After having an insane meltdown after Sony’s E3 presser last night I went for a long walk with my wife. We live on the shore in Connecticut and we walked down to the beach. It was surreal – the tide was easily 10 feet higher than usual. The beach was totally covered in water, some of it up to the road. It was crazy. But my general feeling when I saw it was “of course it’s doing that.”
That’s the tone that Sony had set in my mind during their press conference. It made so little sense in so many ways that stuff not making sense just seemed par for the course. And I must admit (and if you’re a listener of my podcast you know I’m a TMI type of person) that most of this surrealism is built upon the fact that I’m transitioning between SSRI’s that I take to keep my anxiety down. If you’ve ever been on an antidepressant and then stopped you know that crazy, painful, scary hell I’m going through. But that’s completely off topic… though Sony certainly didn’t help.
So let’s get the crappy parts out of the way so we can discuss why things aren’t nearly as bad as they seem. First off, Sony’s presser was terrible. It didn’t start that way… starting off with a new IP from Quantic Dream, heavy with atmosphere was awesome. Seeing Playstation Allstars Battle Royale – a game type I’m not even that big on – working on stage with vita vs PS3 multiplayer was also awesome. Things were going pretty great at this point. I don’t even remember what other games were in there, but the conference was fun and seemed to be full of games which was the complete opposite of Microsoft’s presser earlier in the day.
And then they touched upon Assassin’s Creed: Liberation while showing maybe 1.5 seconds of footage but they had the smoke and mirrors of showing off the combo pack that comes with the game and a 4GB card. They didn’t announce a price which opens the floodgates to speculation. Is it because the price may be…. lower by then?!!? Who knows. I’m grasping at straws here but that’s really all there is to grasp at currently.
Then Sony decided to show off their new book peripheral. I had heard about this from a few folks inside and outside of Sony – though they did manage to keep it a secret so props for that. The problem is that the E3 audience doesn’t give a crap. Well, if they showed it shortly, announced Harry Potter and cut to something else most of us would say “That looks awesome for my kid/little brother/cousin/etc.” But they didn’t do that. I’m told the presentation was 10 minutes long but honestly, and I’m not exaggerating, it felt like half an hour. They had technical difficulties, which isn’t a huge deal, but it was just painful to watch. At this point the air got sucked out of the room. And it was around then that i thought to myself “Hey, wait, they’ve only showed two Vita games. I hope after this we transition into some hardcore Vita talk.”
Um, nope. They went into God of War 13 or whatever number they are on. Don’t get me wrong, I love the God of War games, but after all momentum was killed by the book peripheral… watching some guy play GoW doing the same exact moves to the same exact enemies that we’ve been fighting since 2005 was painful. And, again, they went on far too long. So if Sony ever mutters “we didn’t have enough time” as an excuse for no Vita talk you can tell them to cram it.
They ended on The Last of Us which was so intense that I felt uncomfortable. I say that in a good way. I can’t wait. And then the lights went down and Rubbenstein and the hot asian girl are chatting about how amazing their company is.
Wait. What? No. No, no. Seriously? Is this a joke? Maybe it’s an intermission and they are going to come back with Vita stuff? No. No. SONNNNNNYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
After calming down from losing my shit (which I’m going to 65% blame on my med change and 35% on Sony) I started reaching out to people I know both in and around Sony. I have journalist friends on the floor that are willing to give me a nugget or two. I have friends in the company who will give me info when they can. And I have friends in Sony that won’t tell me a damn thing… like one who I still won’t name out of fear of getting him in trouble for being good (Sony seems weird enough to do that). He tried to put me at ease.
He told me to calm down. Well, everyone told me to calm down. He wouldn’t give me any specifics but he said the Vita hasn’t been forgotten and it will have a strong showing on the floor.
Ok. I trust this guy. He’s my friend. I’m feeling better. So I start dialing in to others. And the story starts to come together. Piecing it altogether I may not have a complete picture, but I feel like I have a general idea of what went wrong and where the Vita is actually headed.
