Cross-buy is saving the Vita’s reputation
This week Zen Studios released Zen Pinball 2 for PSN, and, just like 2010′s Pinball FX 2 for XBLA, the game is just a shell storefront for collecting and playing the company’s impressive collection of custom virtual pinball tables. Given that Zen had two older pinball apps on PSN – Zen Pinball 1 and Marvel Pinball – there was a quasi-complicated free upgrade path for users to import their previously purchased tables into Zen Pinball 2. And while that’s an awesome feature (and unnecessary… I mean, they totally could have pulled some NEW PLATFORM, BUY AGAIN crap on that), what I want to talk about is the game’s cross-buy between PS3 and PS Vita.
Every table you buy can be played inside Zen Pinball 2 whether you’re on your PS3 or your Vita. For the detail-curious among you: no, there’s not some kind of crazy pinball streaming thing. When you buy a table, you just get two versions of it added to your PSN file download list. Run one download on PS3 and run another on Vita and you’re all set. Local scores are kept on each machine, but your highest of highs is stored on the online servers so your overall ranking is the same no matter where you play. It might seem odd that the two editions bother to maintain separate device scoreboards, but they are two distinct apps… and on the bright side, this means two sets of identical Trophies to chase.
Also: Zen did not inflate the price. The single tables and table bundle packs have the same price this week as they did six months ago, when all we had was the PS3 version.
Isn’t this the way everything should be? A connected family of devices that all access the same content you bought ONCE. Right now, Sony is the only player in tech with both sides of the gamer coin: a handheld device and a big-screen console (that can talk to each other in meaningful ways; sorry, Nintendo, but your Wii and DS systems are barely aware each other exist). The connection is far from perfect. The “Content Manager” app on the Vita is off-puttingly clunky, and unless your game is built for Remote Play, the PS3-streaming-to-your-hand experience is pretty crappy. But buying a game once and having it available whether I’m on my couch or in my office… that’s amazing stuff. The more games that figure this out, the more attractive the Vita becomes. And yes, the Vita needs help. Because, at the price levels currently in place, every day it gets harder and harder to sell people on their product line.
And that’s because of Apple. iPhones and iPads have steadily siphoned all the portable gaming buzz over the last few years, withstanding even major new hardware releases from both Sony and Nintendo.
While Apple has yet to field a big screen iOS device, iPhones and iPads have created an expectation that may have had something to do with Sony’s push towards packaging the PS3 and the Vita as one united front. When you buy anything on the iOS’ App Store, that app is made available to all of your iOS devices that are linked to that Apple ID. Parents can buy one $2.99 game and dump it to all three kids’ iPod Touches.
I’m buying more Zen Pinball tables because I know I’ll now have more opportunities to play them, at home or on the road. I bought Sound Shapes for the same reason: one price included both PS3 and Vita editions of the game. Upcoming AAA games like PlayStation All-Stars will include a free Vita version with the PS3 copy. We’re getting All-Stars on two systems for $60, not $100! And they play together!
Is this extra work for devs? Absolutely, but the value this presents to the consumer is intense. Out of all the Vita announcements from E3 2012 and Gamescom, did anything generate as much buzz as “holy crap, we can buy games once and get them on two systems”? This is just what the Vita needs, and Sony knows it. Nobody else can match it. Yet.
Apple could shift iOS to your television with a new Apple TV, and Nintendo could have big cross-buy-esque plans for the 3DS and Wii U. But Sony is already on the table playing cards. This is one case where Sony managed to get out in front, and they’re doing a great job of presenting this as the massive value proposition that it is. More gaming, more of the time, without spending more money.
Sony will need to keep up the momentum, of course. Both Apple and Nintendo have press conferences scheduled for next week, and either could deliver a knee right to Sony’s gut. Plus, this winter Microsoft will release their SmartGlass app which could provide similar experiences for critical Xbox 360 games. Everybody has a second-screen bullet point to check off!
While there will no doubt be fresh Vita bundles this holiday season, it does not look like Sony is dropping the Vita’s base price anytime soon. The system needs compelling features, and cross-buy is the biggest, particularly for current PS3 owners. And as the aging PS3 drops in price, I could see Sony boxing a PS3 and a Vita together for a serious integrated package akin to Microsoft’s Kinect+console bundles.
When it comes down to it, the console wars are won on value. Sony started this generation unable to convince consumers that the new PlayStation was worth $600, squandering the brand’s years of hard-won success. If they can combine their core gamer reputation with Apple’s buy-once-play-everywhere ecosystem – and nobody else undercuts them on it – Sony would add significant value to their line.