When Nintendo announced the Wii U at E3 2011, I was a little confused. As I thought about it more and more, it began to make sense and the excitement set in. Cue E3 2012 - Nintendo destroys any immediate excitement I had, but left me with a little hope that other developers were going to do cool things with the idea. By other developers, I mean Sony and Microsoft.
You may have realized that Sony and Microsoft both stole a little bit of Nintendo's thunder by announcing their own versions of the Wii U albeit in very different forms. Microsoft announced SmartGlass which allows tablets or phones to communicate with the Xbox 360 and provide additional details for games, TV shows and movies.
The PS3, on the other hand, communicates with the PS Vita for additional undisclosed gameplay enhancements. The only thing we've seen so far is how the Vita version of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale can become a makeshift controller when playing the PS3 version of the title. That lack of detail doesn't stop Sony's top brass from saying they're already better than the competition.
Speaking to Games Industry International, Sony Worldwide Studios VP Scott Rohde had this to say:
"Because we have the Vita, I think we can do a lot of special things. And remember, that Wii U tablet doesn't have a processor in it, so it's got to be fueled by that box sitting under your TV. We can do some pretty special things that you'll start to see on the floor this year and you'll see more over the upcoming months about what you can do when you actually have a processor in the thing that's in your hand as well."
It's actually a fair point and a challenge that the Wii U has to overcome. Microsoft and Sony are turning to devices that can work independently of the game console while Nintendo is working with technology that is dependent upon the game console itself. This puts Vita in a unique position, but it has one problem - it's not selling.
Rohde addresses that concern as well saying that it's only been three months. Selling two million units in three months isn't bad, but it's not good either. I think we'll be able to see a more realistic picture of the Vita's performance in a year from now. A price cut would help push sales, but that alone isn't enough.
So how will Sony drive Vita sales? It's has and always will be all about the games. Software drives hardware - Apple proved that people are willing to buy expensive hardware just to get access to the apps. Even before Apple started on their app-littered trail, Nintendo pushed portable hardware with quality software from Tetris on the Gameboy to Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. Sony is only starting to finally push great software like Gravity Rush, but we have to wait until late summer and the holiday season before we start seeing truly great software like Persona 4 Golden and Assassin's Creed Liberation.
As for the original question of the Vita/PS3 combination versus the Wii U, it seems that Sony is only looking at cross play between the two platforms. Players will be able to get the same game on both platforms and transfer saves between them. While great on paper, it still brings up the cost question and many gamers just don't have the money for that at the moment.
I'm a huge Sony fan and I love my Vita. I saw it as an essential purchase, whereas many don't see that right now. Those same gamers who pass on the Vita are more likely to either go with the Wii U or use their existing tablet or smartphone with the Xbox 360. Sony has to somehow prove to them that the Vita will provide something that they can't get anywhere else. What is that something? I don't know and it seems like Sony doesn't really know at the moment either. Here's hoping that I'm wrong.