Why Are Developers Still Making PS Vita Games in 2018

By 2 Old 4 Gaming

A year ago, I did a video for my YouTube channel 2 Old 4 Gaming discussing why developers are still releasing games on the Vita. I spoke to various developers of Vita games and asked them their reasons for continuing to support the Vita. 2017 turned out to be a great year for the Vita and I didn’t expect we’d see that continue into 2018 but so far 2018 has had some excellent Vita releases like Deadbolt, Iconoclasts, The Longest 5 Minutes, Reverie and more. Nearly 50 games have been released for the Vita up to June 2018 which is pretty good for a system that many people have called “dead.” I decided to follow up on that video and talk to some developers and publishers of recent and upcoming Vita games and ask for their thoughts on developing for the Vita.

“We already ported Neurovoider to the PS4, so it was a matter of a couple hours to get the game up and running on Vita.”
Thomas Altenburger from Flying Oak Games

One of the big reasons for bringing games to the Vita was the ease of development. Sony is often and justifiably criticised for their handling and support for the Vita but at least they did create a device easy to develop for. Thomas Altenburger from Flying Oak Games, developer of Neurovoider, said “We already ported Neurovoider to the PS4, so it was a matter of a couple hours to get the game up and running on Vita.” He also said that Neurovoider on Vita “has barely any compromise, it runs at 60FPS.”

Mike Daw, from Infinite State Games, developers of Rogue Aces and Don’t Die Mr. Robot, said that their “home-made engine could build for PS4, Switch and Vita” and that the Vita “became the primary development platform – it’s more than powerful enough to be the baseline build for current gen consoles, and we can put in more particles and HD art for the big screen versions.”

Rainbow Skies PS Vita
Rainbow Skies from Eastasiasoft

I spoke to Nils Ngai from Eastasiasoft about their reasons for publishing games on the Vita. He said: “we love the Vita at Eastasiasoft. We invested a lot of time and money into getting our own IPs (Rainbow Moon, Söldner-X 2 and now Rainbow Skies) ported to the Vita.” Regarding their upcoming game Rainbow Skies, he said “Rainbow Skies runs on a custom engine, which currently only supports PlayStation systems… Our engine is extremely well optimized, so we are very happy that Rainbow Skies runs at full 60fps and native Vita resolution. Also Rainbow Moon and Söldner-X 2 run extremely well on the system. We had to go through hell and back to achieve this, but we feel very proud of the result. We faced a bit of difficulties scaling down the size of Rainbow Skies so it could fit on a 4GB Vita Card, but at the end we managed to get it done without any compromises or quality loss.”

“It really isn’t too different from developing on any other platform. Since we planned on developing for the Vita from the start, nothing was compromised.”
Jared from Rainbite

When asked how it is to develop a game for the Vita and whether compromises had to be made, Jared from Rainbite, developers of the recently released Reverie, said “It really isn’t too different from developing on any other platform. Since we planned on developing for the Vita from the start, nothing was compromised. None of the game content needed to be changed to make it work on Vita.” I asked Miguel Sternberg from Spooky Squid, developer of the upcoming Russian Subway Dogs how he compares developing on the Vita vs PS4. He said: “Using Game Maker Studio, it’s essentially identical. Both games are running from the same code base with very little custom code for each platform… Because it’s a 2D game with simple controls it lends itself really well to the Vita. It has helped that we knew we’d be releasing on Vita early on so we could target it’s specific resolution for all the pixel art. That’s something that’s really important for pixel art games with a fixed screen size. Because we planned ahead for that the game will look super crisp on Vita.”

I spoke to Slawa Deisling from Behind the Stone, developers of Sir Eatsalot. Behind the Stone were originally planning to make the game for IOS. After some time they decided they weren’t too happy with the game and decided to switch to developing Sir Eatsalot for Vita. Regarding developing on Vita, I was told: “It was pretty straight forward and simple, to be honest. When we switched from iOS to the Vita it was also kind of a relief, since we only had one hardware as a target and had not to worry about covering the whole iOS-family.”

