The PSVita may support older games and last longer than five hours

Back in June, a Japanese research company asked a collection of potential 3DS owners why they weren’t buying the handheld. The number one reason was its cost and now that’s been cut so dramatically, presumably some of those questioned are now owners of Nintendo’s new handheld. That is unless it was the weak battery life which put them off. It was number nine on the list and the actual gameplay time Nintendo say is capable on the 3DS is between three and eight hours.

Not quite the seemingly endless amount previous DS systems could run for but it may just end up being longer than what the PSVita can do. As part of the 2011 Tokyo Game Show, Sony has announced that its new portable machine will last somewhere between three and five hours depending on what you’re doing on it. If you’re offline, have the screen brightness at default, refrain from using Bluetooth and the built-in speakers opting for headphones instead, consumers should expect three to five hour gaming sessions. If you fancy oggling a film or two on the rather nice OLED display, the PSVita tops around five hours and for music alone it’s more like nine hours.

Though not quite the numbers wanted, there’s only so much a humble rechargeable battery can do and the PSVita is certainly a powerful beast. It’s a shame that from what Sony are saying, playing games with a brightened screen and online will lesson the battery life even more but when the PSVita is being touted as a portable PS3, it’s annoying but somewhat understandable.

Much like Sony’s other TGS announcement. It’s been promised that the PSVita will support older PSP titles and those downloaded from PSN will be retrofitted to use the second analog stick. But what of the numerous disc-based UMD games? Some of them never made it to PSN, will PSVita owners be able to get their hands on them too? Sony’s answer: maybe (via Kotaku). As of now, they’re thinking of solutions for gamers with solely UMD collections who want to upgrade to the PSVita but have said little else on the matter. To me, it sounds an awful lot like the promises made around the early days of the PSPgo. Back then we were led to believe a programme would be put in place for a UMD conversion programme however due to legal and technical issues, Sony abandoned the idea. But, as neat as the PSPgo was, it was never at the forefront of Sony’s long term strategies whereas the PSVita is. It’s their next portable, the PSP2 in fact and they want it to be big. So migrating the old audience from PSP to Vita is essential and if it means coming up with some crazy scheme then a crazy scheme we can certainly expect.

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PSValue

With Nintendo dramatically dropping the price of the 3DS recently, all eyes were on Sony to see if they felt like doing the same for their new system, the PSVita. But with the new handheld not even released yet, Sony don’t exactly feel like they need to do anything with the suggested RRP and are quite happy with the pricing. As it stands, the standard Wifi model will sell for €249.99 and both Wifi and 3G one will be €299.99. The UK hasn’t been given any figures at the moment but the you can expect the PSVita to retail for around £220-£280 with these figures likely changing right up until a week before the system goes on sale next year – much like the price of the 3DS did this year.

A number of experts and analysts suggested that Sony follow Nintendo’s lead and lower the PSVita’s RRP now rather than risk causing another blow to dedicated handhelds and launch a system too pricey for today’s more economical gamer. However, regardless of the jump in sale for the new cheaper 3DS and boost in the company’s shares, Sony aren’t budging. In an interview with Eurogamer, worldwide studio head, Shuhei Yoshida confirmed the decision to stick with the current structure:

“We are totally happy with the price we put. Personally, I was expecting Nintendo might move their price, but I wasn’t expecting them to move at this time. We didn’t price Vita relative to 3DS or those other devices. We plan the value we want to put in to the Vita and the price people would perceive the value would be. Nothing changed since the announcement. We are totally happy.”

The ‘other devices’ he’s talking about are mobile phones and tablets and it’s been well documented that the PSVita is equal if not more powerful and feature packed then a lot of the popular devices. While Sony may say the competitors didn’t have an effect of the price of the PSVita, right now, they are the biggest threat and being more affordable and desirable than those who are slowly eating into your market is something the new handheld must do as quick soon as possible. But no matter what the hardware cost will be, it’s the price of games which in this day and age is causing the biggest debate. I’ve always been a strong supporter of higher-priced, traditional games and the platforms you can play them on due to their execution, narratives and tactile buttons for greater immersion (if you are having problems and concentrating on controlling a game then how can you truly be immersed?). But the slip in quality from some developers and greed that drives publishers to screw over gamers with £40 titles that have £20 experiences, or less, just makes it harder for Sony and Nintendo for that matter to persuade consumers to buy their products.

