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Are iOS and Android Killing Premium Portable Gaming?

Rant starting.

I have noticed on some of the blogs I frequent that there has been a recent vocal assertion, among many gamers, that iOS and Android phones and tablets are the best portable gaming devices. Market saturation certainly would indicate that they are the most popular. It would be absurd for the gaming press not to hop on the app train. Apps are were gaming is exploding at the moment and, yes there are new, interesting things happening in the app space. I expect the top gaming press to report on iOS/Android games, and believe that good games can be made for a tablet or smart phone, so no surprise that apps are getting more press. It is in the comments where there is a surprising change in perception. Until recently there were many core/hardcore gamers who pretty vocally derided iOS games as poor quality products with little defense from the iOS/Android camp. Now, finally, it seems that the app gamers are speaking up and it is not just trolls speaking up, in both camps. The comments are often along the lines of "The Vita is doomed to failure because nobody will pay $40 for a game when they can get just as good games for $5 on iOS." Whenever I read comments along these lines I get really frustrated about the current state of gaming, particularly how app gaming is effecting premium portable gaming.

Let's look at the Playstation Vita for a second. It is a fantastic piece of gear capable of some great games. I am loving Persona 4 Golden and Need for Speed Most Wanted. These are great games and I honestly have never played an iOS game that touches the quality and depth of these titles! However, Persona 4 Golden, much like Metal Gear HD Collection, is a port of a several years old PS2 game. Need for Speed Most Wanted is a, only slightly watered down, version of a console game. Not really the exclusive AAA gaming Sony was promising before the Vita was released. Things get a bit more grim if you start looking at the Vita offerings that should be AAA flagship titles. Uncharted on Vita is a very enjoyable game but the story and cinematicness fall somewhat short of it's console brethren. Resistance on the Vita is mediocre. Nihilistic/Sony/Activision should have canned Call of Duty Black Ops Declassified, the worst rated game on the Vita to date (32/100 on Metacritic), before it was released. Going one portable generation back, there were some stinkers but, many of the AAA games on the PSP would have been AAA on the PS2. Daxter is a lovingly made high quality outing that would be a standout PS2 title. Syphon Filter was phenomenal. Metal Gear Peacewalker, God of War Chains of Olympus, Jeanne d'Arc... The list goes on and on of AAA quality games some that even made their way to the PS3. Therein lies the problem. Unit 13 will never be ported off the Vita. It is not AAA, nearly nobody seems to be willing to invest to bring new AAA to the Vita, and the Vita needs a AAA killer app. Ubisoft at least seems to be making an effort, but it does not seem to be quite enough. Their Assassin's Creed game is really quite nice despite some mixed reviews. It was obviously made by some very talented artists, programmers, and designers, if not perhaps Ubisoft's absolute best. Not having the absolute best working on the game unfortunately shows when compared to Assassin's Creed III and this is problematic. The Vita sits in a strange place between the PS3 where enough people will pay $60 for AAA and the iPhone where many more people will pay $.99 for a piece of casual fare to make it profitable (Perhaps a rant about freemium ruining games is in order?).
...Put another way a mediocre FPS like Modern Warfare is just as much a waste of my time as a mediocre FPS like Call of Duty Declassified regardless of price...
Somehow this leads to the perception that "The Vita is doomed to failure because nobody will pay $40 for a game when they can get just as good games for $5 on iOS." A high quality iOS game eclipses a middling portable console game that a consumer expect to be AAA when price is factored in. I personally will never finish a Gameloft FPS on iOS until I can play with buttons and a joystick and do not have a wealth of other better games to play on other platforms. Put another way a mediocre FPS like Modern Warfare is just as much a waste of my time as a mediocre FPS like Call of Duty Declassified regardless of price. For other gamers this is not the case. Modern Warfare is good value for the money and therefor good while Declassified is a bad value for the money and therefore bad. I'll be interested to see how Nihilistic, who made Declassified fares now that they are focusing on iOS. If their next iOS game is heralded as excellent I will not hesitate to wave flags in depressing celebration.Without clearly superior AAA console quality games Vita simply can't compete and I blame Sony.