Sony has a new marketing department. The sacked their entire department a few months before the Vita came out. Remember how in the months and weeks before the Vita came out there was next to no advertising? Well, now you know. They pretty quickly got up the Vita launch campaign and it was decent. There wasn’t much support from Sony corporate as the paltry 50 million dollar ad campaign paled in comparison to Nintendo’s for the 3DS or even Microsoft for the Kinect.
Someone made the tactical decision to leave Vita games out of the conference. I still have no idea who. Was it marketing? Was it higher-ups? Was it MarcusPSP? I have no clue. But someone did. The plan, it seems, was to mention the Vita a bit and let it shine on the floor. This makes sense on paper as images from a handheld blown up on 100 foot screens isn’t the best. But they got this decision wrong and they underestimated their audience, which is slightly insulting. Last year Nintendo showed off 10 3DS games, and as you all know 3DS games aren’t nearly as pretty as (or the resolution of) Vita games. They kinda looked ugly in the conference but we understood that on the 3DS screen they would be beautiful and then reports from the show floor backed that up.
So it was a decision, made by god knows who, and it was the wrong decision. And whoever made the decision to take the Vita out of the conference needs to be told they made the wrong decision.
But the doom and gloom that exploded on the internet afterwards is a complete overreaction to the reality of the system. If you are at this site you likely own a Vita. You may not love as many of the games out so far that I do, but you have no doubt at least a couple of games that tell you that the Vita is an absolutely awesome device. Be it playing daily Hot Shot’s tournaments, or killing dudes cooperatively in Unit 13, or playing amazing ports of Mortal Kombat and Marvel vs Capcom… there’s something there that has convinced us all that this thing is a legit piece of awesomeness. And if we feel this way – developers feel this way. Publishers might not, since it’s all about the $$$$, but there are ways around that – which I’ll get to in my prognostication at the end.
So from talking to people on the show floor my tight lipped friend is right. There are a bunch of Vita games in Sony’s booth (im hearing 20+). Tretton said on stage that there would be 60 by the end of the year… averaging out to 10 a month. More than even a whore like myself can keep up with buying. We know next week is Gravity Rush. Zen Pinball 2 and Retro City Rampage should be this month. Not sure about July yet. August will be Sound Shapes, Ragnarok and Madden. September will be Persona 4 and (likely) Littlebigplanet and Playstation Allstars. October we know is at least Assassin’s Creed. November is likely when Call of Duty comes out. Sometime in here Sly 4 will be out…
So while it’s not 1999, it’s a pretty darn impressive lineup, and this is just the more known properties. We will be getting a lot of stuff from Japan including Tokyo Jungle and Soul Sacrifice. There’s even some bizarre singing/rhythm game from Japan coming whose name I’ve completely forgotten.
I’ve also heard from a couple of people that digital sales on the Vita are very, very strong. If true (and I have no reason to not trust these people) this is a great sign to encourage smaller developers to the system. Indie gaming is coming on in a big way, with Minecraft, Dungeon Defenders and others leading the way in terms of sales… but there are so many other high quality developers making smaller games that would fit perfectly on the Vita. From what I’ve heard Mutant Blobs Attack made a crazy amount of money on the Vita as a download only title. We’re talking sales much, much higher than the average PSN title. So if there is money to be made there, developers will go there. This is a good thing. And as we already know, this got Drinkbox back onto the system. I had heard previously that they wanted to go multi platform with Guacamelee but they made so much money since the Vita’s launch that they and Sony got together and quickly hammered out a deal (going the pub fund route instead of Sony as publisher).
There have also been murmurs that we are going to be hearing a lot more out of Japan, starting this month. In fact I heard that the Vita Gaming Heaven event scheduled for later this month was going to have some interesting reveals… though info on that is spotty at best. In fact, the last time I talked to someone about this they said something along the lines of “I wouldn’t get too excited about the gaming heaven thing.” Was she shy because of E3 (even she didn’t expect it to be so light on Vita games) or is the general feeling that Sony was going to make a push with the Gaming Heaven thing and are now backing off of it? I don’t know the answer to that question, unfortunately.