But where Sony may succeed where Nintendo struggled is in early software that shows real potential and not just updated older titles (no matter how good they actually were). Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Resistance and LittleBigPlanet are just three of the laundry list of titles said to be coming out alongside the PSVita so the hardcore gamer crowd and early adopters should have plenty to keep them occupied. But this then causes somewhat of a catch 22 situation. Having games worthy of the higher price pushes them closer to being home console experiences and potentially puts the PSVita in the same ill-fated position of the original PSP. Again Sony have been smart with the launch line up ensuring games that are in addition to existing mega franchises are front and centre which then helps make the PSVita look like an addition to the PS3 and its library.

So the question as to whether Sony would reduce the price of the PSVita maybe should have been whether or not you think they ever would? Sony is all about the expensive hardware and making products initially for a crowd who have money to burn. Though it’s less about duping the consumer (some would argue otherwise) and more so about the kind of technology used. The PSVita is crammed with everything you can think of for a mobile device covering all bases but dangerously becoming a jack of all trades, master of none. Whether or not it’ll end up that way is a different topic but the hope is that Sony are making damn sure their next handheld will be worth every penny at launch and not need a drastic price cut so soon after.

The return of the Wii

This year’s Gamescom, which is still in full swing, looks to be all about the shrinking of SKUs and their price tags. Sony announced a price drop on the PS3 to around £200 for the model with the smallest HDD (160GB) as well as the bizarre relaunched PSP which will have no Wifi connectivity, only UMDs and will cost £90. The move is a complete 180 to their last push for the PSP, the PSPgo that famously had no UMD support in an effort to create a market similar to that of Apple and Android where all games are bought digitally via PSN. That, for lack of a better word, failed leaving Sony to turn back to good old UMDs. After all, some companies didn’t even release their games onto PSN but did have disc-based versions. I can’t help but think Sony are flogging a dead horse by releasing yet another PSP when the PSVita is just around the corner but getting a device under £100 does strange things to people and seems to instigate fresh interest in old hardware. Good luck to them, the PSP was a great little handheld and deserved more support than it received.

Speaking of wanting to revitalise a disappearing platform, Nintendo too had a relaunch of their own, the new smaller Wii. It also looses something from the previous model, the ability to play GameCube games. That’s probably not a big deal what with some of the more popular titles having Wii ports and like Sony, Nintendo are hoping to do what they can to gain the most money out of the last few official months of a product’s lifecycle and streamlining features means less cost to produce and more profit to sell.

Along with the revealing of another Wii was the confirmation that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword will be coming to stores on November 18th (20th in the US). Because of this, plus a price drop and the release of a new model, general manager of Nintendo Germany has told Reuters (via GoNintendo) that he believes the Wii will have a healthy and profitable Christmas:

“We have seen an enormous increase in sales since [the price cut] and this gives us another indication of what will happen in the Christmas season.”

It’s a definite possibility since many Wii owners have been clambering for the next home Zelda game ever since they finished Twilight Princess (I know I have) but most likely these people already own a Wii so won’t pick up a new console. That is unless they sold theirs after the lack of titles caused it to gain dust under the TV. A price drop and redesign could them see a lot of ex Wii owners pick up another console just to play Skyward Sword and then hopefully go on to play the other great games they’ve been missing, Like Donkey Kong Country Returns and GoldenEye 007 Wii. I am a little dubious as to whether consumers will buy a Wii just on the strength that it’s cheaper and smaller because the insane eBay bids and hysteria surrounding the system not too long ago would suggest anyone who really wanted a Wii already has one. But sales figures and the power of a brand often surprises me so who knows, this Christmas may be the right time for a lot of hesitant families to finally grab themselves a slice of Nintendo pie.

But that does bring up another question. If the new Wii does indeed sell exceptionally well would that impact the launch of the WiiU? There’s yet to be any firm date for the tablet-controlled console so Nintendo could still shuffle their early 2012 plans for hardware and unknown whether the sudden and severe price reduction on the 3DS has forced them to rethink the RRP for the WiiU. Nintendo may not have the luxury anymore to launch a device and make turn a profit straight away so if the GameCube-less Wii boosts sales they may want to coast on it until the very last minute. Then again, there’s pressure from Sony who are set to release the PSVita towards the end of the year in Japan and Q1 2012 for the rest of the world. The ability to link the PSVita to a PS3 would make it a potential competitor to the WiiU so Nintendo might not want to wait too long before unleashing their HD beast. So may questions, so many ‘what ifs’ but one thing’s for sure, the 3DS should enjoy a decent holiday. That at least is a little more certain.

