Why I canceled my PlayStation Vita pre-order

Bill Loguidice's picture

Well, I did it, I canceled my $359.96 pre-order of the Sony PlayStation Vita - WiFi, ModNation Racers: Road trip, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and Hot Shots Golf on Amazon. It's not because it was too much money - it was - but I planned for it. It's not that I don't want it either - I do - but it simply doesn't make sense at this time. I have long gone on record - much to the chagrin of the Nintendo faithful - that I believe this is the last generational hurrah for dedicated gaming handhelds. In short, I believe they will still sell well this generation, just not anywhere near the heights of the last generation when the DS and PSP ruled the roost. I've given many reasons for this line of thinking, but I primarily chalk it up to smartphones and tablets being good enough as game machines and the inclination for most people to carry as few electronic devices as possible. In other words, would you rather have a device that does everything multimedia and Internet effortlessly (and, as a smartphone, makes phone calls and texts), and has inexpensive apps (and a great camera for stills and video, etc.), as well as plays good games, or would you rather have a device that plays really good games (thanks mostly to onboard physical controls), but is mediocre (or incapable) at everything else and has expensive apps? Some of us will have both, but many of us will only choose the most logical of the two. If you look at the issue without the emotion of a dedicated gamer, there really is no good argument for having anything other than a smartphone and maybe a tablet in your portable arsenal, particularly since the former has an excuse to be with you 100% of the time.

No doubt I got burned pre-ordering my 3DS. While I enjoy the system, not only did I pay much more than those who purchased it just a few months later (the free games mea culpa aside, particularly since you couldn't choose what you wanted), but I've found that a combination of lifestyle and general ennui at the game selection has caused me to play it far less than I hoped. Now, don't get me wrong, I think the 3D effect is great, it plays well, and I do own many games for it I like quite a bit, but there's nothing forthcoming that gets my gaming juices flowing, and things like a sluggish and sloppy digital downloads store tend to keep me away from impulse purchases most of the time. Mediocre battery life also preclude me from tossing it in my bag and playing it when an occasion arises (and I have not bothered to procure an extended battery pack for it at this time, though I do realize that is something I should probably do once I ensure full compatibility with the Circle Pad Pro). Among other sins in comparison to the standards set by most smartphones and tablets, neither the 3DS or Vita seem to have bothered with worrying about battery life greater than 3 hours or so. In short, a device with limited functionality that requires too much thought is a device that gets similarly limited usage.

Anyway, the launch fiasco with the 3DS and my general usage patterns with my busy adult lifestyle have caused me to follow the Japanese launch of the PlayStation Vita very closely. After all, Japan gives the 3DS more love than any other territory, and they were more gaga over the PSP than any other territory, so if the Vita doesn't excite over there, it probably won't excite anywhere else. While initial sales were good for the Vita in Japan in the first week, they fell off the cliff in the second week and beyond. Now, of course, this was due in part to low stock, but other factors include software issues and general apathy towards the game lineup, which is particularly distressing because as launch line-ups go, it's pretty darn solid. Certainly price - as Nintendo learned with the 3DS - is playing a factor as well--early adopters will pay almost anything, the trick is attracting mass sales beyond that exclusive group.

Of course, as a technology writer, enthusiast, and collector, I will own a Vita at some point, even if I only use it about the same I do the 3DS. It's undeniably very nice technology paired with some very nice games. Particularly since there's no TV out, I can't write a book on it (similar to the 3DS, if I can't capture clean screen images, I can't do a book on it) to justify owning it at any price, however. As such, I'll wait for the launch dust to settle like an average consumer (I don't think there will be massive sell-outs or shortages) and look for the best deal. It's very possible that Sony will have to pull a Nintendo and take some drastic measures to increase sales. If that happens, I'm definitely in.

