Sony's PlayStation group will no longer compete with Nintendo over handheld game consoles

PlayStation Vita announcement, 2011AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye

  • Sony's PlayStation group has a major hit on its hands with the PlayStation 4. It's the most popular game console in the world by a long shot.
  • On the flipside, Sony's handheld gaming console - the PlayStation Vita - has faded into history.
  • The end of Vita production in 2019 will mark Sony's exit from the portable gaming market.
  • As of 2019, the only gaming company making dedicated portable gaming consoles will be Nintendo.

Sony's PlayStation group is laser-focused on the PlayStation 4, and with good reason - it's the most popular game console in the world.

It's so popular, in fact, that you probably forgot about the PlayStation Vita.

That's the other console that Sony makes. It's a dedicated portable game console that's able to power beautiful, near-console quality games. You can even stream PlayStation 4 games on it! And it's about to reach its end of life.

"In Japan, we will manufacture PlayStation Vita until 2019. From there, shipping will end," Sony Interactive Entertainment senior vice president Hiroyuki Oda told Japanese video game magazine Famitsu. Moreover, Sony apparently has no plans to replace the Vita with something newer.

"Currently, we do not have any plans regarding a new handheld device," Oda told Famitsu. Sony has yet to officially announce its exit from the portable gaming market, and reps didn't respond to request for comment as of publishing.

If that is indeed the case, which it appears to be, that's a pretty big deal: It means Nintendo is the only company left making handheld game consoles.

Nintendo SwitchNintendo

Sony's been the only competition for Nintendo's handheld consoles for the past 15 years.

Starting in late 2004 with the launch of the PlayStation Portable handheld, Sony offered a high-tech counterargument to Nintendo's low-tech, family-friendly Nintendo DS handheld.

The PSP launched with games from major PlayStation franchises like "Twisted Metal" and "Ridge Racer,"and featured gorgeous graphics. Its massive, colorful screen was a revelation in the years before smartphones were ubiquitous. But the PSP's high price, disc-based media format (so-called "universal media discs" or UMD), and expensive games kept the console from competing with Nintendo's DS - and a subsequent lack of new games on the PSP relegated it to second place permanently.

The PlayStation Vita continued that tradition when it launched in 2011.

Major Sony franchises like "Uncharted," "Wipeout," and "Hot Shots" all got entries on the Vita. Visuals were similarly impressive - far better than Nintendo's 3DS competitor - but high prices for the console and its games limited the Vita's appeal. It didn't help that Nintendo had Pokémon on its 3DS.

But it was indie games that really highlighted the brilliance of the Vita: Games like "Hotline Miami," "Spelunky," and "The Binding of Isaac" were perfect for Sony's handheld.

They were easy to pick up and play on-the-go - a crucial function of portable games, as any smartphone gamer can attest. "Uncharted" offered a graphical showcase of the Vita's power, but felt like a console game shoehorned into a portable; games like "Don't Starve" felt natural on the Vita specifically because they weren't trying to deliver a blockbuster experience.

nintendo 3dsKiyoshi Ota

After nearly two decades of trying to crack the handheld gaming market, it looks like Sony is finally giving in to Nintendo.

After all, with the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo created a brand new market where a home game console is also a portable game console. It's a shrewd move in a world where nearly everyone has a killer game console in their pocket, and it's a leap that Sony never made.

But with the PlayStation 4 firmly on top, Sony's incentive to compete with both Nintendo and the ubiquity of smartphones for a spot in the fickle world of portable gaming is nonexistent.

It's no surprise that Sony appears to be throwing in the towel.

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