It is not surprising that 3rd party publishers, outside of Ubisoft, seem to have written off the Vita but why has Sony, up to this point dropped the ball? I can't answer that except perhaps to guess that Sony wants to keep it's best people and invest the most where the money is, their home console market. I'd like to suggest to Sony is a few things that might make the Vita a success and just pose some questions to find out Sony's reasoning. I have always been a big fan of Sony and find it puzzling that a company I equate with quality seems to be making some big missteps with it's latest member of the Playstation line.

Sony, the most important thing is to give a team the budget and staff to make a AAA game. Why haven't you done this? This is really simple. AAA takes time, money, and talent. I don't know what elements were missing on the games that have been released so far but I strongly suspect that at least one element was missing for all of them. Really, seriously, Sony, all your Vita games feel skimpy. One of my favorite Vita games, Gravity Rush sings about not having enough talented people working on it for long enough, it was almost a game that would make my favorite games list but felt oh so rushed, pun intended.

Why did you abandon remote play? Seriously, with proper remote play support I could play hella AAA on my Vita! Remote play is a complete failure. I can't imagine that the Vita would not have sold like gangbusters if you pushed this feature. Then once people owned a Vita for remote play they would want to use it on the go and buy games just for the Vita. I bought God of War Collection and Ico/Shadow of the Colossus HD for the PS3 just to take advantage of this feature even though I have perfectly useable copies for my PS2. Did anybody else do this? Okay, this is a tangent but when is Tokyo Jungle getting remote play support?! I want to play this game so bad while the wife is watching Cooks Country on PBS. Something about cooking shows make me want to play a game where killing and feasting on the flesh of other animals is a central theme. My point is remote play is very compelling and I am not sure you can undo the damage from not pushing this but, I'd like to see you try.

...I am no programmer but, I was a producer at a game company so I know a few things about asking programmers to accomplish completely unreasonable tasks...
If you won't invest in new AAA for the Vita figure out how to bring the PS2 Classics to the Vita. I am no programmer but, I was a producer at a game company so I know a few things about asking programmers to accomplish completely unreasonable tasks. The PS2 Classics selection is quite nice, I haven't bought any of them because I have nearly all of them for the PS2 but I would re-buy them in a heartbeat for the Vita, then tada, more AAA on the Vita. AAA that may be older but is not already available on other portables. Remastering games of one or two console generations past seems to be popular now presumably because of the lower development cost, I can't imagine that getting the PS2 Classic collection running on the Vita wouldn't be quite cost effective. If it is too great a challenge here is a freebie, remote play PS2 collection. It's like free money and I am sure it would help hardware adoption more than a Declassified bundle.

Ok, Sony, I am done talking to you. This last bit is for gamers, look I very much like some iOS/Android games, I am a big fan of Popcap and will gladly support them, bought world of Goo on iOS even though I had it on PC and, am pretty sure all the electronics I own and regularly use have GTA III installed on them now. Unless all we want is cheap or "free"mium, low budget time wasters we must stop supporting bad iOS/Android games and pony up the cash for good mobile games. As a cash strapped person myself that last part is tricky but, for most under-employed first worlders a premium priced game should only be part of a single day's work. With a little research, you will most likely will enjoy a premium game more intensely for much longer than a cheap cheaply made budget game. I am not knocking apps in fact I wholeheartedly encourage you to buy all of Square Enix's premium, for iOS, priced apps. Haven't played them but am sure they are all great. We as consumers need to speak with our wallet, buy good games, and stop supporting low grade "crapps". Don't even download them, don't ask your Facebook friends for coins, don't make an in app purchase, don't even look at the advertising banners. The mere act of playing a bad game on iOS or Android is unfortunately providing metrics that are telling companies that you want more. Gone are the days when you could secretly play a second hand copy of Willow for the NES under the cover of darkness and nobody would know.

Rant over... 

6 comments:

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