The PS Vita can’t catch a break when it comes to its sales numbers. There are a ton of reasons, and they are the usual suspects: lack of software, too pricey, bad economy, bought a Nintendo 3DS instead, etc. I’d like to offer my own reason, and that is the Playstation brand just isn’t the juggernaut it used to be. When the PSP was released, it rode the coattails of the can’t-lose PS2. A Playstation on-the-go had massive appeal 10 years ago. Now? Not quite as tantalizing a prospect, at least in this blogger’s opinion.
Given the reigns at Sony, my first act to rejuvenate the PS Vita would be to release a peripheral that would allow the transfer of PS1 and PS2 games to the Vita. Backwards compatibility for the masses! Software emulators would be installed on the PS Vita through a firmware update, aided by an external drive device to port over games (as depicted above).
I’m a huge fan of backwards compatibility (well, any added functionality in general). I was quite perplexed when Sony initially offered backwards compatibility for the PS3, only to remove it soon after. Looking back it made a lot of sense for Sony: PS2 was still selling like mad (and those actually made a profit), and the backwards compatibility inflated the PS3’s already-gargantuan cost. So it made sense for the fiscal health of the PS2 and PS3.
If backwards comparability can be removed for the well-being of a console platform, then why can’t it be introduced to help save a platform?
The first and most important reason for this: to give the PS Vita a shot in the arm. I’d like to see it do well, as a gamer and consumer. Two healthy handheld platforms is good for competition and the gaming industry as a whole*.
1. Adds a huge library to the PS Vita. Sure publishers won’t be thrilled about a resurgent secondhand market for PS2 games, but this will grow the Vita’s unit sales. Publishers will want to develop for a platform that has a large install base.
2. To fulfill the promise of what it actually means to have a “Playstation-on-the-go”. For many people prior to the PSP launch, this is what they envisioned. At the very least expectations were for PS2-caliber games on a handheld. And with the Vita touting a PS3-class chassis, then previous-gen games should be a cakewalk.
3. The PS1 and PS2 era games would remind people what made those platforms so dominant. This would serve as a celebration of Sony’s heyday, which could help boost the Playstation brand profile. Let’s face it, the poor PS3 has been 3rd in a three-horse-race ever since it left the gate six years ago (but is close to overtaking the Xbox 360).
4. Would help curb piracy. I don’t know how the PS Vita is faring, but the PSP was subject to widespread hacking to run emulators and pirated games (from many platforms). By offering consumers a legit means to port over their games, they’d be less inclined to “void their warranty”.
5. Profit. The hardware for this would be ridiculously cheap. I’ve seen external DVD writers for $25, one that does playback-only would be even cheaper. Sony could release a very profitable kit. They could sell it for $50 or $60 (the cost of a game) and gamers would be hard-pressed not to grab it. Sony could even re-release retail discs (like their PS2 Greatest Hits line), which have healthy profit margins. There is money to be made here.
6. Might curb trade-bait as well. Gamers might be more inclined to hold onto their PS1/PS2 games instead of trading them in at GameStop, should their games be allotted mobile functionality.
7. Lastly, it would just be plain awesome. Full access to one of the greatest libraries in gaming would be cause for much elation. Ico? Kingdom Hearts? Final Fantasy VII? Metal Gear Solid? You really can’t beat that.
I would even go so far as to make the device a tethered peripheral (always plugged-in), turning the PS Vita into the TV/controller, with the device acting as a PS1/PS2 console. Would be quite useful despite being tethered, for sessions on the couch or front porch as an example.
Initially I thought of a device that would read PSP UMDs and transfer them to a PS Vita (remember the fallout of not being able to transfer the games?). That also seems ideal, but the PSP Library is surprisingly small for eight years. Plus a DVD-based device seemed much more attainable in cost.
There are plenty of other ways to help the PS Vita. A price cut and more exclusive killer apps are the most apparent routes. I just wanted to extoll this notion of backwards compatibility, because darnit I want to play San Andreas on a handheld!
*Dedicated handheld gaming platforms, to be clear. Smartphones are great, but I haven’t felt compelled to buy an iPhone or Android to play a killer app. Games are just “incidental” on phones, imho.