Why the Vita Never Had a Chance Against the 3DS
Disclaimer: I own the PlayStation Vita and I think it's a fantastic little machine. Due to the lack of support, I don't play it as often as I'd like, but the potential of this portable beast was never in dispute.
This being said, I knew from the start the Vita had little hope of taking the handheld lead away from Nintendo's 3DS. The latter manufacturer has produced various iterations of their recent portable units - including the very cool 2DS - but multiple variations don't represent the catalyst.
No, I think it's important to look at the bigger picture, and examine what gaming-on-the-go really is. I'm a huge PlayStation fan but from the earliest days of the PSP, I've always thought Sony had incorrectly evaluated the handheld market. Let me explain:
The essence of portable gaming is not the same as console/PC gaming
It just isn't. I'm not saying you can't have highly involving, immensely robust, AAA experiences on portable devices. Granted, that's harder to find as developers have to cram more content into a smaller package, but it can exist. And as technology gets better, we'll see more and more advanced gaming experiences on handheld units. I'm not counting smartphones, by the way; the touch limitation is too severe to expect anything like, you know, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, or something. That simply doesn't work.
The point is this- in the world of gaming, there are different forms of immersion. Sitting in a chair and becoming involved in a meticulously designed fantasy world, be it on the TV or a computer screen, is a very different experience when compared to anything in the handheld universe. In truth, the two experiences can't be the same, for obvious reasons.
Firstly, when you're out and about, you typically have a purpose. You're not just standing in an empty field (at least, not usually). You're traveling somewhere, waiting for something or someone, etc. The bottom line is you didn't leave your house to play a video game. That didn't happen. You left for another reason - or set of reasons - and the entertainment is a fun little addition, but it's not the manifest intent of your leaving the house. Yes, you can play portables in the house, but when your high-end PC or next-gen console is sitting there...why?
Software on portables needs to be different; it needs to stand out in some way
Yes, I'd play the Vita or the 3DS if there was a game on there I wanted to play more than any game I owned for the PS4. But you know what? Because Sony seems so intent on delivering a console-like experience on the Vita, I'm left saying to myself: "Well, I can either play a PS3-quality game on my Vita or I can play a better version of a similar game on the PS4." See, with the 3DS, that software is specifically designed for on-the-go entertainment. There are deeper titles, sure, but I'm much more likely to play a little Mario or something like that.
Well, I can either play a PS3-quality game on my Vita or I can play a better version of a similar game on the PS4.
I'm more likely to play those games on the go, and as they're distinctly different from my next-gen titles, I might even play those Nintendo games at home. That was the problem from the start: Sony kept trying to give you the power of a console in your hands when in fact, that's not what handheld gaming is all about. We don't want a slightly lesser version of Assassin's Creed when we've got the full-fledged experiences at home, and when we're out and about, we don't have the time (nor the inclination) to play hugely in-depth productions that require all of our attention.
Nintendo has had this right from the start. Their stuff makes perfect sense for handheld entertainment. Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the Vita was pretty amazing; no Nintendo portable could manage that. And yet, other than to say, "wow, look what handhelds can do these days," Golden Abyss isn't really what most people want when they're moving about. And if they're home, they almost definitely have something better on their console or PC.
As much as I love the Vita's design and power, it never really had a shot against Nintendo. Sony has always misunderstood the portable market, in my estimation.