If E3 was vital for Vita, then someone forgot to send Sony the memo. Raining over the platform holder’s otherwise solid pre-show press conference was a staggering lack of handheld content, prompting Shuhei Yoshida — the head of Sony’s Worldwide Studios — to admit that Vita was under-represented and that it was a mistake.
Going into the show, we felt that Sony could win E3 and reverse the negative press surrounding its latest console. Flagging sales and a somewhat barren post-release schedule have led to critics pouring salt over the system’s emerging wounds. But a strong commitment to new and original content could have, if only temporarily, dampened that cynicism. Instead, Sony only accentuated the issue.
Outside of the token gesture that PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is indeed taking the fight outdoors, Sony opted to showcase just two other Vita games during its E3 press conference. Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation was the pick of these, and underlined Ubisoft’s commitment to the platform. This separate side-story – which is set to release day-and-date with Assassin’s Creed III on PS3 – appears to be the blockbuster third-party title that early-adopters have been craving, and while the excitement of the announcement was crippled by the Game Informer leak earlier in the weekend, it was the closest Sony came to proving Vita is a viable platform.
At the time, Liberation’s official announcement felt like the start of a Vita onslaught. But hindsight is a deadly thing, and Sony serviced that new-found enthusiasm with just one other game. Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified should have been the biggest title on Sony’s stage, but instead it was relegated to an updated logo and a vague promise of a fall release. Considering we’ve known about the title since the original "NGP’s" announcement back in 2011, the lack of any gameplay really flagged concerns about the game’s overall quality. Like Ken Levine’s BioShock, Activision’s debut Vita title looks to be little more than vapourware until the publisher proves otherwise.
And that was it. While Sony rolled out one fascinating PlayStation 3 demonstration after another, Vita lurked in the corner of the room like an attention starved elephant. Sony took measures to respond to the emerging criticism quickly – Jeff Rubenstein, PlayStation’s social media manager, immediately pointed out that there are 25 Vita demos available at the Sony booth. Jack Tretton then added in an interview with Geoff Keighley that there are more than 60 games scheduled to release on Vita before the end of the year. That, according to the SCEA executive, will bring the platform’s tally up to 100 titles – an unprecedented number for a new piece of hardware.
But it felt like damage limitation. The reality is that Sony had the opportunity to convince players that Vita is still relevant after months of reports to the contrary, but it failed. As we mentioned earlier, Shuhei Yoshida has since accepted in multiple press interviews that the company’s decision to overlook Vita was a mistake, but we’re not sure how it managed to make such an enormous error.
The most frustrating thing is, upon digging a little deeper, it’s not like the content isn’t there. LittleBigPlanet may already be announced, but its recent public beta is prompting an enormous amount of goodwill from participating players. The buzz around the title is unparalleled, with many making the conclusion that the franchise feels at home on Sony’s new handheld. A short demo of the game’s creation tools or perhaps even a trailer could have bolstered the Vita’s presence at the show, but the platformer was nowhere to be seen.
Meanwhile, Sony glossed over the introduction of a new LittleBigPlanet 2 DLC pack which will allow you to use the Vita as an additional controller for the PlayStation 3. The opportunity to steal Wii U’s thunder was begging to be exploited, but despite some hands-on previews explaining that the new DLC pack is one of the best uses of Vita’s technology yet, Sony once again failed to take advantage of the announcement.
When you really look back over the past couple of weeks it's clear that Jack Tretton has a point, there is plenty in the pipeline for the new platform – but none of it was mentioned during the show. Even a montage of all the upcoming content would have helped. Instead, Sony opted to briefly acknowledge two third-party games and move on. There was no promise of future first-party commitments, and outside of the brief confirmation of PSone Classics, there was not even the acknowledgement of an upcoming firmware update. It felt, at times, like the Vita didn’t even exist.
And it needed to exist — to change the perception of the sceptics if nothing else. Ultimately, Sony’s misjudged press conference not only failed to sell the platform to new consumers, it also forced early adopters to reconsider their purchase. It’s still too early to write Vita off, but the platform – which is brimming with bags of untapped potential – now faces a greater struggle than ever before. Let’s just hope Sony has a plan.