Thoughts & Observations on the End of Production of Vita Carts in the West - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 20 May 2018 / 3,187 Views
Some things in life are inevitable. In a console's life, it's inevitable that it'll eventually wind down and that's what Sony's been trying to do with the Vita for at least four years - yet more recently the company took its biggest step yet towards this goal by announcing that production of physical Vita game cartridges in Europe and North America will cease at the end of the current fiscal year (i.e. March 2019). There's actually even less time to work towards this date than one might imagine - product code requests need to be submitted by the end of June, for example, meaning publishers have to have laid out their plans for physical releases with Sony by the end of next month.
As a big Vita fan, I felt some obvious frustration at this news, as it seemed like this final nail in the coffin of the Vita's life was coming far too soon, especially considering the success of indies and Japanese games on the platform. Now that the dust has settled and I've had chance to look back at the announcement and analyse some of the news surrounding it, the picture isn't quite as bleak as I first thought, not least because there are pockets of support still coming and the announcement caused an overwhelming surge of love from both developers and publishers who committed to the handheld right up to this deadline (and in some cases, even beyond it).
In this article I just wanted to take a quick look over some of my observations and thoughts about what this news actually means for Vita. It poses some interesting questions about future support from various companies, but also reveals a lot about the upcoming plans from others.
Will the Remaining Localization Houses Make the Cut?
A few weeks ago I wrote about how Vita was having a rollercoaster year in terms of localization announcements and with this news it makes it even more impressive to see how companies like Aksys and PQube are continuing to release physical Vita games even up to the final deadline (they must have learnt about the cut-off prior to it becoming public knowledge). At the same time, it also raises a number of questions about the companies I included in the 'corners' section of that article; those that still have titles waiting in limbo.
The main concern for me is Atlus, which still hasn't announced its plans for 13 Sentinels, Catherine and the Persona Dancing games. If it has any aspirations to get these out physically on Vita then Atlus will need to begin liaising with Sony now (and I truly hope this happens, plus as a long shot I'd love the Utawarerumono remake too). There's also Tokyo Clanpool from Idea Factory International, which is seeming increasingly unlikely, as well as a variety of visual novels from Sekai Project which has dragged its feet with the Vita for far too long. As a final note, Aksys has been brilliant at getting otome titles to the west and I'm really hopeful we'll get a couple more after 7'Scarlet releases later this month (before Aksys presumably permanently moves over to Switch, as that's where the genre seems to be going in Japan).
The End of the Line for Limited Run Games (and Imitators)?
Despite the fact that Fangamer started the limited physical market on Vita with Retro City Rampage, the folks at Limited Run Games popularised it with over 50 releases between Breach & Clear in 2015 and Siralim a few weeks ago. LRG also spawned a sea of imitators who targeted the Vita fanbase, such as Signature Edition Games and Strictly Limited Games, all of whom are now left without one of their key revenue streams going forward. These companies' Vita prints may not have been as big as their PS4 & Switch runs, but the dedicated buying ability of the Vita fanbase ensured they would always turn a profit.
At the very least, Limited Run Games itself indicated it's going to "go out with a bang" and still has more than 30 Vita titles to come. Further tweets from Doug and Josh indicate that LRG is scrambling to get further orders in before the deadline (although whether this includes long-hinted titles such as the Atelier series, SNK's fighting games, and Double Fine's adventure titles remains to be seen). It's such a shame to see them do so much good work for the handheld in preserving its titles (and helping developers recoup costs), only to be ultimately halted by a decision from Sony that came far too early in the day.
Cart Production Isn't Ceasing in Japan/Asia - Meaning One Limited Run Company May Have More Time
If tweets from eastasiasoft and Wolfgame are anything to go by, production of Vita carts will be continuing in Asia for the foreseeable future, while Sony Japan has confirmed to a Japanese blog that production will continue in that country too. This is not dissimilar to what happened with the PSP, where production of UMDs continued in Japan long after being stopped in the west. This led to crazy situations like Vic Ireland and the team at Gaijinworks attempting to order copies of Class of Heroes 3 by sourcing one of the Japanese factories in 2016.