So while the future looks bright it’s not all good news. Friends in the industry on the floor have reported that Madden is garbage. “The iPad version with buttons” is one quote. If you haven’t seen the iPad version… think of the PS1 versions with less plays and worse AI. Also, CoD is a total no show. It’s not in Sony’s booth. It’s not in Activision’s booth. I’m getting the feeling that this game is either going to be terrible or vaporware. This won’t affect me personally as I’m not a big CoD guy, but that’s certainly not good for the health of the system. But selling bad games hasn’t hurt the Kinect….
My prognostication coming out of all of this is that the Vita is in trouble but I think there is a niche for it to fall into which will make some of us happy. I think digital sales being strong combined with the fact that the hardware is easy to develop for will mean that we will see a lot of PSN-level games. I think Sony mostly has its eyes on the Playstation 4 (I mean how half-hearted were both MS and Sony this year…? They are clearly just thinking about next year). But, I honestly believe Sony won’t make the same mistake they made with the PSP where they ignore it as they ready a new console. I think Yoshida has his eye on the ball and he has the smaller studios to keep churning out decent “big” Vita games.
We know after this fall that Killzone is coming. I would assume we will get another God of War game at some point. We will get more sequels to Hot Shots (there were two PSP Hot Shots and World Invitational was gonna be the third…) and stuff like that. Japan will keep making weird action games and JRPGs.
I’m not worried in terms of having fun with my Vita. I’m a fan of just about everything I just listed. But there are some people, like the co-host of my podcast, who is likely running to the store to sell his Vita because he bought into the concept that it was going to capable of delivering AAA titles (and it is capable… but will anyone try with a small installed base?).
The Vita is on course to be a niche device. This is only a bad thing if you don’t fit into the niche. And if you don’t and you’re pissed off at Sony I don’t blame you. But personally these things are exactly what I want out of the system. In fact I’m going to end on a quote from Chris Johnston who is an ex-editor at EGM (and on the player one podcast). And if you don’t know Chris has never been a particularly big supporter of anything by Sony…
Chris Johnston, formerly of EGM and on The Player One PodcastYou know what I love the Vita for? Playing PSP games. I didn’t play a whole lot of PSP over the last few years and having this nice larger screen to play on has been amazing. Pixlejunk Monsters Deluxe, Patapon, PaRappa the Rapper, Valkyria Chronicles, Daxter, etc. etc. I think at this point I have 2 pages of PSP games on my Vita. They look so good on the Vita’s screen. Even if Sony doesn’t do shit with the system from now until whenever, I’m still going to be pretty happy. My only regret is buying the 3G system. I thought I was future-proofing but there’s really no real reason to have it. Sony doing that AC3 bundle with the Wifi system just makes it clearer that the 3G will languish. I know I am going to love playing PS1 games on this thing too. When I can load a ton of PSP/PS1 games on the 32GB card for flights it starts mattering to me less and less than there’s new Vita support. The only thing I wish they did was save states for both PSP and PS1 games like they did on the PSPGo. Cuz that was brilliant. And it seems they kinda do that in the background but it’s just one hot-swap save not quicksaves for each game. That needs fixing.
So if what I outlined above and what Chris is saying here appeals to you… don’t fret over this conference. If you want the Vita to be a AAA machine, sell 100 million units, get AAA developers to drop consoles and make games for it… well, the chances of that happening are really, really slim.
Sony still thinks it has a chance at that… but it doesn’t. So us consumers need to decide now. It’s shit or get off the pot. I’m happy with this future for the Vita, so I’m shitting in this metaphor (?). If you aren’t, go sell it now before it loses too much value. Well, play Gravity Rush next week and then go sell it.
Also, as a closing note, I think we – the fans of the Vita – need to keep putting pressure on Sony. Yoshida is quite active on twitter so I’ve been making it perfectly clear to him that I didn’t think the conference was acceptable for Vita coverage. I also plan on using this site (for the little traffic it generates) to do the same. Because even though I’m comfortable with where Sony’s failure is headed… it doesn’t mean that we should let them off the hook for dropping the ball. Because the Vita *IS* capable of being so much more and Sony fucked it up, at least in the short-term.