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Saturday, April 14, 2012

10 Things that should be improved on the Vita

For some of us, the vita has been out for 5 months now. I could talk about how the screen looks great, how I’m happy that Sony put 2 analog controllers on the device, etc… but I’d rather focus on the things that Sony failed to achieve with the PS Vita. In the past 5 months, customers have been patiently waiting for useful firmware update that never came, or simply being updated on some of the promises that have yet to be fulfilled…
So let’s have a look at the 10 things I think Sony should have done better with the Vita, or that should have been improved in the past 5 months.

The browser

The browser on the PS Vita is awful. This is Netfront again (an “upgraded” version of the crappy browser they were using on the PSP), a browser that was dedicated to mobile devices (phones) 15 years ago, when phones had very low computing power, screens, and ram. This browser made lots of sense back then, but nowadays, compared to what we have on smartphones such as Android or iPhone, Netfront is an insult (even this new version which has been beefed up to support html5).
Lack of flash, poor refreshing rates, close to no customization… The Vita browser is doing so poorly that I don’t think anybody will ever use it to do more than browsing the PSN Store (which is what Sony wants you to do with the browser anyways). Who cares that it’s doing 99/100 on the ACID test, if you can’t do anything useful with it?

Suggestion: migrate to a proper webkit implementation, or Firefox. Or don’t put a browser in the device, at all: don’t advertise the console as being an online device, as without a decent browser, this is a lie.

Lack of PS1 games support

The PSP had PS1 support, so the Vita surely has it too, right? Wrong. People have been asking for this feature for a while now, and the request has been ignored by Sony. This is not about “if you want to play ps1 games badly, then just buy a ps1″, it’s about a significant market share for Sony, of older people who would be ready to pay a reasonable fee in order to re-play old games, on the go.
The average age of the Vita owner would also significantly increase with support for older generation games, and, Sony, trust me, you’d prefer your user base to be around 30 years old than 15. Remember who has money and doesn’t mind spending it.

Suggestion: bring PS1 support with the same tool you had on the PSP. Sounds easy enough, and it will increase the average age of your user base, which is something you want for financial reasons.

Poor library of PSP Titles

A few months ago Sony announced the mind blowing amount of 275 titles from the PSP available on the Vita. They promised this number would grow on a weekly basis, and that they would keep us up to date on new titles. This was 9 weeks ago, and we have yet to see an update. With a total of about 900 games and minis on the PSP, it means more than 2/3rds of the PSP library is still missing on the Vita.
Backward compatibility is not complex, the vita has all the functionality that the PSP had, there should be no problem supporting all these games. Especially when we see a game being supported in one country but not in the others (e.g. Motorstorm Arctic Edge was supported in Europe and Japan but not in the US), we know this is not a technical limitation.
Suggestion: keep your promises. Update customers weekly with new supported psp games. Bring psp backward compatibility to 100% within 1 year. 2 months without a single update when you promised there would be weekly updates is *not* acceptable.

Overpriced proprietary memory cards

There’s a growing rumor that the memory cards on the vita are actually regular memory sticks with a different plastic case. This is not here to prevent piracy, unlike what Sony claimed a while ago, but to make you buy, once again, a storage card. This is where Sony is making most of their money, and this is how they virtually bump up the price of the console. You thought you were clever by buying a 4GB card? Wait until you have more than 3 games on your console…
Sony could have gone with microSD like anybody else, and still protect their system against piracy with strong encryption. The form factor will just delay competitors who want to sell the same types of product, what matters is the encryption of the files on it. Sony is just trying to make a few quick bucks with a new useless format.
Suggestion: Give up and use the SD format like everybody else, the world will be a better place. Alternatively, be honest about the real reasons for using a “new” format.

Games pricing

I have two complains about the prices of games on the Vita. First, they are, in general, too expensive. The average price is 40$ (50$ in Japan, thanks for the ripoff on conversion, as usual), which, granted, is less than the insane 70$ they ask for a PS3 game, but is still far too much compared to the price people are really willing to pay for games on a portable device (5 to 10$).
Of course, games on the Vita are much more “hardcore” and costly to develop than your typical android indie game, but surely, Sony should be able to find a good balance, and I don’t think 40$ is where it should be now. An average of 25$ or 30$ would be closer to a good average in my opinion, especially for a platform that’s not doing so good, and for which people will have issues reselling the game afterwards.
This brings me to my second point, the absolute lack of effort on bringing the prices of digital downloads down. How many games on the vita are less expensive to buy on the PSN than for real? Almost none. What is the benefit for the user, except the impossibility to sell the game once they’re done with it? Sony *has* to drive the prices of digital downloads down.
Suggestions: digital downloads should always be 25% cheaper than physical purchases. Lower the average price of Vita games by 20%.