This is good news for the Vita for a number of reasons. If you enjoy importing games like me, it means your options will be kept open for a while longer (I'm currently planning on importing the Vita version of Metal Max since NISA has decided I'm not going to get an English version), but it also means the Asian-English market will continue to exist. Eastasiasoft has crafted itself a nice niche of releasing physical indies with worldwide shipping through Play-Asia and this news potentially means it'll outlast Limited Run Games in this market - slightly bittersweet news considering eastasiasoft's first ever physical release was through LRG, but good news for Vita fans all the same.
The End of the Line for Indies?
Despite the fact that the majority of indie games rely on digital sales in this day and age, the rise of the limited indie market has been a huge boon for many who have been able to raise extra funds from selling physical copies to subsidise lower sales on the Vita's small install base. Without that backup, we may well have seen the already-decreasing pool of developers working on the handheld dwindling down to nothing some time ago.
Robert Boyd from Zeboyd Games, the studio behind Cosmic Star Heroine, has been fairly vocal on Twitter throughout the title's development and often comments on the state of Vita. He revealed that the team's next title won't be hitting Sony's handheld as a result of this news, commenting that it is "nigh-on impossible" to break even on a Vita release without physical copies. While this is just one person's viewpoint, it's easy to believe that this may be shared by various other members of the development community and will ultimately lead to a number of them changing their future plans.
Yet Many Developers Have Taken the Opportunity to Re-Confirm Their Plans for the Handheld
Despite the fact that this news was fairly awful for Vita fans, a number of developers took to Twitter to soften the blow by re-confirming that their games are definitely still going to release on Vita, really cementing what a brilliant community there is around this machine. It also shows a real commitment to the console, as they'll now be working on tight timeframes to get their titles out in time if they want to ensure a physical version too.
Among them, the developer of Bloodstained confirmed it's proceeding as planned and "do not expect any issues" in getting the physical Vita version out, a sentiment echoed by the team behind Sharin no Kuni, who stated "rest assured we will be delivering the physical game to all backers". Brian Provinciano (creator of Shakedown Hawaii) indicated that physical Vita copies of his latest game were still coming, while Luc Bernard of Arcade Distillery suggested he wanted to get three more titles out (Death Tales, Mecho Wars and War Theatre) on top of the already-confirmed Skullpirates. We also got a hint from COWCAT Games that physical copies of Riddled Corpses EX and Xenon Valkyrie+ were on the cards, while Wolfgame (the porting studio behind Factotum 90 and VA-11 HALL-A) was gauging interest in a Kickstarter to get a physical release out for something Vita-related.
We Even Got Some Hints of Future Games
You might think that a console manufacturer revealing plans to end production of physical cartridges for a piece of hardware would scare developers away from announcing anything for it (as it did with Zeboyd Games), but oddly the opposite was true for a couple of dedicated studios. Most notably Ratalaika Games tried to cheer fans up by revealing it was still working on the handheld and has an unannounced adventure game lined up, while Tikipod Games suggested it has one final Vita title to come in the near future.
It's honestly a fitting end to the system if this is the case - Sony is pulling yet another aspect of support from its long-neglected handheld, yet the development community continues to pledge its loyalty to it and is doing its best to keep it alive well into the future.
Whether you're an eternal optimist like me or one of those forum posters who claims that Vita has been dead for years, it's undeniable that Sony's announcement that it's ceasing production of Vita carts in the west takes its long-neglected handheld one step closer to the end of its life.
It's a disappointing decision given it'll take effect just after the 7th anniversary of the console's western launch, at a time where even more companies than ever seem to be getting on board with the limited physical editions market, although I suppose it's understandable that the amount of carts that are being produced these days make the operation not as cost-effective as Sony would like (although would it hurt for Sony to do a few things for Vita just out of goodwill?)
Yet as I've discovered while working on this article, while it still leaves some unanswered questions about the future for certain companies that I was hoping would support the handheld throughout the rest of 2018, the news certainly isn't all bad. Production of physical cartridges is continuing in Japan and most importantly Asia (where eastasiasoft will continue to be able to release physical indie games) and many developers took the opportunity to re-confirm their Vita promises rather than back away in light of the news. It goes to show that no matter what Sony throw at Vita, it's been incredibly resilient - and that's almost solely down to the brilliant and dedicated fanbase which has helped keep it a viable product well beyond anyone's expectations.