Pay to play your old games on Vita

The long running joke in the video games world is that Nintendo are often re-selling the same game over and over again by way of re-packaging or re-distributing. I mean, how many times have you bought Super Mario Bros.? A new version of this is the HD remake which Sony have adopted as their go to solution for selling old content and that’s fine, most of the games are classics and should be experienced by new audiences. However Sony’s solution for current PSP owners to be able to play their UMD games on the UMD-less PSVita isn’t exactly ideal. Or all that fair.

According to Kotaku, Sony are to launch something called the UMD Passport service on the 6th December in Japan where the UMD Registration App will become available for PSPs. Once downloaded you fire up the handheld, insert a game disc and register it through your PSN account. After said stages, the game will be available to download – for a price. Yep, in order to play your old games on a PSVita, you’ll have to pay anywhere between 80p (¥100) and £19 (¥2400) depending on the title. The former is much more palatable than the latter. At the moment, 40 publishers have signed up to the program offering 200 games with the average price looking to hover at £8 (¥1000). Games like Gran Turismo and DiRT 2 for example.

It should be known that the prices mentioned are discounted and those 200 games will cost more to download for people who don’t already own the UMD but it does make me question why there is any cost at all. If the price was one set fee I could understand that. I could be told it was to cover admin and the cost of setting up this scheme in the first place but differing prices just looks like previous supporters of a product are getting screwed. Sony have also covered their butts when it comes to the prospect of piracy as once a UMD is registered with an account, it can’t be passed on and registered to another allowing more than one owner to receive the discount (via Andriasang).

But hey, on the plus side the scheme also works for the PSPgo meaning finally owners of that ill-fated downloadable-only hardware can play the games which never came to PSN in the first place.

PSVita is a little more expensive than you thought

The PSVita now has an official UK price tag, set last week when Sony announced what us folk here in Blighty are expected to pay. And as with pretty much everything video game related, we’re getting screwed. You’ve seen the numbers by now, the Wifi only model has an RRP of £229.99 and the all singing all dancing Wifi plus 3G will set you back £279.99. Converting those figures into American dollars will only add insult to injury but needless to say, it ain’t pretty.

Much like the 3DS which may not have had an official UK RRP, the price was initially £229.99 and soon dropped once online retailers and supermarkets found ways of subsidising costs. I would like to think the PSVita will experience the same fury of price competition close to the February 22nd 2012 release date but Sony have made it quite clear in the past that they’re not budging when it comes to RRP. That’s fine, the PSVita is a beastly piece of kit with a gorgeous OLED screen and has oodles of potential to right the wrongs of the original PSP but one thing that’s not been at the forefront of press releases is how not all games can be saved directly onto the game card (via Kotaku). Some, like the poster boy for PSVita, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, requires a memory card to save progress. Proprietary memory cards that is meaning we’ll be paying overly inflated prices for standard hardware. Exactly how much isn’t known but if the Japanese figures are anything to go by, a 4GB card will cost ¥2,200 or £19 whereas a 32GB card is ¥9,500 or £78 (roughly).

To make the most out of your PSVita, it looks like a proprietary memory card is essential, a concept not seen in gaming since the last generation now that most systems and devices come packed with a hefty hard drive or indeed capabilities to save to humble SD cards. Will this hurt day one sales of the PSVita? Probably not. Those lucky enough to be early adopters will most likely find it to be an annoyance rather than a deterrent but it’s not all that welcoming to future consumers. When many are touting this to be the last generation of dedicated handheld devices, I would have thought the PSVita wouldn’t come with little surprises like this because the more people they can get on board, the better for Sony.

I want the PSVita to be a hit. I want it and the 3DS to re-ignite the glory days or handheld gaming but I’ve been slightly burned by picking up a 3DS so early and can’t quite get the bitter taste of the PSP – or its lack of attention from publishers – out of my mouth so am somewhat apprehensive about getting a PSVita. Who knows, come February I may have the cash for one. As long as these scratch cards deliver something…

UPDATE: It turns out that the choice whether or not to save directly to a PSVita game card or memory card has been left up to the publishers not Sony. The reason? Because saving to the memory card means that game can have post-launch DLC. But those which save directly onto the game card can only save in that way so from the get go we’re to have a minor fragmentation in software. Lets hope it stays minor too.

The great porting dilemma

Lord of everything Street Fighter and all round funny chap Yoshinori Ono has told Joystiq.com what he thinks of direct console to handheld ports. In a nutshell, Ono thinks they’re dumb. He and his team at Capcom prefer to see the transition to a portable device include specific features to take advantage of that hardware. Cramming a console game onto a something smaller are meaningless to him.

