It’s been nearly 18 months since the PlayStation Vita was released. While the future isn’t exactly grim, it’s hard not to deny the handheld’s growth has been stunted from a lack of consistent releases. The compelling, “must-play” first and third-party software is, indeed, available — LittleBigPlanet Vita, Persona 4: Golden, Soul Sacrifice, Uncharted: Golden Abyss — but for many, it’s not enough and the infrequency of releases have left gamers cold.
With the PS4 on the horizon, most of Sony’s first-party efforts have naturally begun to shift towards its next home console. We saw that at E3. Sony’s confirmation of the Vita’s ‘Remote Play’ feature supporting all PS4 titles as a mandatory requirement is an exciting one, but it’s not something that can drive sales or keep the platform viable on its own. Neither is reliance on third-party support for Vita heavy-hitters after both an Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty exclusive couldn’t push hardware sales or result in decent games.
Thankfully, some first-party studios are still committed, with Killzone: Mercenary and Tearaway in the pipeline, and there’s sure to be more Sony-centric game announcements soon. But these kinds of titles and their long development time won’t keep the system afloat on their own, and Sony has recognised that. Whether you like it or not, the Vita’s future lies with the indies and the niche.
It’s no secret that Sony loves indie developers. Some of the most unique console indie experiences can be found on the PlayStation 3 — Journey and Flower to name a few — and for the last few months, the Vita has also become a haven for indie experiences to flourish and reach audiences they never would before — the traditional console and/or handheld crowd that don’t game on PC or mobiles.
The dedicated indie section on PS3 has been there for months, but the new indie section for PS Vita debuted on the U.S. PSN store last week, with the newest banner's tag-line stating: "PS Vita: Your Home For Indie Games" giving away their new shift, in case you hadn't already noticed. Hotline Miami has lead the first big wave of releases for the second half of this year, and many more, as detailed in the video above, will follow.
Sony's Shahid Kamal Ahmad is the man to thank for the Vita's upcoming wave of indie support, and I have extreme respect for the guy. Ahmad is credited with signing Hotline Miami, Lone Survivor, Men's Room Mayhem and Velocity Ultra to the Vita (to name a few), and has almost single-handedly ensured the Vita isn't suffering a completely dry-spell of games while upholding the platform's reputation as a place for imaginative, innovative titles that match the LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway efforts of Sony themselves.
Even if you don't buy or like indie, the amount of titles on the way collectively continue to shape the Vita into a very promising, enticing purchase. They won't be system sellers on their own, no, but so long as they keep on coming, Sony doesn't have to risk too much money, existing Vita owners will have plenty to play, and potential owners will only see a flood of game releases they need to play.
Whether you like it or not, the Vita’s future lies with the indies and the niche.
There’s still the big, first-party hits on the way in the form of Killzone: Mercenary and Tearaway for those unwilling or not interested and instead want the original tag-line of "console experiences on the go" to play their Vita by. But instead of being left for months on end without one of Sony's major in-house releases to play, the indies have the chance to fill the massive games gap, gain the spotlight on another viable platform and gain wider exposure to gamers like me who would have otherwise missed out on the brilliant, ultra-violent gunplay of Hotline Miami or beautiful simplicity of Thomas Was Alone.
The Vita's impressive hardware specs are still there, too, and if the constant support and success of unique efforts such as the PS3/PS Vita indie exclusive, Guacamelee continue, there could be encouragement for other studios to take advantage of the system for some new Vita exclusives.
And let's not forget what Sony's always been great at providing: the niche, JRPG or otherwise Japanese titles most of us who bought a Vita for will buy. Muramasa Rebirth just released in the U.S., the intriguing Freedom Wars was announced by Sony Japan last month, Vanillaware's Dragon's Crown is looking superb, Gust Co.'s Chronos Materia was just announced, and the HD remaster of Final Fantasy X and X-2 are on their way. These are just some of the upcoming JRPGs that will be readily available to Vita owners, especially considering there's no pesky region-lock if you can't wait for a PAL release.
With Sony recently announcing that Gamescom will be "a Vita show", don’t be surprised to find that the majority of the 50 or so games promised will be from indie developers. The indies and the niche are — along with the occasional "mainstream" Sony exclusives — going to keep the Vita afloat for the foreseeable future.