Sir Eatsalot PS Vita
Sir Eatsalot from Behind The Stone

I spoke to Fabrice Breton from Cowcat games, developer of Demetrios and publisher of Xenon Valkyrie + and the upcoming game Riddled Corpses EX. His first Vita game, Demetrios did not achieve the Kickstarter stretch goal to develop for consoles, but with the help of the Vita community he got in touch with Shahid Ahmad from Sony and got hold of a dev kit. He said that although the Vita is far less powerful than the PS4, “it’s always possible to run 2D games.” When asked whether the Vita versions of his games had compromises, he said “Not much, the 3 games I’ve ported ended up being the same on all platforms.” The only exception was that Riddled Corpses doesn’t have the two player coop.

“Vita is still one of the best selling platform for both of my games.”
Fabrice Breton from Cowcat Games

Ease of development helps but a big factor is money of course, so I asked the respondents how well the Vita versions of their games performed in terms of sales. Thomas from Flying Oak said: “Based on all the stories that we had heard about the console, we were not expecting a thing (in terms of sales). We made the port exclusively because we could and because we felt like the fans deserved it. Ultimately those stories were proven wrong because the game did ok on the Vita (more than on Xbox).” So far, Neurovoider has sold half as much on Vita compared to PS4 despite being released later and with a fifth of the instal base. When asking Fabrice if the sales on Vita justified the effort to bring them to the system, his response was that “Vita is still one of the best selling platform for both of my games so it was justified!”

Nils’ response was that Eastasiasoft has “a very vocal Vita following, which we really appreciate. Rainbow Moon did very well on Vita. Söldner-X 2 underperformed digitally, but we overall sold about 8000 physical copies, which we are very happy about. Hopefully Rainbow Skies will also do well once it’s out.” He also said that “when it comes to our licensed games, there’s usually a slightly higher demand on Vita than on PS4.”

Reverie PS Vita
Reverie from Rainbite

Reverie was released on Vita in April this year to positive reviews. When asking Jared about sales of Reverie he said: “We are happy with the sales numbers we have so far. Obviously they could always be better and we hope by porting to other consoles and getting more people to talk about it that will help increase sales… We also haven’t released in the Asian regions yet which could definitely do well for us.”

Slawa had a more tempered response for sales of Sir Eatsalot: “We can’t expect to hit the jackpot. Neither can we expect to be able to get enough money to keep going. It’s just not realistic with the Vita as platform, that’s a sad truth. It means we had to go for low expectations, which was basically: “Every single sale makes us happy”. So far there have been a bunch of sales, which made us happy, but it still would be great if there were more, since we’d like to keep going and create games.”

Part of the reason for decent sales of Vita games is discoverability. In an interview with Glixel last year, Luc Bernard, from Arcade Distillery, stated that “even if you just release an indie game on PS4 or Xbox, you get drowned by other stuff.” This year alone indie games have had to compete with God of War, Far Cry 5, Ni No Kuni 2 and many other big name games. Its not uncommon for the PS4 or Switch to have more than 10 games released in a week. Getting noticed when there are so many other releases is difficult for smaller release, but on Vita it’s easier for indie devs to shine.

Neurovoider PS Vita
Neurovoider from Flying Oak Games

Vita fans are known for being passionate. The supportive Vita community has helped devs in getting more attention for their games and every dev I spoke to had nothing but positive things to say about the community. Thomas from Flying Oak thought that “the community has built itself a unique identity and it really helps the system to still have a nice momentum. It’s nice to see that fans alone can make a system to work.” While Fabrice from Cowcat said that the “Vita community is great and easy to talk to.”

Jared from Rainbite commented: “They (the Vita community) really love the Vita a lot and want the games that go there to be the best that they can be. We hope we delivered on that front.”

“VitaIsland is probably the best place to live in. We’ve never seen a community so passionate, friendly and jolly about a platform.”
Slawa Deisling from Behind the Stone

Mike from Infinite State Games stated: “The Vita fans are by far the most passionate about the system, and are also understanding and supporting of developers. They know when to cheer on and they know when to not hassle you. They’re awesome.”

Miguel from Spooky Squid said of interacting with Vita fans: “It’s been really great! Especially meeting fans in person at PSX and PAX East where they had a chance to get some hands on time with the Vita version. Given the hardware is at the end of its life cycle, that positive feedback and energy from Vita fans is a big part of why we’re continuing to develop for the platform.”

