In the last few weeks since its release I have been considering whether or not to purchase the new PlayStation Vita. Like most men from my generation I am an avid gamer who has built up a modest collection of modern and retro games. I have kept all my old consoles, including my original Super Nintendo which often gets brought out to sit alongside its next generation successors. Whilst most of my childhood centred around Nintendo, in my adult life it the PlayStation that reigns dominant. My PS3 gets more use then any other my previous consoles (mostly because it has a blueray player), however its my PSP 3000 I have the most affection for. Although its generally regarded as having lost out to the Nintendo DS (which in fairness has a much better library of games in my opinion) its collection of decent RPG’s, the ability to watch video and run PS One Classics all kept me going during years of commuting.
For all these reasons I should be pretty excited about getting hold of a Vita. Except I’m not. Its not that I actively dislike the machine itself; I think the idea of playing home-quality games on the move is awesome, but its the changes to a form of media I love that I am reluctant to encourage.
I know what you are up too, inanimate gizmo…
For me the Vita is the first glimpse of what is likely to come with the next era of gaming. Maybe I am just old fashioned and still clinging to my childhood, but I don’t like the way things are looking for the future and its mostly thanks to the internet.
To begin with there is the lack of actual games. You are probably all thinking; ‘but the Vita has a bunch of decent launch titles’ and this is true. But what I am actually referring to is the dreaded ‘cloud’. I mentioned this in my top 10 things I like/dislike about the internet as a joke (so you had all better have laughed…) but this is a real concern for me. Currently most of the Vita’s title are available as cards, you buy them in a shop, plug them into your console and enjoy some Wipeout. However all the titles also available in the PlayStation Store for download, straight from day one. This is the first time I know of (with the exception of the OnLive system which I will come too later) where this has happened, and if the rumours about the next Xbox are true, this is likely to be how will be purchasing all our games in future.
Download on demand games are not a new idea and do have advantages. For the example the ability to store multiple games on a single unit is extremely useful for people like me with to many games and to little space to store them. This is the model the music industry has adopted and distributors like iTunes have been a big success. However, a video game is by no means the same thing as a music track.
To start with there is the price. The average game brought new can cost nearly £40 (although this does seem to be rising to £45-50) while a single music track can cost as little as 25p. With the economy not looking to improve any time soon, that’s a lot of money to spend on what is a luxury item that does not technically exist. Also with a download there is no flexibility in the price. If Sony or Nintendo want £50 for game that is what you will have to pay. There will be no pre-owned games to find on eBay, no competition between shops to drive down prices. In fact most stores are already starting to close down and this will likely finish them off. Thats not only sad for nostalgia-philes like me but also staff who will be out of work there.
Hey money! I remember money!
I have heard arguments that pre-owned games are affecting developers negatively, as they receive little to no money from re-sales, however I do not think that removing the ability to buy pre-owned titles will be of much help. For a start, game developers do make money. No-one runs a business in an area where there is no profit. Next, if you are going to force me to pay full price for a game, it had better be damn good. Occasionally I will buy a game brand new, even pre-order it, as long as it is something that excites me and is something I really, really want. All my other games are second hand. Most are games I brought simply because they were cheap and would never have purchased them otherwise. Surely some people buying your game cheap is better than no-one by it at all.
The other thing that makes downloading a game different from downloading something like a music track is the sizeof file involved. With my average connection in my average area of England, the average full size game (say about 3 gigabytes) can take over 6 hours to download. That means leaving your notoriously over-heating-prone device on for lengthy periods of time. You can of course pause your download or run it in the background, but previous experiences have proven this to be troublesome and even more time consuming. There is nothing more annoying then trying for 8 days to download Phantasy Star Online, only to have a lost source error appear at 97% (true story).
This leads me to my next point about the Vita, which is the heavy reliance on online services in general. Since the Dreamcast, consoles have been providing us with the ability to take our wars, races and even Pokemon battles out into the cyber world of the internet. Hours spent on Call of Duty and Street Fighter 4 have shown just how enthralling online mulitplayer can be, as there is nothing more fun then beating someone you know is a real person. My issue with online connective comes down to heavily it is implimented into everything.
Go, ninja killer flame-ape!
The Vita has been highly praised for its power to connect everywhere thanks to its 3G model, NEAR tool and access to a range of services. All of this is great, but its only as great as the network which support it. As you can tell from my afore alluded too download times, my home network is not great. So imagine my frustration every time I buy a game and find it has not been finished properly and needs me to install a whole catalogue of updates. Or even more annoyingly, when coats my screen in registration forms and DLC adverts every time I load Need for Speed (EA, I swear I would punch you if you where a real person…) Also what happens in the future if we move into games that require an online link to be unlocked and played each time, much like DMR protect movies do now? What happens if games are not even downloaded, but streamed over an OnLive style connection? I do not want to lose access to my game library every time my WiFi blips, one of the service providers goes bust or someone cuts a cable with a spade. By the way, just what will happen to all those games I brought if OnLive closes down anyway?
Even if you have the best connection in the world, and Vodafone invents a away of sending data that never ever fails, I still would not be convinced that integrating the internet so widely into gaming is such a good idea. Sure, seeing news and leader boards scrolling across the start screen is a great way to feel involved, but as someone who likes collecting video games I am not entirely sure how I will be able to continue this into the next generation. Will Sony’s servers still be around in 20 years? Will my Vita be stuck waiting to install an update that will never come? We will have to wait and see if the hardware survives first. Also I cannot help but feel that it encourages laziness in developers. Even now its painfully obvious when games are rushed out and then patched retrospective with updates. Charging extra for DLC which should have been in the main game (hello Mass Effect 3) and focusing all attention on the mulitplayer experience at the expense of the single player all result in a poor overall expirence. If you want to make a multilayer game that’s fine, but instead of a half-baked single player campaign why not include all that DLC you were going to release separately? Would Skyrim have been better with an online co-op mode? Actually that might have been awesome, but not if they had to remove half the map to do it.
The other big selling point of the Vita is the touch screen and rear sensory pad. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is one of the early launch titles for the Vita and as such is filled with distracting moments which require you to tap or swipe the screen, simply for the purpose of showing what the Vita can do. It seems every system since the Wii and DS has had to implement some form of alternative control and there is no sign that this is likely to change in the future. This would be fine as long as it is done well (see Skyward Sword, WarioWare et al), unfortuantly past experience show it probably wont be. With the PlayStation Move, Xbox Kinect and even the Wii MotionPlus failing to deliver the goods in terms of an exciting new game-play, hard-drives filled with forced and meaningless shovel-ware appear to be the fate of the future.
All that being said, once I can get my mind past these issues there is no doubt that PS Vita is an impressive piece of hardware. Until a few months ago it would have been more powerful then my laptop, which is kind of amazing when I think about it. However as with all new things in the world technology it represent a change, a moving away from the way things used to work and that naturally makes me uneasy. The problem in this case is that video games are very much defined by what they were in the past; a world of cartridges, controllers and creativity. I do not think everything about modern gaming is bad, its not, I just fear that once we start to move away from those defining aspects we will lose everything that the game industry used to be. The simple joy of going to the game store will vanish like the record shops and all that will be left with another hollow form of bland, restrictive, mass produced media. But on second thoughts I guess that was always the destiny of the gaming industry anyway, so I might as well embrace it. Buy a PlayStation Vita, because its the future of gaming.
RIP old console/dvd thing.