content Manager

I’ve talked a lot about the crappy content manager of the vita. Don’t take my word for it, try to transfer your mp3 library to your vita, and compare how much time it would actually take to do the same on your iPhone or your Android. Copying content to a device should be handled by standards set on your computer, and following the GUI you want to use, not one forced on you by the external device. The only company that made that kind of stuff “right” is Apple with iTunes (don’t make me say what I didn’t say, I perfectly hate the concept behind iTunes), and even for them it took years before iTunes was more than a piece of crapware.
CMA has absolutely no added value, except making you hate Sony every time you try to copy things from and to your vita.
Suggestions: go back to the drawing board. Either provide a real tool for managing content on our memory sticks, or let computers handle it with approved standards.

Accounts switching made so difficult it’s a joke

Independently of our reasons, lots of gamers have several accounts on the PSN. It could be, I don’t know, that, maybe you are sharing the console with your family? Or that you want to try exclusive Demos available only in Japanese? Or that you happen, like me, to live in a country that’s not yours, and like the possibility to play games from either Japan or Europe… anyway, it’s obvious that a majority of gamers want to have access to several accounts.
Sony has made switching between those accounts so painful that it’s preventing people from doing the most basic things such as sharing the console with your own family. Fighting against piracy, or another evil plot to make more quick bucks, independently of customer satisfaction?
Suggestion: You did it right with the PS3 with a login screen, why would you do it differently on the vita?

Useless/Overpriced 3G version

I don’t know anybody who got the 3G version, except when the price was lowered down so much that it basically made no difference to get a 3G or a Wifi model. It is well known that Sony sells their hardware at a loss and try then to make their money back on games. Why didn’t they do the same for 3G? Sell it at the same price, and just bring the money back when people buy the (overpriced) prepaid 3G cards.
In the end, it almost sounds as if Sony did 2 different models with the goal of *not* selling the 3G version, from the start. The 3G model of the vita is a failure from the start. Too expensive, too many limitations, all of this for a device that completely sucks at network in general (see my comment about the browser above, or about “it only does gaming” below).
Suggestions: Remove 3g limitations (max download size, etc..). provide 3g in all psp models by default, expect to cut the hardware losses on subscriptions. Alternatively, make the Vita a bit more expensive, and make 3G access free for games-related network: the price of 3G is included in the price of the game, a bit like what Amazon does with Kindle purchases.

Not a real portable device

The PSP Go was a step in the right direction for portability. It is, to date, the only “portable” device I can actually slip in my pocket and almost forget about it. The Vita has a nice screen, but is a bit too big… big enough that I am not carrying it with me when I go out. Big enough that it has been collecting dust on my desk for a few weeks now. The quite low battery life, as well as the two big nubs on the analog controllers don’t really help.
I know, we all want a big screen… and I love the screen on the vita… I just think it makes the vita a not-so-portable device… which is another coffin in the nail of the 3G version (see above)

It only does gaming

For the PSP, the PS3, and the Vita, Sony has claimed to be offering more than a gaming device, but more of a multimedia experience. To me, this has been an awful failure on all 3 devices.
The lack of non gaming applications, the poor quality of the browser on all three devices (see above), the lack of good video codecs support, pdf/ebook reader… except for a few promising efforts to bring video services (US only, of course) with Netflix or Amazon video on the PS3, Sony consoles are really behind even 10 year-old computers in terms of multimedia. Yes, the ps3 is 5 years old, but there’s no excuse for the Vita. My 2 years old Android does everything (that’s not gaming related) better than the Vita.
Suggestions: don’t spend time making a sub-par facebook app, an unusable mp3 player, or trying to even put a webbrowser on the device, if you don’t have actual plans to make this a multimedia device.


It seems to me the vita is taking the exact same path as the PSP. It is advertised as a multimedia device for grown ups, but fails at basically everything that’s not gaming. This wouldn’t be a problem if Sony wasn’t trying to convince us so hard of the opposite.
It’s even more a shame, if you think that Sony is today the only company in the world that owns a piece of each element of what would make an awesome multimedia ecosystem (movies production / distribution / hardware / software / software distribution platform / gigantic user base), to realize that they fail at putting all of these into some form of customer friendly symbiosis.
This is not helped by some of the obvious tricks Sony are using to make a few quick additional bucks (proprietary memory cards, account switching made painful, poorly designed software…), which shows they are not planning at building a happy customer base in the long term. Other elements such as the poor PSP/PS1 support show that backward compatibility was a lure to bring people from the PSP to the Vita, but that Sony has no real plan to support backwards compatibility.
How about you, what would you like to see improved/changed on the PS Vita?

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