By the way, to tie this all together, I will relate another reason why otherwise excellent handheld game systems like the 3DS and Vita will struggle and it's again related to smartphones and tablets. My daughters, 7 and 5, love their pink DS's. However, they also love our iPhone 4's and iPad 2's, certainly at least as much, and maybe even more if push came to shove. This is not surprising, because in many ways, those touchscreen devices are far more accessible than something like a device with physical controls could ever be. Touching what you see is simply more intuitive and easier, if not necessarily an ideal way to control every type of game. Now kids have always been a stronghold for dedicated gaming handhelds, but a combination of inherent technology, price, battery life, and arguably more attractive options in smartphones and tablets have minimized the potential impact of the 3DS and Vita on that audience. That combined with the remarkably quick evolutionary progression of smartphones and tablets that dedicated gaming handhelds can't match (combined of course, with the inevitability of hand-me-downs) because they need to be stable for at least a five year generational period, puts them at a serious disadvantage. Certainly Nintendo is not doing themselves any favors by the DS series still being an attractive alternative - particularly and especially with the younger set - over the 3DS. At least that's not something Sony has to worry about with the Vita and its predecessor the PSP, though they have the bigger problem of finding a large enough target audience for the Vita, period.

Comments

davyK
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I agree with the rationale

I agree with the rationale but with no small amount of sadness. Portable gaming will always be a poor relation if this does happen as gaming will not be the primary function. I'm not really into portable gaming so personally its not a big deal for me but still - its a real pity if a "proper" handheld gaming device will not be financially feasible in the future as it castrates any notion of premium portable gaming no matter how clever devs will be on a tablet.

Bill Loguidice
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Another angle
davyK wrote:

I agree with the rationale but with no small amount of sadness. Portable gaming will always be a poor relation if this does happen as gaming will not be the primary function. I'm not really into portable gaming so personally its not a big deal for me but still - its a real pity if a "proper" handheld gaming device will not be financially feasible in the future as it castrates any notion of premium portable gaming no matter how clever devs will be on a tablet.

Possibly, on the surface, but I think we can look at it another way. Perhaps mobile devices (smartphones and tablets specifically) will be like PCs are now, these general purpose devices that also happen to make fantastic game machines. They're pretty close now, especially since Android and iOS devices are getting more and more games with bluetooth controller support, giving you the best of all worlds. That's of course in addition to streaming gaming services like OnLive being offered, something that a device like the 3DS probably couldn't even handle...

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Alan (not verified)
Quote: would you rather have
Quote:

would you rather have a device that does everything multimedia and Internet effortlessly (and, as a smartphone, makes phone calls and texts), and has inexpensive apps (and a great camera for stills and video, etc.), as well as plays good games, or would you rather have a device that plays really good games (thanks mostly to onboard physical controls), but is mediocre (or incapable) at everything else and has expensive apps?

You're thinking like an adult. There will always be a market for dedicated gaming handhelds for kids, because they're too young to need a phone.

Bill Loguidice
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Child usage
Alan wrote:
Quote:

would you rather have a device that does everything multimedia and Internet effortlessly (and, as a smartphone, makes phone calls and texts), and has inexpensive apps (and a great camera for stills and video, etc.), as well as plays good games, or would you rather have a device that plays really good games (thanks mostly to onboard physical controls), but is mediocre (or incapable) at everything else and has expensive apps?

You're thinking like an adult. There will always be a market for dedicated gaming handhelds for kids, because they're too young to need a phone.

I think I addressed that idea sufficiently in the blog post. The latest handhelds from Nintendo (3DS) and Sony (Vita) are not designed to be kid friendly and smartphones and tablets make perfect hand-me-downs, particularly since multiple devices can share the same apps. And there will be an increasing number of smartphone and tablet hand-me-downs as the generational churn is so high on the things. There's no clear market for dedicated gaming handhelds as they're presently constructed and the window from not being old enough for a smartphone or tablet, but being old enough for a dedicated gaming handheld is increasingly narrowing. In fact, with supervision, there is really no age too young for a kid to play on a smartphone or tablet, but a 3DS is not recommended for kids under 6 because of the 3D thing and the Vita is too large and relatively complicated to be effectively handled by them under most scenarios. I could go on...

