“Microconsoles,” by their nature, are budget consoles that are gimped—whether intentionally or not—in one way or another to accommodate the low asking price. We’re seeing a resurgence of sorts for these feature-filled little set-top boxes aimed at the casual: with devices such as the Ouya, Game Pop, Gamestick, Madcatz’ MOJO—and even rumored boxes coming from Apple and Amazon—there’s no shortage of options for this already-fragmented new market.
Unassumingly announced as an afterthought during Sony’s pre-TGS press conference, the PlayStation Vita TV is the Japanese conglomerate’s take on the microconsole concept, one that—with enough tweaking and the right kind of marketing—should be far and away the most successful out of this sordid lot of Android hand-me-downs.
It caught everyone by surprise, and seemed like an awful idea at first. A consolized version of a failing handheld? Surely Sony’s R&D department didn’t waste millions researching this? Yet upon further inspection, the PS Vita TV appears more and more to be a very savvy and smart move responding to current market trends; and I’m sure the joke about Sony being the electronics industry equivalent of a senile, out-of-touch old man writes itself at this point.
Hardware manufacturers and even content creators have an immense hard-on for locking the consumer in to their own “ecosystems.” Google has its Play Store (of which derivatives exist such as the Ouya Store, Nvidia’s Tegra Zone or Amazon’s App Store), Microsoft owns a myriad of Xbox-related services, and even Sony is coming into the game fairly late with its “Sony Entertainment Network” sphere of multimedia services. In essence, the PlayStation Vita TV is Sony’s shot at getting the casual hooked into their ecosystem. Its a trojan horse in every sense of the word: the entire look (apart from the fact that it can be controlled by a Dual Shock 3) screams AV rather than VG and at 10,000 Yen (approx. $100) the price is unheard of. No console hardware manufacturer has released anything even remotely resembling that price point, one that immediately entices the mainstream consumer as a “no brainer” purchase. The fact that Amazon Japan already sold out of their first shipment after one day of taking preorders solidifies this fact.
However even marketing it as an all-rounder device rather than a consolized handheld, Sony is making no qualms about injecting the “PlayStation” and “Vita” brands simultaneously into the mix. Why would they? This isn’t 1985’s Nintendo of America quandary; the word “video games” mean way more to the general public now than it did before. Instead of the usual “oh it’s a toy with a robot… no wait it’s actually a computer!” runaround we’ve gotten in the past, the PS Vita TV is marketed as something it actually is: a pared-down, cheaper version of a $400 console experience that doubles as a good addition to your home video system.
Set beside its contemporaries in the field, the PS Vita TV offers so much more: while I’m more interested personally in its remote-play capabilities (the ability to offload and output my PS4 experience to a remote bedroom TV already sold me), the more discerning mainstream customer may see it as an alternative to the Apple TV: another way to play the myriad of streaming services that are out there such as Hulu, Netflix, or even NicoNico Douga. Parents will appreciate the fact that it also happens to pull double-duty as a cheap console with a variety of games for Junior to screw around with. Heck, lapsed gamers will probably elect to pick it up as a convenient way to play old PSX classics with minimal hassle.
In execution, the outlook will probably look a lot less rosy than the picture that I’m painting: I can see this thing disrupting the marketplace in all the wrong ways; with confused consumers wondering if it’s an add-on to the PlayStation 4, or if it actually is the PlayStation 4. The hardcore market will of course scoff at its limited capabilities and balk at the price of games compared to App Store or Play Store offerings.
Regardless of its relative measures of success though, I firmly believe that in Sony’s eyes the PlayStation Vita TV will never be a failure: after all, if they can even get several hundred thousand of these things in cramped Tokyo apartments, that’s a few hundred thousand new SEN subscribers. To all the consumer outlets whining about its relative uselessness in comparison to Sony’s other console systems: deal with it, this product is not for you.