It's no secret that the Vita is a flop. Sony's powerful handheld has failed to make much of a dent in this brave new world of iPhones and tablets and crushing candy on your daily subway ride to work.
The real shame is that the Vita is a great piece of hardware — Sony's just never been quite sure how to get people buying it. The whole "console gaming on the go" campaign didn't work out, and even a wave of indie hits like Spelunky and Guacamelee haven't been enough to get more Vitas in people's hands. It just doesn't have the killer software of its biggest competitor, the 3DS: there are no Animal Crossings or Zeldas or Marios here.
So what's Sony's next move? What does the Vita's future look like?
"I think there are three categories that we're actively going after," said Adam Boyes. Boyes, the man in charge of connecting Sony with outside developers and publishers, has a lot of say in which games go where. He's the one who struck a deal with Gearbox to get Borderlands 2 coming to Vita next year, and it's his job to make sure third-party games are getting on Sony systems.
I spoke to Boyes during the big PS4 launch event last week. We were talking about Sony's future, and I pointed out that their approach to the Vita seemed scattershot. As a Vita owner, I often feel like Sony doesn't know what they want to do with their system. Is it meant to compete with console games? Is it an indie machine? A source of cheap digital games à la the iPhone or iPad?
His response: Yes. All of the above. Starting with the PS4's Remote Play.
"Category one [of the three] is Remote Play experience — how does it extend the PS4 experience?" Boyes said. Remote Play is the service that syncs your Vita with your PS4, allowing you to play games like Knack and Killzone both on your big screen and on the portable device, not unlike Nintendo's Wii U GamePad.
"So you have this amazing sort of triple-A experience when you're in bed knocking out a couple scavenger missions in Assassin's Creed IV right before you go to bed. I think with Remote Play that I'm gonna be playing very little mobile games at home now within the house."
Category two: big, meaty games. Triple-A experiences the likes of which we haven't seen on the Vita in recent months, mostly because nobody's buying it. Big publishers like EA and Activision don't want to take risks on a system that won't make them all that much money. It's a catch-22: without big games, it's hard to sell systems, but without sold systems, it's hard to attract big games.
Boyes wants Remote Play to fix that problem.
"I do think that the Remote Play aspect of PS4 is gonna help the amount of Vitas that are out in the wild," Boyes said. "And then that will start informing more publishers to build that bigger, meatier content."
Category three: indies. "When I play Spelunky or when I play Hotline Miami on my Vita, I play differently than when I play on my PS3," Boyes said. "It feels like it's at home. And that's why I think you see a lot of focus on getting great content for the Vita. And we had a ton of announcements at Gamescom for great content like that on the Vita. So the reality is, we're trying to create a bunch of different content for a variety of gamers so they get satiated with a device on the go or within their house."
That's Sony's plan: three different ways to get people caring about the Vita again. Will the scattershot approach work, or do they need to be more focused if they want to stay relevant in the handheld business? STAY TUNED.