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Matt Barton
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I think dedicated handhelds

I think dedicated handhelds will be around forever, and probably still selling at the levels they are now (if not more). I think a lot of that is marketing. Nintendo and the rest will always find ways to show that their handheld is somehow superior to what's available on a phone or tablet. If nothing else, they'll just seem cooler and fanboys will keep them selling like, well, iPods. Plus, as was pointed out, not many parents are comfortable giving their kids phones (I know I wouldn't be!). Just the thought of a kid throwing a tantrum and tossing my iPhone or iPad out the window scares me. It's not just the expense; I'd hate all the hassle I'd have to go through to restore communication. If they break a DS, yeah, it sucks, but it's not a crisis.

It's a bit surprising to me that you in particular would be saying such things Bill. Surely you think a dedicated handheld with custom controls for gaming will always be a better than a multipurpose device. If the reverse were true, consoles would never have taken off. I know you're not saying this exactly, but arguing that dedicated gaming handhelds will be killed by phones and tablets is like saying that gaming consoles will be killed off by computers. Truth be told, not many people are fortunate enough to have an iPhone or tablet, or even a PC. So it's either a console or handheld or nothing.

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Bill Loguidice
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Let's look at it yet another way

To be clear, my prediction is not death, my prediction is a continued decline in relevance of the dedicated gaming handheld. Also, unlike past dedicated gaming handhelds, the 3DS and Vita are not any better to give kids than a smartphone or tablet. The 3DS has specific visual requirements (sure, you can play in 2D, but then you're back to being as well off with the cheaper DS) and the Vita is overly complicated. Neither has battery life beyond about three hours. That all adds up to not being particularly kid friendly.

In regards to kids having smartphones and tablets (and iPods), I'm also talking about hand-me-down devices. You don't care about your kid having your old, inactive (except for wi-fi) smartphone because you have a new one. That's where the quick turnover of generations comes in, something like every two years on average, something that dedicated gaming handhelds can't match (averaging 5 years), especially technologically. That's also where the smartphone/tablet ecosystem comes into play, where your purchases can span many devices (and don't go away), whereas a 3DS or Vita cartridge is one to a system, and you may run into a scenario like you have with PSP UMDs not being usable on the Vita. Combine that with many free or .99 apps on smartphones and tablets that you'll never see on a 3DS or Vita, and I think you can see those are not the value proposition that they might have been in past generations. See where I'm coming from now? And it's not like a smartphone, iPod or tablet are that much more money than a 3DS or Vita. You can get a Kindle Fire for $199 or an iPod Touch for even less (and there are quality rumors that with the release of the iPad 3, the iPad 2 will be Apple's budget tablet with a price to match!). Compare to $179 for the 3DS and $249 for the Vita, and suddenly a dedicated gaming handheld is not exactly working out as the "I don't care what my kid does to it" device.

I'd love to hear counter arguments, but I don't think I'm wrong about any of this...

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Rowdy Rob
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Sonic Screwdriver??
Bill Loguidice wrote:

I'd love to hear counter arguments, but I don't think I'm wrong about any of this...

Not only do I agree with you, I'll take it a bit further and speculate that the smartphone, or some variation of, is a precursor to our computing future!

Looking at things like the Atrix, I see a future where pretty much all your computing needs are carried around on your person! I'm talking "one device to rule them all!"

Think about it. The smartphones of today are far more powerful than the computers or consoles we used and grew up with. If they could be docked/plugged in to keyboards, TV's, or what-not, you've got a portable device that has all the computing power for games, internet, word processing, telephone/communications, video/photography, GPS, music, and so forth. Dock it to the TV for movies, dock it to the speakers for music, dock it to the joystick for games, dock it to the printer for photos and word processing, etc.

"Docking" could possibly be done through wireless techno-wizardry, so basically the only thing stopping the smartphone from taking over most consumer electronics is connectivity to peripherals. That phone you have is far more powerful than the Amiga you did amazing things with back in the day.

I think that unless there's some revolution in graphics technology on the horizon, we've pretty much tapped out the "wow" factor of polygon technology. The Vita shows that you can have near-PS3 level graphics on a portable device right now. It's only a (short) matter of time before smartphones catch up, considering the heavy competition in this field driving innovation.