Slawa from Behin the Stone agreed with the above and added: “VitaIsland is probably the best place to live in. We’ve never seen a community so passionate, friendly and jolly about a platform. It’s not dumb fanboyism, but a real celebration of joy for this handheld. This very community was probably the most important reason for us to keep going.”

Riddled Corpses EX PS Vita
Riddled Corpses EX from Cowcat Games

In terms of the future of Vita and whether its still a viable platform for devs to release games, Fabrice said: “From a financial side it is viable, but it’s becoming more complex. GameMaker Studio 1.4 is reaching end of support in July so it means we won’t get any more support if new problems arise. I think they’ve already stopped sending the Vita export module. Fortunately, Sony does not seem to release any more SDK updates so the ones who already have the export module can still make games for it. But end of support is the biggest concern now.”

“It is definitely viable as one of many platforms to have your game on, but it is risky to expect to make your money back if you are making it exclusively for the Vita.”
Jared from Rainbite

While the responses were all positive on releasing games on the Vita, there was an important caveat to that, as Jared summed up: “It is definitely viable as one of many platforms to have your game on, but it is risky to expect to make your money back if you are making it exclusively for the Vita.” This was echoed by Slawa, who said “I wouldn’t advise other devs to make a Vita exclusive title, but if you can port your game to the Vita with not too much hassle I’d say go for it. It’s a niche market, but it has a dedicated community. But one should do it now, because it’s probably only a matter of time since that niche will be swallowed by the Nintendo Switch.”

This was echoed by Miguel Sternberg, who said: “As a Vita fan who wants to keep enjoying new games on the platform I’d encourage other developers to do it! As a developer aware of the hard decisions you often need to make, I’d say they should only consider it if they have an easy way to port without much cost or hassle.

Commercially, the Vita is definitely at the end of its viability and has been for a while. If you’re going to release something on it, it can’t be exclusive to the platform and needs to be relatively cheap to port if it’s not going to lose money. In our case we’re releasing for Vita more out of a love of the platform then out of any expectation of wild financial success. Truth is I just want to be able to play Russian Subway Dogs on my Vita years from now when I’m on the road.”

Russian Subway Dogs PS Vita
Russian Subway Dogs from Spooky Squid

So to sum up, the Vita is easy to develop for and sales of Vita games do well enough to justify the development time and cost, but something else came out from the developers and publishers I contacted – their love of the vita. Nils Ngai, from Eastasiasoft said: “when it comes to my personal collection, it’s also my preferred system. I love to collect games for cartridge-based systems and in my book the Vita is the perfect handheld. Great size, beautiful screen and lots of interesting games. There’s a lot less shovelware on Vita compared to other systems when you look at the Vita’s library of physical releases and many games are still very affordable.”

“We will publish Vita games as long as Sony supports the system. In terms of our physical lineup, we aim to release an average of one Vita game per month in 2018.”
Nils Ngai from Eastasiasoft

While the responses have been positive on their experiences of developing for Vita, compared to last year, the devs are not as certain about releasing future games on Vita. Given the time it takes to develop and launch a new game, each dev confirmed they would be happy to launch future games on the system assuming they wouldn’t be difficult to port. There was some apprehension as to whether the Vita will still be a viable platform a few years from now. Nils from Eastasiasoft did say: “We will publish Vita games as long as Sony supports the system. In terms of our physical lineup, we aim to release an average of one Vita game per month in 2018. We have recently signed a few very interesting titles, which we can’t wait to announce.” Mike, from Infinite State Games, was unequivocal of his support for the Vita: “We’ll certainly continue to support the Vita until we’re not allowed to put games on the store any more.”

“We’ll certainly continue to support the Vita until we’re not allowed to put games on the store any more.”
Mike from Infinite State Games

I’d like to thank the devs and publishers that provided their responses. Its always interesting to hear directly from devs what they think of the Vita and while the number of games being released for the Vita has slowed down compared to a couple of years ago, us Vita fans still have a lot to look forward to.

Check out the  “Why are devs still making PS Vita Games in 2018” Video:

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