Sony has announced that it will no longer build physical games for its handheld PlayStation Vita. It’s the latest wound in the Vita’s slow, death by a thousand cuts-style death march. While digital games will still be offered for download, it’s clear the handheld is fading away. Final purchase orders for physical games are due by February 15, 2019 according to Kotaku.
Sony has previously said it has no plans to launch a new handheld device, citing the overwhelming strength of smartphones and the mobile market. It’s easy to see the company’s point. Sony always played second-fiddle to Nintendo in the handheld market, but the company used to enjoy a much larger market in absolute terms. Last generation, Nintendo sold 154.9 million Nintendo DS compared with 80.82 million Playstation Portables. This generation, the 3DS has moved just 72.09 million units compared with an estimated 16 million PlayStation Vita’s.
Sure, 16 million sales is a respectable number, but it’s not much in comparison to the PSP’s sales. Especially when you consider that the PSP was marketed, at one point, by one of the worst pieces of “music” ever produced by man. (The video below was presented as the work of a devoted PSP lover rather than a marketing gimmick shot by a professional company).
It’s amazing people didn’t return their consoles after that particular gem dropped.
I’ve never personally owned a Vita, but the impression I’ve gotten from reading about the handheld is that Sony never really gave it a fair shake. Developers slashed support quickly, Sony’s memory cards were incredibly expensive and the PlayStation Vita didn’t have the enormous pool of mobile franchises to draw on that Nintendo did. Price cuts and features like Remote Play, which allows you to shift games from the PS4 console to the Vita, may have nudged sales higher, but they didn’t fundamentally reshape the platform.
But the Vita also proved a fruitful home for indie titles, JRPGs, ports of previous titles, and original PlayStation games. The Switch has demonstrated that handheld consoles absolutely have a role to play in modern gaming, and I can’t help but wonder if Nintendo’s colossal success has Sony and Microsoft revisiting their own R&D labs. It’d be surprising if they weren’t. After the Wii proved motion control was A Thing, both companies rolled out their own competing solutions. Kinect 1.0 may not have revolutionized gaming, but MS sold millions of them, while Sony has adapted its own PS Move from the PS3 to serving as a controller for PlayStation VR.
Ultimately, the Vita is an example of a very good console that, for a variety of reasons, never earned the success it deserved. It’s still quite popular in Japan and its fans tend to be passionate about their love of the platform. If Sony does decide to build another handheld, hopefully they’ll take stock of the Vita’s core strengths and expand on them.
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