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Today, Sony launches its latest portable console, the PlayStation Vita, in North America and Europe. The PSP, its last attempt, initially fared well -- until a mixture of piracy, shovelware, and a drought of killer titles killed the platform dead outside of Japan. Has the company learned its lessons from that system well enough to make a success of this one?
If only it were that simple. This time around, Sony also faces stiff competition from Apple's iPad and Android tablets such as the Kindle Fire. The market has changed drastically since the PSP launched and all Sony had to worry about was Nintendo -- which has seen a major resurgence of its Nintendo 3DS handheld since its lackluster launch, too.
To find out if the company has what it takes to make a success of the Vita, Gamasutra spoke to Scott Rohde, Sony's senior vice president of its Worldwide Studios organization, to draw a bead on precisely what's changed and how seriously the company takes these threats to its success.
You executed a very large and diverse launch lineup, with different kinds of games, but it just doesn't seem to be generating the kind of buzz I feel like it would have been generating a couple years ago. Do you agree, and what do you think about that?
Scott Rohde: Well, it's an interesting point, and I think that the difference is there's just so much out there -- a lot of different things to experience these days. But I am incredibly confident that when people get this thing in their hands, they're going to be thrilled beyond belief with what it is they're touching and playing, and they're going to realize that it's something they haven't experienced before.
And I think you see that sentiment from some of the people who have been able to spend some time with it, and I'm confident that that's going to carry over to the more mainstream audience as soon as they get a chance to get their hands on it.
When you say it's something people haven't experienced before, what do you mean by that?
SR: Well it's just something that there's a level of quality that you're not used to seeing on a handheld device. So for example, last night I was one of the lucky early few to get my hands on one of the proof cartridges for MLB: The Show. Of course, I've played various different sports games on all sorts of different platforms, whether it be the PSP, the DS, even the 3DS and iPhone, iPad, what have you. This experience on MLB is so far superior to anything I've ever played on a portable device that it really leaves everything else in the dust.
And of course it's going to sound like I'm coming from a biased perspective, but at heart, I'm a gamer that owns all of these devices, and plays on all these devices, and I can tell you right now, everything else I own is going to gather dust for a while, because these experiences are so far superior to anything else.
Is that because of the horsepower of the system, or its control, or just the actual games that are being made, in your opinion?
SR: I think it's a little of all of the above, and I think when you also take into the account that there's a lot decent cross functionality between our home console the PS3 and the Vita. I think there's a lot of neat messages to go for here. So again, specifically with MLB, horsepower in terms of everything you can do graphically on that machine, there's going to be a lot of people that pick this up and say, "Wow, this really feels like the same quality I'm used to on my PS3," and that's a huge statement.
I mean -- not making this up -- completely independent of this interview, I just came back to San Diego after a lot of travel, and I was literally walking to each of the engineers and artists on the team telling them how impressed I was with the game, just in terms of its graphic quality. But not only that, the fact that I can play it on my Vita and I can save it to the cloud, and I can go pick it up at home, that's a great experience.
How long have you been at Sony personally?
SR: I started in late 2003 so, if you can do the math, it's eight-plus years.
So you were there for the entire lifespan of the PSP.
SR: Yes, I was. You know, there's nothing quite as “fun”, in air quotes, as a hardware launch. So I was around during that time, for sure. In fact, when I was just walking around with this team, I was talking about the incredibly vast difference between the launch of PSP and the launch of Vita in my book.
Which is the fact that many teams really struggled to get a comparable experience out the door -- an experience that was comparable to the PS2 -- and there are a lot of teams that are already achieving great heights in that manner for Vita, when compared to the PS3.