Reasons for not owning a 3DS – solved!

What I took from Nintendo’s E3 press conference was a feeling of excitement for the future of its hardware. The Wii U may have a silly name but the controller itself looks like it could be a lot of fun and full of potential for developers. The 3DS has a number of first party games heading its way which usually means gamers will be in for a treat since Nintendo titles are rarely a bad thing.

However Sony are nipping at their heels with the PSVita, the all powerful dual-analog PSP successor that’s set to launch later this year for exactly the same price as the 3DS, $249. Nintendo were wise to release their handheld so early, avoiding too much comparison to the PSVita because at the time, its details were sparse. But was it too early? Did Nintendo shoot themselves in the foot by launching the 3DS without all the glitz and glam we’ve come to expect from a new piece of hardware? Nintendo of America boss, Reggie Fils-Aime doesn’t think so. He told Kotaku that day one sales for the 3DS were very strong as they were for the first week. There was a lot of love for the device from the people who bought one. But it was the people who didn’t that interested Nintendo more and when asked why they hadn’t parted with their cash, the response summarised the two main issues with the 3DS that Reggie believes has now been addressed; no big first party title and a weakened online experience. The missing eShop was apparently a bigger deal than initially thought.

In terms of a big first party game, I think Nintendo may have overestimated the appeal of Nintendogs + Cats. That was their big-hitter for launch but unlike the original Nintendogs, didn’t get systems flying off shelves. But now The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is out, Reggie is confident it will scratch the itch of anyone hungry for a Nintendo classic. And the coming months only brings more of these potential hits. “We’re going to follow with a steady drumbeat of Star Fox and Kid Icarus and two Mario titles (Super Mario 3D and Super Mario Kart 3D) and the Luigi title (Luigi’s Mansion 2).” That’s all well and good but the downside of course is the 3DS could then become just another Nintendo player with all the buzz surrounding their games and not those of third parties. Part of the reason why the big N didn’t release a true triple A game at launch was so that said parties weren’t then competing with Nintendo for sales. Commendable yes but evidently not what the consumers wanted.

As for the online experience, Reggie was defiant that the lacklustre efforts of last generation tech was a thing of the past. “We’ve just done the first network update. We’ve got the eShop up and running. We’ve got the 3D movie service still on track for the summer. We’ve got Netflix still on track for the summer. So I think we’re well underway to having that addressed as well,” he said adding, “we’re going to be back with strong momentum on the 3DS.” The eShop is considerably impressive compared to what we were given on the DSi and Wii. It kicked off with some great games and hopefully will continue to do so plus a 3D movie trailer for the Green Lantern begins the motion picture content Reggie speaks of. There is still the Aardman Animations exclusive shorts supposedly coming to the store plus 3D TV streaming from Sky so more interesting stuff on the way. But it’s still quite out of reach at the moment so not a back-of-box bullet point just yet.

Now that the two main objections for buying a 3DS have been rectified, will it be plain sailing from here on? I hope so for our sake but what is always going to be challenging for Nintendo is getting the message across to non-gaming enthusiasts that the 3DS isn’t a slightly upgraded DS but a whole lot more. You can’t show stereoscopic 3D through traditional adverts and the online functionality needs to be experienced first hand really. Back to the main point, did the 3DS launch before it was ready? I guess the argument really is doesn’t every system?

PS Vita ‘probably’ region free

There’s a reason why handheld consoles are called portables. It is, and this may shock you, because they are meant to be portable. So naturally, one of the bullet-points I’d be keen to find out regarding Sony’s PS VIta is whether or not it’ll be region-free. A simple request I know but when you think that Nintendo have only recently released the region-locked 3DS, I’m concerned that the PS Vita may follow in its territory-restricting ways.

But at a press session yesterday for European and Australian reporters (via IGN), Michael Denny, Sony’s VP of Worldwide Studios Europe, said that to the best of his knowledge, there will be NO region restrictions on the PS Vita. Such a quote would have been all the more impressive if he didn’t say ‘to the best of my knowledge’ because that indicates a final decision hasn’t been made or Mr Denny wasn’t given the memo saying otherwise.

