Thursday, January 02, 2014

Viva la Vita

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my gaming habits have undergone a shift away from console platforms toward handheld ones since the birth of my daughter. My Playstation Vita and 3DS, once merely distractions for my daily commute, have now become my preferred medium. Being able to play without tying up the TV, as well as play for short periods without having to sit through a console's lengthy startup, proves attractive for a new parent.

But since the release of the Vita, I've run across article after article calling Sony's current-generation handheld words like "embattled" and "struggling." Whether the blame is pinned on disinterested consumers, smartphones and tablets encroaching on the games market or a lack of third-party software support, the Vita has been branded as a lame horse in the US.

The concept didn't really hit home for me until I went shopping in Wisconsin last month, eager to find post-holiday deals on Vita games (which are particularly convenient by virtue of their lack of region coding). I visited two Target stores, both of which had the exact same selection of only six Vita titles in stock. Gamestop had similarly sparse pickings. And one Best Buy store I visited seemed to have scrapped their Vita section completely. It was as if retailers were under the impression that the Playstation 4 would somehow replace the Vita (which it won't, nor was it ever intended to).

Maybe I wouldn't have been so surprised at this, had I not spent the last decade in Japan, where the Vita is comparatively very healthy. Every electronics retailer carries a wide selection of titles -- and rightly so, because the Vita's Japanese library is much bigger than its American counterpart. In comparison to the barren desert that is the Vita scene in the US, in Japan it's like an oasis full of palm trees, free beer and bikini models. What ever the cause, it would appear that the Vita has seen very different days on either side of the Pacific.

Which brings me back to the question of what's causing the Vita's demise.

If the ever-increasing presence of mobile game developers at Tokyo Game Show is any indicator, then the aforementioned encroachment of smartphone and tablet games on the market is the primary culprit. And this is unhappy news for people like me, who prefer to play games on machines that were built for playing games. As fun as it is to kill five minutes with a few stages of Angry Birds on my iPhone, limiting my game library to titles that can be played with only touchscreen and accelerometer controls is not a bright picture of "the future of gaming."

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