Defenders of the PlayStation Vita have been hit by some tough blows in the last year, signalling the rapid decline of their favoured handheld — at least in Western territories.
First was the news that Vita and PlayStation 3 games would no longer appear on the list of monthly free PS Plus Games as of March 2019. A couple of months ago, Sony went a step further. For North America and Europe, production of physical Vita games will end in March 2019. Although the digital store will still be up and running indefinitely, it would certainly seem that the end of the current fiscal year marks the beginning of the end for the Vita's life cycle — at least in the minds of Sony's Western executives.
The Vita version of Persona 4 is considered to be one of the series' best entries.
Back in the Vita's heyday, the most popular games were as diverse as you would expect on any platform. It might be a simple arcade platformer like Super Meat Boy near the top of the pile one month, a blockbuster action experience such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss in another. Throughout its early life we saw games as epic and expansive as any you would find on the home console — 100+ hour behemoths like Persona 4 Golden or the ports of Borderlands 2 and Final Fantasy X. But the big third-party support never truly arrived, and as time wore on fewer and fewer household names appeared on the platform. Even the interesting indies and Japanese curios of the last few years are seeing home console ports as the developers seek to make a bigger profit.
Nevertheless, the Vita limps on. The console still sells in Japan, though a huge chunk of its demographic (not to mention its reliable Japanese publishers) are being tempted away by the more versatile Nintendo Switch. Anyone looking at the release calendar for the Vita will see a lot of Japanese visual novels dominating the schedule, but many of those are only of interest to a very select number of players in the West. It's unsurprising then that Sony's American and European businesses are starting to lower the shutters.
Yet the Western Vita players following the handheld into retirement aren't just a handful of visual novel enthusiasts. A lot of the most purchased Vita games of the last couple of years have been smaller indie experiences that would have flown under the average consumer's radar. The one thing they have in common? Easy, quick trophy lists.
These charts take the top fifty games released on Vita each year (based on our overall player count), and they show a gradual progression of two factors. Firstly, the most popular games released in a given year have trophy lists that are increasingly easier to complete on average (given that a larger percentage of owners are managing to finish the list). Secondly, the lists are taking a lot less time to get through on average. While one could argue that the shift is coincidental, a glance at the top played games of 2012 versus those played in 2018 suggest that purchasing habits have shifted from game quality towards trophy-earning efficiency.
The top played games released in 2012 contain some of the Vita's most well known and popular titles, games that draw people into buying the handheld in the first place — even if the trophy lists are difficult and long-winded. Six years later, the top seven of ten games of 2018 in terms of player count are all games that have been highlighted here and elsewhere as particularly easy and quick trophy lists. The Japanese visual novels that seemingly dominate the Vita's remaining release slate barely trouble the top ten games released so far this year, which suggests that it's trophy hunters that are providing the majority of the remaining financial support on the platform.
The above table excludes games that share a trophy list with their PS3/4 versions (as we cannot see which players are playing on the handheld) and the packed-in Vita tutorial app Welcome Park
Super Destronaut isn't racing up our charts because of the gameplay.
For developers and publishers, it presents an interesting last-minute opportunity to take their simplest and cheapest games and make sure they're available on the Vita with a reasonable, accessible trophy list. Better yet, make it a cross-buy title with PlayStation 4 and Vita, meaning that the dedicated trophy hunter can stack two complete trophy lists for the price of one. There's a good reason why Super Destronaut DX keeps popping up as one of the Hot Games on our home page alongside chart-topper God of War or PS Plus freebie Heavy Rain: it's only five bucks, it's cross-buy, and you can finish both lists in about half an hour. Keen observers may have noticed that the developer of Super Destronaut, Petite Games, is also responsible for Inksplosion and Midnight Deluxe — the second and third spots on our 2018 list above. All of these titles have very easy trophy lists stack-able across multiple platforms and several regions. It's hard to believe that the combination of cheap price and quick trophy turnaround isn't a savvy marketing move.
It's interesting to think that in the age of achievements and trophies, the die-hard enthusiasts of a particular console do not make their final stand alone. They're joined by a community of salvage hunters, happily throwing a buck or two in order to maximise the point-scoring potential of the device until they have exhausted the remaining possibility of reward. As the Vita fades into obsolescence, it will likely be communities such as ours hanging on until the bitter end.