It’s been a little over a week since the news broke that Sony is going to stop manufacturing physical Vita cartridges in America and Europe on March 31, 2019. I’ve had some time to digest the news and can now provide some of my thoughts on it.
If you follow me anywhere (Twitter, YouTube) you’ll know there are 2 things that I am a huge fan of. One is the PS Vita. And the other is physical video games. The fact that this decision won’t stop digital games from coming to the Vita is hardly a consolation for me. To me, if the game isn’t physical, it may as well not exist.
This news comes at an odd time to me. Maybe I’m seeing the world from a very biased viewpoint, but to me, the Vita is in the prime of its life right now. Sure, you’d never know it by going to any brick and mortar retail store, or by talking to anyone outside of the close knit Vita community, but physical Vita releases have been thriving for the past year or so, and I didn’t see that slowing down any time soon. Quite the opposite, actually. More and more limited physical game companies have been popping up which have been releasing more and more limited physical Vita games. Keeping a spreadsheet of all the upcoming physical Vita games I want, along with release dates and which company they are coming from has become a daily ritual for me.
As of this writing, the following physical Vita games on my want list that are still upcoming are: Cosmic Star Heroine, Antiquia Lost, Super Hydorah, Phantom Breaker Battleground (heavily rumored by Limited Run Games), Sayonora Umihara Kawase++, Stardew Valley, Rabi Ribi, Battle Princess Madelyn, Defender’s Quest, Rainbow Skies, Salt and Sanctuary, VA-11 Hall-A, YIIK, and more. And it seems like every week, another upcoming title gets announced. So you can see why I perceived the Vita as thriving, and I didn’t see any end in sight.
And then Sony comes out of nowhere and says they’re going to stop making physical Vita cartridges in America and Europe in less than 1 year. After getting over the initial shock of Sony acknowledging that this handheld console called the Vita actually exists, I felt totally crushed at hearing this. For years it has seemed to me that the Vita was like a neglected stepchild of Sony’s. Something they were embarrassed about, so they kept locked away inside and never publically showing off. But they would at least let it live, providing it occasional food and water (equivalent to continuing to make the physical cartridges). Now they are pulling the life support, and will let it slowly die off like they’ve been wanting it to do seemingly since its birth.
Obviously I don’t know what resources were required of Sony to keep the production of cartridges going, but I can’t imagine its that much. And they have to be aware of the continued, and even increased interest in physical Vita games from all the limited game companies. That’s why I don’t understand why the decision came now. If the output of physical games were coming to and end, or the desire for more physical games were coming to an end, I could understand, but I just don’t see that happening right now. It’s like Sony was trying to send a message, “Guys, stop with the Vita games already! We’ve been trying to let it die quietly but you aren’t letting that happen, so we’ll have to put an end to it.”
But is there still hope for beyond March 31, 2019? Sony has stated that production of physical Vita cartridges will continue in Asia for now, but for how long? At least one of the limited physical game companies is based in Asia (eastasiasoft), so I imagine they will do what they can to get as many physical Vita releases out while they can. And Limited Run Games has announced that they still have at least 30 physical Vita games to come out before production ends for the US in 2019. But is it possible that they, and other non-Asian companies, can use the Asian facilities to continue to manufacture Vita cartridges past March 31, 2019? I hope so, but that is yet to be seen.
I’d like to get back to the topic of how long physical Vita cartridges can continue in Asia. Just recently Sony has announced that they will “wrap up” the Vita by 2020, whatever that means. That certainly sounds to me like all Vita production will be done, including Asia. So it looks like no matter what, 2020 will be the absolute last year for a new physical Vita game. Sure, digital games will probably still come out, but as I stated in the beginning, I’m a physical only buyer. So from that point forward, there will be no new games for the Vita.
So what does this mean for the future of handheld gaming from Sony? Rumors are constantly swirling about whether Sony will ever try another handheld. Before the success of the Nintendo Switch, it didn’t seem very likely, but now who knows? The rumors as of late are leaning more towards them trying it again. I think Sony makes great handhelds. In addition to the Vita, I am also a huge fan of the PSP. And if it hadn’t been for the Vita, the PSP would be my favorite handheld console ever.
So what would be required of another Sony handheld, if they were to ever make one? Many say backwards compatibility is important, but I don’t see it as necessary. I can continue to play my Vita games on my Vita, and my PSP games on my PSP. I don’t need future devices to continue to play past games when I can continue to play them on the console they were intended for. Others say using a standard memory card, but again to me this isn’t too important. As a physical only buyer, I only need memory to store save files. Either include a small amount of onboard memory, like the LCD Vita, or if necessary I would just get the smallest card that is reasonably priced. If you are a digital game buyer, I can see this as being a huge must have. And if it helps the device to succeed, I would say its probably important too. There’s no denying that the high price of the proprietary Vita memory cards turned a lot of people off to the system.
But for me, the number one requirement for a new handheld is a physical cartridge slot, and continued physical distribution. If Sony ever decided to go to an all digital distribution model for a gaming console (handheld or otherwise), that’s the ending point for me for buying that console. I cringe whenever I hear “all digital” used to describe the future of gaming. Some speak of it as an inevitability. I think the past couple of years has shown a resurgence in the popularity of physical games, and has proven it is a viable distribution model that needs to stay. There are many people, like myself, who just are not going to buy digital games. Or maybe I’m living in my own bubble, and there aren’t enough of us for Sony or others to even care about? I would hate to think of that as being the truth, but if it is I can accept it. I like playing games from all eras, past and present. And with 40 years worth of physical releases already, there are more than enough games that have already been made that I have yet to buy and yet to play that even if all physical games were to stop now, there are enough physical games and consoles out there in the wild now that I would have enough gaming to keep me occupied for the rest of my life. I certainly hope that doesn’t happen anytime soon. I will continue to support, buy, and speak out about physical gaming and the importance of keeping games physical.
So there’s my overview of the announcement of Sony ending production of physical cartridges for Vita on March 31, 2019 in America and Europe. First came confusion. Then came anger. Then came acceptance. And finally came hope for the future, along with maybe getting off topic and philosophical a little bit. Sorry, the Vita has the ability to do that to me. I’m not sure what it is about this console that brings out that passion in me, and many others. I’m very happy to be a part of the community of this amazing handheld. And despite the way Sony has treated it, I want to thank them for creating the Vita. I don’t think they are even aware of how special this system is. And Sony – handheld gaming is awesome. I think if you were to decide to make another handheld, you would find the support and the demand for it is there. I would love to see a new handheld from Sony. But please Sony if you do, above all else, include a physical cartridge slot!