We know, with a reasonable degree of certainty now, that Sony is out of the handheld console game is over. No follow-ups to the Vita or the PSP are forthcoming. So now that it’s over, what can Sony learn about mobile gaming going forward?
The news comes, ironically, during Sony’s celebration of the PlayStation brand’s 25th birthday. Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) CEO Jim Ryan told GameInformer during its retrospective that the Vita was “brilliant in many ways, and the actual gaming experience was great, but clearly it’s a business that we’re no longer in now.”
Yeah, we all knew, especially after the Vita was cancelled, that the possibility of another was not likely. Even I, a diehard Vita fan, was not holding my breath. But its nice to hear that Sony execs themselves recognize that the Vita, while not a product of its time, was brilliant in its own way. I concur, for what it’s worth, and not just because I’m one of the roughly baker’s dozen who still owns my Vita.
The Vita was indeed, a decent handheld that played with some new ideas of what a handheld could do: for example, it was the one of the first to link to its larger counterpart and allow you to play your AAA games on mobile. It just plain didn’t sell. The PSP didn’t actually do too badly, as handheld sales go — the numbers might even be called “good” were it not for the fact that Nintendo had the handheld console market under lock and key by the time it came out.
Still, while this means we most likely won’t see any more Sony gaming handhelds, I wonder if the company could invest in mobile gaming in the vein of the Nintendo Switch — meaning, as a compliment to a TV-bound, terrestrial console. The Switch accomplished this by building the handheld inside the TV-bound console. Sony, on the other hand, is offering players the chance to link their games to their phones via the PS4 Remote Play app, which is not nothing (and actually works fairly well, all things considered).
I think the biggest takeaway from this should be, “Don’t try to beat Nintendo at the game it perfected.” In other words, the next generation of Sony gaming will need a new trick if Sony really wants to try and capture a mobile market. And it might still want to do that. John Kodera, now-deputy president of SIE, told Bloomberg in 2018 that the company was still interested in mobile: “In my opinion, rather than separating portable gaming from consoles, it’s necessary to continue thinking of it as one method to deliver more gaming experiences and exploring what our customers want from portable.”
The best path forward — and I can’t believe I’m saying this, given my many issues with Google Stadia — might be cloud gaming. Emulating Nintendo isn’t going to work this time, though I’m sure the thought crossed Sony’s collective mind (a patent for a suspiciously Switch-like device filed by Sony surfaced in 2017). But, just as before, Sony has that particular market in its pocket. So the best option for mobile might be getting the games onto the devices we already have, such as our phones and tablets.