“A lot of people, when they’re porting to new hardware, especially a handheld, they’ll talk about how it’s difficult because of memory restrictions or speed or things like that, and I haven’t found that to be the case,” Ono said. “We’ve been putting less energy into the porting process itself and more energy into adding additional features, because we don’t want to do a straight-up port – that’s silly and meaningless.”

Two of Ono’s games making their way to the PSVita are Street Fighter X Tekken and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Both will feature additions that supposedly utilise the Vita’s many inputs much like Super Street Fight 4 3D did on the 3DS. Ono said how the 3DS game has helped with development as he’s already racked up some experience with a touch screen and making a game fun to play on it. But Vita’s multitouch capabilities offer even more cool opportunities for entertaining play although the rear touch panel is a bit trickier.

“The rear panel presents kind of a challenge for us, because when you’re playing a fighting game, given the button configuration you’re going to have your index fingers on the top and your thumbs on the front,” he said. “We don’t want a situation where you’re accidentally throwing shoryukens because you moved your ring finger in the middle of a bout.”

No, we certainly don’t and my thought is if it doesn’t work, don’t use it. The ethos of exploiting the new tech to its fullest is highly commendable of Ono but there’s a danger too that things may get a little silly with features shoehorned in for the sake of it. The great thing about Super Street Fighter 4 3D was how well it used all the best bits of the 3DS, the stereoscopic screen, boosted CPU, online mulitplayer, Street Pass and analog stick. Other than 3D, the Vita can do all those things for Street Fighter X Tekken and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and more – but it doesn’t mean it has to. If the feature set stopped there, I can’t imagine there’d be too much concern over an unused rear touch screen.

That aside, it’s the tailoring of games that will help the PSVita win over dubious consumers who aren’t sold on the idea of a pocket console. And I don’t mean handheld gamers, but those burned by the PSP which had too many titles trying to emulate home console games. The experience wasn’t right and the hardware couldn’t compete with PS2/3 graphics and controls so more often than not, things felt a little underwhelming. Not every game fell into this category and if developers continue to think the same as Ono, that category will become smaller and smaller.

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.

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.

Media Molecule sets sights on new ground

Media Molecule are a development team relatively small in number but considerably vast in originality. They’ve gone from being a fairly unknown studio to one of the most admired within the industry and created arguably Sony’s biggest new IP, LittelBigPlanet. It’s already graced the PS3, twice, as well as the PSP and will soon be available on the PSVita when that itself is released. In between these big titles are the numerous DLC packs with another added Move support to LBP2, the name Media Molecule could easily be a prefix for name LittleBigPlanet.

A gambling man could be tempted into betting the next game from the Guilford based studio would be another LBP but director Siobhan Reddy has been quoted by Edge saying “We’re stepping away from LittleBigPlanet to focus on some new ideas,” at Gamelab 2011 in Barcelona recently. Being a huge fan of the create-em-up, the idea that the minds behind such a creative franchise are broadening their portfolio is great news. Media Molecule took the idea of a sandbox experience, mixed it with platformer and then furthered that concept in LBP2 by adding pretty much every genre imaginable into the game. Some of the levels were steeped in traditional gameplay mechanics but felt fresh nonetheless so it’s clear they understand what makes a game good, regardless of genre.

Another reason why Media Molecule’s move away from LittleBigPlanet is a good one stems from one of the most problematic issues in gaming; over saturation. With Sony claiming the star of LBP, the Sackboy, as a part-time mascot for the company, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see a multitude of spin-off games and needless titles dirtying up an awesome franchise. The get out clause of course is how LBP2 can be used to create any kind of game so even if MM were asked to make, say, a Sackboy kart racer, they kind of already have or at least given others the tools to do so themselves. Right now, Sony and MM are treating the franchise respectfully and allowing it some breathing space while they go off and spread the talent onto something new is pretty much just what this fan (both thumbs are pointing towards myself right now) wants to see.

Of course that’s not to say Media Molecule are abandoning LittleBigPlanet. There is still the aforementioned Move support DLC as well as some undoubtably more unannounced packs but it’s with great anticipation that I’ll await the reveal of the next Media Molecule game. I’m sure whenever they do it’ll be rightly or wrongly compared the LBP and even expected to live up to its genius but the jump from LBP1 to 2 was really quite substantial so who says the leap to their next game won’t be just as impressive?