seems like an unwise comparison to me....
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  • Avatar for TheSL #8 TheSL 4 years ago
    I'd do all digital on Vita if I could get a 500+ GB memory card for it and not have it cost $400. My 32GB card has been full (of mostly old games) for ages and I'm constantly having to clear the fridge just to mess around with the PS+ game of the month. In the last year I've bought exactly 3 physical Vita games (Muramasa, Tearaway and Ys Celceta) and its not because the digital versions are more convenient, but because *there aren't any physical games coming out on the system that often*.
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  • Avatar for gta5-anthony441 #9 gta5-anthony441 4 years ago
    People like this stuff
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #10 Funny_Colour_Blue 4 years ago
    PSVITA game cards are AWFUL! AERGH!
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  • Avatar for letty #11 letty 4 years ago
    Sorry this is a day late.

    I think the reason more people have been playing Vita games digitally has more to do with the PS+ “instant game collection” than his claim that people are prefering digital and likening the Vita to the iPod. They offered a lot of the Vita’s big games on that service and a lot of users have bought into it. Mr. Gara wants people to have this perception of Sony and he’s trying to make a case for a change in their business model that gives them even more control. Make no mistake, the big game companies would like nothing more than to offer you games as a service or subscription and would love to not have to manufacture goods that people can take ownership of and resell at their leisure. This way they can cut out the retail middleman and the used games business.

    Going all-digital for the Vita is very difficult because of the large file sizes of Vita games(up to 4GBs) and the exorbitant prices of the proprietary memory cards($80 for 32GBs). Vita owners would be better off using Vita memory cards for storing PSP titles(many of which are greatly enhanced by the Vita’s second thumb-stick) and PS1 classics. Physical Vita game cards are the best option for Vita games in my opinion.

    The original PSP launched the UMD platform which were very clumsy discs, and it’s understandable as to why Sony didn’t continue with them. The Vita game cards are similar to the DS/3DS and are much more efficient than the clunky UMDs. I believe that Sony should stick with the Vita game cards and continue using them with their next handheld(much like how DS games will work on the 3DS).

    The PS Vita needs a relaunch in the West and the new 2000 series has been doing very well in Japan and offers some great improvements such as better battery life and a more comfortable form factor. A big marketing campaign for the 2000 launch could be a big boost for the Vita. Sony should drop the prices of the memory cards to a more consumer friendly level Instead of kicking physical media to the curb, they should try and actually support the Vita by adding more value to its games. A digital copy with the purchase of a new physical copy would be much better than abandoning physical releases.

    To sum it up: Please don’t go all digital with the Vita, Sony. Keep releasing physical games and also offer digital versions of these titles. More consumer choice is always the best option. Sony themselves championed this argument at E3 and have gone on to sell over 4 million PS4 systems because of it.

    All the Vita really needs is Sony’s support. If they launch the Vita 2000 in the West for $170(offer more than just black and white), slash the memory card prices to a sane level(maybe $50 MSRP for the 32), and launch a discounted software line(greatest hits) then they will be set for success.Edited 3 times. Last edited January 2014 by letty
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  • Avatar for letty #12 letty 4 years ago
    A good point.
    Let me also say that as an iPhone user, I've had a lot of problems with software fragmentation. I originally owned an iPhone 3G who had many games and apps become unusable because of software updates that were better optimized for the newer iPhone models. This trend has continued as I have also noticed many well supported apps becoming more sluggish on my iPhone 4S. There's also the problem that I lost all my game save data when my iPhone 4S had to be reset last year, though this could easily be remedied by developers offering cloud saves through game center.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #13 SargeSmash 4 years ago
    I honestly wish I could get the best of both worlds. A physical copy that would work regardless of where played, or an installed copy linked only to your digital account. This could be done via unique IDs on the physical games themselves, or just with redeemable codes with new copies of the game. To some degree, the cross-buy thing Sony had (has?) going with stuff like Sly Cooper really embodies the ideal for me.

    That being said, if forced to choose, give me actual ownership any day. It's nice to play stuff off one memory card (I did this with my PSP, with ISOs ripped from my own UMDs), but ownership trumps all in my own personal estimation.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #14 jeffcorry 4 years ago
    Memory is the number ONE reason I haven't jumped in yet. Too expensive and not big enough for the least to store many of them. Sony should have just gone with a simple SD/SDHC/XC card. Would have been a better move. In my opinion.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #15 Funny_Colour_Blue 4 years ago