Sony had some success entering the handheld market with the PSP and to some extent the PS Vita.
But that success quickly faded when Sony abandoned the market entirely midway through the Vita’s life cycle. Sony struggled to compete with giant Nintendo, leading with the 3DS and falling behind despite having a more powerful device. Now the market has changed a lot and it has changed in a way that would be favorable for Sony to get back into the handheld market.
What exactly has changed?
The most notable change in the handheld market is that it is no longer a small “on the go” market. This market has been almost completely replaced by mobile phones. These games are quick to pick up and go, where you can spend a few minutes in the game, turn it off and continue next time. No one really expects mobile games to be top-notch narrative-driven experiences, and instead, app stores are filled with gacha games that waste your time.
The “real” handheld market has completely shifted gears. Nintendo dominated the market for decades, making it difficult for Sony to join the PSP. Nevertheless, it worked. It felt new and provided deeper narrative experiences. Sony tried to push things further with the Vita, but failed to deliver on the promise of “console-quality” games and eventually just gave up on it.
Now it’s really unheard of to spend a little more to get a real gaming experience on the go. Nintendo took a gamble and fully connected the Switch, so you can use your home console on the go and play it on your TV. More recently, Steam Deck lets you play PC games anywhere you want (including PlayStation exclusives like God of War, by the way).
But the biggest change is the price along with the portability. This experience costs several hundred dollars, and gamers no longer expect a cheap portable console. Portability in general has also changed quite a bit. Just look at Steam Deck’s battery life. this will give you about 2-8 hours of gameplay, and 4-9 hours on the Switch. However, both consoles are designed to essentially live in a backpack with a power cord and adapter readily available. It is not uncommon to see people hang the outlet after pulling the switch. It’s no longer about picking up a PSP and throwing it in your back pocket, people expect it to be a little less portable for a better experience.
Purpose of PlayStation
Sony needs to find a way to give PlayStation a purpose as large, home-use gaming consoles become an afterthought. I don’t work in PlayStation marketing, but I think this is why Sony is making such a big push with the PSVR2. The first VR headset sold just under 5 million units, which is less than the Vita sold, but we’re still seeing a follow-up with the PSVR2. Sony needs a way to stay on the site, and VR seems like an obvious choice to keep people wanting PlayStations.
But already, sales seem to be falling short of expectations. Sony may have to look for another slot. What better way than to dive into the handheld genre? As I mentioned, the handheld gaming market has changed, people are spending over a thousand dollars on phones with inferior gacha games, and the actual gaming experience is $600. The only real cost-effective hybrid is the Nintendo Switch, whose audience is already built-in and accustomed to Nintendo-branded games. Sony could blow the Switch out of the water with a PS5 hybrid or some variant of the PSP since the PSP was so successful and keeps our memories alive.
But times have changed, and while many people will say that the Vita was “ahead of its time,” the time has come. Games are mostly digital, but Sony is rumored to be building a separate disc drive for the PS5. So even if you’re like me and want physical games that might still be fine. SSD drives run games quickly and efficiently, and several competitors are pushing the boundaries of the handheld world to create high-end games. Sony has the entertainment industry in their hands and they are great makers of portable devices for other entertainment. They have the ability to make great screens (Bravia), portable audio (Walkman) and of course, the gaming giant PlayStation.
Also, streaming is becoming more common as the internet becomes more reliable. The Vita had great technology for streaming games from the PS4 to the handheld, but taking it a step further, the handheld could very easily achieve raw performance with the help of a streaming service.
A PSP2 with Vita promises that actually delivers on those promises.
The Vita failed for several reasons. The biggest problem was that the mobile phone was growing rapidly at the time. The phones became a competitor in the market along with Nintendo. Sony simply didn’t put much effort into the Vita to differentiate it from the market, and it didn’t deliver on one big promise: big console-quality games.
While the Vita games were significantly better, they still weren’t comparable to the console games. We’re told you can buy Call of Duty (for example) on your console and take it with you on your Vita. What actually happened was that you bought Call of Duty twice and the Vita version you got was crap. And play PSP games? Enjoy buying them again if they ever become available.
In the end, Vita owners were basically stuck buying simpler console games with no real heart. The Vita had some success with console games like the Metal Gear Collection, but we wanted a hybrid formula that never materialized. The consoles connection to the Vita was so disconnected as to be useless. Then Sony released the PSTV, which was supposed to put the Vita on your TV and didn’t even work with most Vita games. Damn Sony?
Sony needs to take the entire PlayStation team and commit to a new handheld like they did with the PSVR2. If the new console/hybrid is the flagship release of the PlayStation family, that’s exactly what we could be getting. A Switch-like device that lets me take God of War to my hotel, but then lets me play full-on at home when I put the console down at home base. Heck, the idea is already being used with VR, where the headset gets a boost from the console.
The second problem with the Vita was storage.
To be honest, what the Vita offered still felt like a bargain with the initial low price. The device was cheap at $249 and then $200 when cell phone prices jumped the other way. But then Sony decided to use proprietary storage, which sent the price up quickly. A 32GB card would set you back $119, almost half the price of the Vita itself. Meanwhile, SD cards with similar performance and storage were less than half the price.
Sony needs to get rid of the idea that everything has to be about them. The hybrid should use the same SSD architecture as the PS5, with Sony offering its own controllers and accessories in other departments. Sony makes money from software, so previous consoles sold at a loss because they would recoup the cost of selling the software. Stick with this business, the more people have a PlayStation in their backpack, the more people buy that software.
This will help the entire Sony family
Microsoft has a great safety net for their gaming business because if the games are digital and going to PC, they have Windows. Sony has a large family of devices that would also benefit greatly from the PlayStation. Sony is well known for the Bravia brand along with the PlayStation, but with a hybrid console you can easily start pairing their headsets as well. You could argue that you can do that now, but that’s mostly from a gaming headset perspective. If the hybrid console was like the PSP, where it works well as a music player and a movie player, then a standard typical headset would tie in well.
We may all dream that one day the PSP might make a comeback, but for a number of reasons, it seems logical that PlayStation will follow this path. I’m sure the main focus right now is getting the PS5 on alongside the PSVR2, but before we talk about the PS6 can we at least make sure it has a display attached?