The logic behind locking a portable device down to certain territories is a fairly backward one but with so many variations in law between countries, I do understand if Sony chose and Nintendo was forced to region-lock their devices. With the expanded content being offered on both PS Vita and 3DS, there’d be oodles of red-tape and paperwork to wade through in order to keep licence and copyright holders happy. But to us, the consumers, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating if you take your portable gaming system overseas and not be able to peruse the local game shops for a bargain or that particular title not available in your home country.

So lets just hope that Michael Denny’s knowledge is fully up to date on this one.

Sony E3 press conference 2011: My highlights

Sony’s press conference wasn’t particularly kind to those of us who live in the UK. Not because it didn’t mention much about Europe but because it was on so freaking late! To top it off things were running late so what should have started at 1am instead began almost twenty minutes later. Not a massive amount of time unless of course it’s 1am…

Anyway, onwards and upwards and Sony began proceedings with an official apology from Jack Tretton regarding the PSN downtime recently. They couldn’t exactly ignore it and despite mumblings within the community that they would do just that, Sony have proved they are a humble company after all and do value their image and development studios dearly. It was classy and well done, almost as much as the segway between negativity and positivity regarding PSN; start by apologising and end with “isn’t it awesome? Well it’s going to get more awesome too!” referring to the many video and music streaming services either on or coming to the PS3.

Naughty Dog made an appearance with a playable demo of Uncharted 3 to wow the audience though after seeing the new Tomb Raider game, I wasn’t as wowed. Don’t get me wrong, Uncharted 3 looks good, very good with all the usual Nathan Drake stylings that make for a fantastic third person action adventure but, and it could very well have been the live feed, the demo didn’t feel like it came on leaps and bounds from Uncharted 2. Then again, said game was really quite special so perhaps it doesn’t have to and perhaps my incredibly tired eyes saw things differently. Still, the action looks superb with the demo showing Drake sneaking his way around a ship, taking out guards and being chased by a huge wave of water that did look incredible. Naughty Dog have done wonders with their water physics it seems. Another must have for this holiday season? It’s definitely looking that way.

Again Sony pushed their commitment to 3D entertainment as hard as they could with almost every demo and trailer in 3D – for anyone in the audience with 3D glasses of course. But they realise that not everyone has a 3D capable TV or even wants to upgrade to one seeing as they can be a tad pricey. The solution? Produce a 24 inch PlayStation branded monitor and two pairs of glasses for $499 plus throw in a copy of Resistance 3 for good measure. That should sort it right?

To keep with the whole 3D love, Sony also announced God of War Origins, a 3D and HD remastered version of the PSP God of War games which, to be honest, doesn’t do a whole lot for me though it’s a series with legions of fans so I’m sure it’ll sell well. What did tickle my fancy was the Ico and Shadow of Colossus HD collection that will also be in 3D. Team Ico’s legendary games were meant to come out not long ago but were pushed back until later this year. The inclusion of 3D is probably why.

Ken Levine of BioShock fame took to the stage to show off another dazzling trailer for BioShock Infinite, a game not out until next year but already looking amazing. He went on to say how in the past, he’s not been too kind towards motion controls particularly Sony’s Move. However they’ve some how made him change his mind (cough huge wads of cash cough) and now he loves the device because it isn’t just about waggling a HD wand but so much more. Levine spoke of enhanced interactions with Elizabeth, the female hero of BioShock Infinite, by using the Move controller. What ever could that be?

What I found quite bizarre about Sony’s conference was how their next handheld is meant to be coming out later this year but it didn’t seem to be shown with the gravitas that a new system deserves. The official name is now PSVita and all I can think of is Ryvita, the tasty health food snack. I’m sure that will dissipate soon much like the giggles after hearing the name Wii for the first time. It also has a price of $249 for standard Wifi models and $299 for ones that are both wifi and 3G capable. No doubt Sony are making a considerable loss for such a relatively low price but they need to match the 3DS in order to compete. Graphics and processing power be damned, if the 3DS is having a hard time selling a $349-$400 PSVita will definitely struggle. Expect prices of £220 and £250 here in the UK.

One PSVita title that really looked good was LittleBigPlanet. A series which has now graced all current gen PS systems with each one adding a little more magic. The PSVita version does so with its touchscreen controls utilising all the tools from the PS3 in a smaller, maybe even easier to control, pocket port, making good of all the features PSVita has. Take pictures with the camera and instantly import them into the game is one example. Graphically it looks lovely but could well have been faked so I’m taking the footage with a pinch of salt but still, LittleBigPlanet on PSVita may just be a the one game you need to make the system make sense. And with touch controls, the kinds of levels and experiences created by the users are likely to be similar to bite-sized iPhone games, adding another feather to LBP‘s already downy cap.