If connectivity to TV/audio and controllers are offered, the only thing a dedicated console can really offer is better graphics, more memory, and maybe(?) better sound. We're already seeing that being played out in the current generation of consoles. I've seen enough laments here on AA about "yet another FPS" and "yet another sequel" to know that more power does not necessarily equal better games. I think that's a large reason why the current generation of dedicated consoles has lasted so long. There's so much power as it stands that there's no way to really push the limits without a mega-bazillion-dollar budget. How much more do we need right now?

With the world economy as it is now, with no immediate end in sight to the downturn, the average consumer will settle with the "good enough" general purpose device that he or she can use to play decent quality games. It really doesn't need to be that much better right now for gaming. The ideas just haven't caught up to the tech as it is.

I'm going to predict an outright end to dedicated game consoles, portable or otherwise. Consolidation is the future, in my opinion. Games will definitely survive, so no worries, but we'll be playing them more and more on smartphone-like devices or all-purpose set-top devices.

Bill Loguidice
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Fascinating comments from Miyamoto...

Telling comments are being oblivious to Nintendo's online deficiences and their top man only now getting a smartphone... http://www.siliconvalley.com/news/ci_19647954

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clok1966
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nintendo
Bill Loguidice wrote:

Telling comments are being oblivious to Nintendo's online deficiences and their top man only now getting a smartphone... http://www.siliconvalley.com/news/ci_19647954

he is either clueless or trying to downlplay the fact that they are.

Only thing I do agree with.. "I recently purchased a smartphone and tried several games myself, but I just have not been able to find any games so far that I particularly like." i have a crapload of demo's and a couple bought games.. and none really rock my boat.. Angry birds was slighlty fun.. Air Control is a great time waster, Orc n Elves (dungen master or EOB for phone) was ok.. I always feel like I'm getting a game my old DOS box from 10 years ago ... fun.. but just not as good as games today should be. Battleheart is kinda cool, but lacks that "must play every day" thing, Air Attack HD is pretty amazing looking.. but its just 1942.. in pretty paint. Defender (100% free too!) is maybe my favorite.. but its just plants VS Zombies... but with robots and spells (did i just say robots and SPELLS?) GTA III is kinda novel on a phone.. but.. its not fun to play on one. Littel Empire might be the one that hooks me.. but its a MMO game.. Tower Defence all rolled up into empire building. Real Racing 2 is about as good as reacing gets on a phone.. which is to say it pails compared to a wheel on the 360. Siegecraft is also good bu the phone just ruins it.. hmmm maybe there are alot of great games.. its just the crappy phone controls ruin them..

Bill Loguidice
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Smartphones and Miyamotos
clok1966 wrote:

hmmm maybe there are alot of great games.. its just the crappy phone controls ruin them..

When you're talking thousands upon thousands of games (and growing) from developers of all types and skill levels, there are obviously good ones. The only way that these games fall down is, as you say, when they try to replicate physical controls with touch screen controls. If it's done well, it's passable, if it's done badly, it makes the experience frustrating and often unplayable. Obviously, there's also the flip-side, where some games are better on a touchscreen than other control methods, since it has a directness and immediacy you can't get from manually moving a cursor or selector. Regardless, and sad to say, most people are not as picky as we are with such things, and a game is a game is a game to them. Certainly the quality level is now at least at parity with what other portable platforms offer, and ultimately that's all that matters from a device that is always with you, which is also the smartphone's greatest advantage (and always will be).

In regards to the Miyamoto thing, I certainly wasn't expecting him to say Nintendo has failed, but compared to their honesty of late, I expected them to admit that there's still more work to be done with their online strategy. If rumors of a Wii U app store and general change in the way they offer online services is to be believed (and the improved, but still feeble attempt on the 3DS), then at least behind-the-scenes they're STARTING to understand that.

The smartphone thing seems especially strange to me. You'd think as a designer Miyamoto would have jumped on the smartphone bandwagon some time ago to at least get a feel for what's going on with other designers/developers. While not quite on the level of certain sci-fi writers hating computers and/or the Internet, it's still curious.

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