It's not very hard to see that the handheld industry is an absolute mess right now. Nintendo has just spent the last year and a half pushing a console whose features are rapidly becoming another irrelevant gimmick despite initial claims, iOS is rapidly overtaking the market with a hefty push of freemium and casual titles, and Sony's failure to impress with Vita sales has left a lot of gamers wondering if they've made the right purchase. Limping from one disappointing fiscal year to the next Jack Tretton has been bold enough to claim that the handheld market is not a race, it's a marathon, and that this holiday season will really redeem the lackluster sales numbers that started off 2012. Couple that with the knowledge that Sony is leaning heavily on its entertainment division to draw in any sales and you start to wonder where exactly Sony's plan to stand strong and support the Vita makes any sense at all.
There will always be support for handheld systems as long as they provide experiences that cannot be matched on cell phones or other wireless devices. That doesn't mean systems like the Vita or DS should ever be complacent with their current technologies, nor that platforms like Android or iOS can never catch up; what it means is provided developers behind the Vita are paying close attention to the demands of gamers, and provided they can supply features that cannot be mimicked by its competition, their slot in the marketplace will always be secure. Assassins Creed: Liberation is a great example of a game that would be tough to follow up on anything but the Vita. A third party game that sports a unique story tie in to its AAA console counterpart, uses the same combat system, and boasts features that all take advantage of Vita's motion, touch, and camera technology. The games available for the Vita need to be unique to the point of being impossible to replicate anywhere else, because you can be damn well sure that's the only thing holding any handheld afloat.
Equally problematic is that a cell phone offers far more than what any dedicated handheld can ever provide. It's a phone. There should be no surprise that a device holding massive cultural, business and social relevance is going to have market share considering its audience is far broader than most game systems can ever hope to reach. Couple that with the fact that these devices also serve as multimedia players in their own right and you wonder whether or not Tretton considered that as many (if not more) people will be asking for smartphones for their holiday gift of choice.
Then we have Vita's sparse selection of games to consider; a fairly broad lineup for the first two months of the year that has slowly worn down to three games a month with plans to ramp up in October. If this month is supposed to be the turning point are we to assume that Playstaton All Stars, Assassins Creed, Silent Hill: Book of Memories, another re-release of Persona 4, Lego Lord of the Rings, and Need for Speed is going to carry this handheld console till the end of the year (with some support from the inevitable Call of Duty handheld title). Even if we're assuming that there are another six or seven end of the year titles we're missing from this equation that still paints a grim picture. How many people only own a handheld system and plan on passing up any of the console AAA titles that will be launching this year? Or even better how many console owners plan on spending the full retail 250 instead of, again, buying titles for their already owned systems? Sure there will be those who can afford to simply buy anything and everything they feel like, but that group is fairly slim.
What Jack Tretton should have done was let us know that a price drop was coming down the line, perhaps to counter their declaration last June that there would be no price drop in 2012. Or maybe he should have provided a little more information regarding the promised 60 titles that would be launching over the course of this year. The games will always be there whether we pick them up on the same day or a year later but what Sony always seems to misunderstand is that if they want us to buy a console this year (handheld or otherwise) we need more incentive than having good games available. Without any kind of obvious plan it's not going to be hard for the Vita to drop off the consumer map. E3 hype only takes you so far.
Maybe this all stems from the PSP not having a long enough run for developers to really become acquainted with developing handheld Sony titles. Nintendo has at least had the advantage of kicking around longer, and there wasn't too much a difference in technology moving from the Gameboy Advance to the DS; their problem has always been a matter of third party support and finding ways of separating mechanics from gimmicks. One still can't help but feel like if Sony was serious about aggressively taking hold of the portable gaming market they would be trying harder to find new ways of making the Vita appealing to everyone, especially if it means providing an incredibly strong first year at the cost of having a slightly weaker second. Gamers need a little more enticement, not reassurance that others think the system is "˜just fine' as it is. As someone who has really been waiting for the Vita to provide me with an excuse to go out and buy it, I can't help but be disappointed.