A good show from Sony but I wasn’t particularly blown away by anything. A few odd choices were made and the delay was a little annoying though handing out multiple 3D glasses and getting everyone to their seats must have been a pain. Next up however is Nintendo this afternoon at 4:30pm BST which is the conference I’m most excited about. Not long now!

Why isn’t the 3DS selling in Japan? Goo can think of at least 20 reasons

After initially selling out at launch across Japan, just a few months on and the 3DS isn’t exactly flying off the shelves. To be honest, it’s not even outselling the PSP, a system over five years old despite having a considerably larger library of games if you take into account DS and DSi titles. However, that’s just what the people of Japan are doing when deciding whether or not to pick up a 3DS and more often than not, they chose not to. A survey carried out by Goo Research (via Andriasang) asked 672 women and 438 men in Japan their main reasons for not buying the new handheld and the number one reason is price. To them, it’s far too high and the prospect of a reduction is one they’d rather wait for. Over here in the UK, the cost of a 3DS is falling by the week with the Carphone Warehouse dropping as low as £160, a £70 drop from when the system was launched. And like the UK, Japan will be seeing – if it hasn’t already done so – a price drop for the DSi which brings us on to the second reason on Goo’s list; Japanese gamers are happy with the DS and DSi. As I previously mentioned, the lack of games for the new system means people are turning to older releases but the money savvy digital hobbyists are just as content with sticking with the older handheld too. Unfortunately, that’s just what happens when you build something as robust and popular as the DS. Nintendo has admitted they’re having a hard time promoting all the new features the 3DS has to offer but I’d imagine it’s only a matter of time for word will spread.

After all, numbers 11 and 13 on Goo’s list are the inability to play GameBoy Advance and GameBoy games. Odd that such a thing would put people off buying a brand new console, even more so when the last generation wasn’t able to play these games either. But the upcoming eShop launch next Tuesday should rectify that issue. Other reasons for the Japanese public to avoid a 3DS are things not so easily addressed as the size, weight, screen size and button layout are all apparently a problem. These kinds of criticisms can only really be sorted with a lite version, something I thought Nintendo wouldn’t have to do with the 3DS because I thought the system was pretty much spot on. It has the adopted style of Nintendo handhelds being a slick clamshell with a great analog nub and decent size top screen. It appears my neighbours from the far east think differently which could force a second version within a year or so. I doubt it would be sooner but then Sony is said to be releasing the NGP and that factors into the list also. The fourteenth reason for not buying a 3DS is that those questioned want to save their money for an NGP. Quite different from the response in March when Goo asked members online as to what system they’d buy next with the 3DS being number one receiving 14,668 votes leaving the NGP with only 5,200.

So what’s happened within such a short time that is putting Japanese gamers off a 3DS? If price wasn’t such an option then why is it now? Maybe the small number of games that have come out in that time did little to inspire the audience and the slipping of the eShop may have hurt those who wish to play classic titles. This year’s E3 will be very important for Nintendo and I have a lot of faith in them delivering another great conference with not only an official unveiling of Project Cafe but also we’re bound to see a whole load of upcoming 3DS specific games too. All it needs is the next Mario Kart, Pokemon or even Monster Hunter and we could see a complete change in opinion towards the 3DS in Japan. Hell, just show more of Beyond the Labyrinth from Tri-Ace. That game looks gorgeous and designed to make good use of the 3D capabilities which are yet to be truly tested.

Here’s the full list from Goo Research:

1. Price is high/waiting for a price drop
2. Satisfied by DS/DSi
3. Worried about eye strain
4. Worried about getting sick from the screen
5. Few launch titles
6. Will buy once a game I want is released
7. Satisfied by cell phone and smartphone games
8. Satisfied by PSP
9. The battery is weak
10. It’s heavy and I don’t feel like carrying it with me
11. Can’t play Game Boy Advance games
12. The color I want isn’t available
13. Can’t play Game Boy games
14. I’ll save my money for NGP, thank you very much
15. Waiting for a version with a larger screen
16. Because you can’t move your DSi Points over
17. The buttons layout looks hard to use
18. No Famicom/NES in the Virtual Console
19. The zoom view for DS games is hard on the eyes
20. Waiting until my friend buys it