Why Smart Phones Won’t Take Down The PS Vita

The question that was raised at the initial announcement of the PS Vita was whether or not a dedicated mobile gaming unit could survive in a world where casual mobile games on smart phones exist. The answer is of course it can and there are several key reasons why.

To set the foundation I will again remind our readers of the jobs to be done philosophy as laid out by Clayton Christensen. Consumers hire products for specific jobs or tasks. Consumers acquire products to fill a void or fulfill a need. Smart phones are not hired to be gaming devices. They are hired to be communication devices. Browsing the web, playing games, running other non-communication apps are, all icing on the cake but the core reason this product is purchased or hired is to communicate. Dedicated mobile gaming devices like the PS Vita on the other hand are hired to be gaming platforms. And because of this the Vita is built intentionally for gamers, where smart phones are not. Two specific areas where this stands out are with the physical gaming buttons and battery life.

Physical Gaming Buttons
Because the smart phone lacks physical gaming buttons, my view is that it is a casual gaming platform. Meaning not something you will sit and play games for hours upon hours. I am not saying this is not possible only that for those who taking gaming seriously and consider themselves core gamers, the smart phone is not the device of choice. Rather, gamers sit for hours and play PS3, XBOX 360, etc, and they are used to the nuances of physical control buttons and believe for many immersive games they are necessary.

I have tried to play many of my favorite console games on my iPhone or iPad like EA’s Madden Football, or FPS games like Modern Warfare and they simply are not the same.

The PS Vita provides the most comprehensive console experience on a mobile device that I have encountered yet. It brings a full fledged gaming experience that hard core gamers know and love. Sony has also some great features that tie the PS Vita into their Playstation ecosystem. Things like online multiplayer gaming where you can play online with friends who are playing on the PS3 while you play on the PS Vita and vice-versa. Or transfering saved games or pausing points while playing PS3 and picking up where you left off with the Vita. Those are the kinds of holistic gaming experiences that get me excited about the state of the video game industry again.

Battery Life
The next big stand out is battery life. Even if we were to make the argument that the smart phone could become a central gaming platform for hardcore gamers the device would still have a battery life issue. The simple truth is you can not sit and play a game on your smart phone for hours upon hours and expect the device to last all day. Considering consumers hire smart phones to be communcation devices, I doubt that the trade off to play games and not be able to communicate becase of a dead device by the afternoon would be worth it. Again it comes back to the role or the job the product is built, designed, then hired to accomplish.

The PS Vita has good battery life considering the large OLED screen and great graphics. In my relatively conservative hour and half to two hour a day gaming sessions with the Vita I could go easily go several days without charging. In fact the bulk of my use with the device came during my recent trip to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress. I had many long plane rides and the Vita never died on me. In fact I only needed to charge it twice the entire trip of 6 days.

This is why there is a role for specific products built for a specific purpose. These devices may not appeal to everyone but they appeal to those who know they need it. I view this similar as a truck. Not everyone needs one but those who do could not work / live without it.

The bottom line is that there are a large group of consumers out there who have no desire to play video games for long lengths of time. Therefore a device like a smart phone will easily cater to those non-core gamers who want play games casually and to kill time. However, for those who are hard core gamers, and they know it, a smart phone will not suffice, and they know it.

You could however make an interesting case that the iPad or an Android tablet paired with a game controller could meet the needs of the core gamer. I could go for that argument but for the time the full ecosystem is not quite there. For example, from a gaming perspective, I am fully vested in both Sony’s and Microsoft’s online gaming systems. I have a core group of friends, games, achievements, etc, all tied to those platforms. The iPad with Game Center is getting there but still lacks the depth of something like XBOX live in my opinion when it comes to catering to the needs of hard care gamers. This shift could happen at some point in time but as for right now I am still convinced that dedicated mobile gaming platforms have a place in the market. Considering Sony announced they have sold well over 1.2 million Vita’s since the launch I’d say consumers agree as well.

Next Column: Why Microsoft Should Make an XBOX Mobile Game Console