“Reconnecting with the VITA”
I turns out that I am best served by a very specific gaming setup: I want to be able to play my games on the go, and then continue playing them on the TV at night. This is purportedly what the NX is all about, but you don’t need to wait until March of 2017 to see how cool this setup is: if you have a VITA and a PSTV, you can do it today. The vast majority of VITA games play on the PSTV, which (if you’ve never heard of it) is a micro-console that has input slots for VITA cartridges and VITA memory cards. Some of the titles that are incompatible with the PSTV are big ones (Uncharted, Gravity Rush, Tearaway, etc.). Those games employ touch screen functionality that cannot be replicated on the PSTV. But it works seamlessly with games like Persona 4 Golden and Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel.
I have often said that the PlayStation 4 is really more of a VITA peripheral to me, since I literally have spent the majority of my PS4 time playing via Remote Play on my VITA. I live in a small two-bedroom condo crammed with four people, so getting access to the living room TV is hard – particularly when you need to get up at 6:00am to get the kids to school on time. Remote play works very well, but I have come to enjoy playing native VITA games even more. It’s console quality, and it fits in my pocket! No wi-fi required, no missing buttons. And as I’ve dug deeper into the library, I’ve become happier and happier with what I’ve found. There are some beautiful games out there, like Rayman Legends and Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, which really show off what the machine can do. VITA is host to amazing indies, like Runner 2, Severed, and Olli Olli 2. And it might be the best platform on earth for JRPGS – Persona 4 Golden, Final Fantasy X and X-II, as well as full compatibility with PS1 classics like Grandia and Suikoden II. I’ve begun the slow but steady process of collecting all of the western physical releases for the platform; I’m at 81 games, out of 158.
“Casual Connect USA 2016”
This past week, I attended Casual Connect USA 2016 in San Francisco as a guest speaker. It was very fun to present, and I had the opportunity to do it with Chris Olson (the best boss I’ve ever had). Our topic was “Top Reasons Why Your Mobile Game Will (Likely) Fail”.
The event was well-managed, and it was a great place to network. I heard some interesting talks, and Casual Connect is generously putting all of the lectures and panels from the show onto YouTube for free. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear many people – on-stage or off – talk about how to make mobile games more fun. Casual Connect is a place where variable ratio schedules, obfuscated costs, data-driven design, uncapped spending, and sunsetting are not questioned as business practices. For most of the attendees, making games is a math problem to be solved, not an artistic endeavor.
In one case, I asked a well-known VP of Creative if we could provide clear pricing to players in mobile F2P games, instead of forcing them to purchase virtual currency. I also suggested that we openly publish drop rates on blind packs, so players could calculate roughly how much it will cost to get a specific card they are searching for. He said that both of these ideas were problematic, because if people could easily calculate how much they are spending over time, nobody would turn into a “whale” (his word, mot mine), which would crash the market.
During the speakers’ dinner, I was explaining to somebody sitting next to me that I liked to see the “sloppiness” that comes from designer-lead products. I used the music in Brave Frontier (iOS) as an example. That game features a lavish orchestral score, despite that fact that more than 95% of people play mobile games without the sound on. This expensive feature must have come from a designer who was executing on a high vision – somebody who wanted to capture the same feeling he had as a kid when he picked up a brand new copy of Dragon Quest and popped it into his Famicom. The decision was not efficient – no Product Manager would add that element. There was somebody at the wheel that was prioritizing craft over data. The person that I was talking to thought this was ridiculous, and seemed offended by the suggestion that designer indulgence could be a net positive for the quality of a game. Turns out, he was a Product Manager.
After the event, I purchased Odin Sphere Leifthrasir on VITA as the balm to all of the aggressive monetization talk I had absorbed. That hit the spot. As it is increasingly becoming clear that games-as-a-service is going to take over the entire portable gaming industry, I take comfort in purchasing beautiful premium games on physical media. I’ll be playing Odin Sphere Leifthrasir long after the servers to Clash of Clans have been shut down.
- Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Vita): $17.99
- Earth Defense Force 2 (Vita): $15.74
- Rayman Legends (Vita): $16.19
- Odin Sphere (Vita): $39.99
- Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Vita): 2h 33m
- Odin Sphere (Vita): 4h 23m
- Earth Defense Force 2 (Vita): 45m
- Rayman Legends (Vita): 3h 6m
- Punch-Out!! (Wii): 2h 38m
- Super Mario Galaxy 2: 1h 16m