When it comes to confusing handhelds, the PlayStation Vita takes the cake. With a touch screen, touch pad, two cameras, ridiculously small buttons, knobby little thumbsticks and grossly overpriced proprietary memory cards there’s so many design problems with the Vita. YouTuber Greg Miller aptly called the Vita “8 years of PlayStation mistakes in one device.” And while there is an avid core fanbase for the Vita, even they admit it has glaring flaws. When it comes down to it the main reason the Vita flopped was undoubtedly bad design.
I Touch… the Back?
The first thing that trips someone up when they start using a Vita is the massive touchpad on the back. It’s not indicated whatsoever that the back of the Vita is a touchpad, the only way the player will know is if they touch it accidentally and something happens on screen or if a game tells them to use it. The player has an uphill battle towards discovering the touchpad none the less figuring out what it does and how to use it.
Players are used to forward-facing touch screens. From phones to tablets, every time a user has been asked to use touch as a means of interacting with a product it’s been staring at them in the face. So why on earth did the Vita hide it away from the player’s view? It’s unintuitive and often detracts from the player’s experience by accidentally being touched when players hold their Vita. When the natural resting place of the device forces the player to place their fingers on a touchpad you know it’s game over.
Two Cameras Too Many
I’m not sure what the motivation behind including two cameras, one on the back and one on the front, actually was. Cameras aren’t used in traditional gaming and the majority of people who want to take pictures simply use their smartphone which probably has a higher quality camera anyway. By putting multiple cameras on what was pitched as a hardcore gaming device really confuses the player and blurs their understanding of how the device is meant to be used. And let’s not forget all the forced on nonsense PlayStation forced developers to include in their games. Pointing cameras at bright lights, using the camera features to move objects in the game, it all detracted from PlayStation’s message of making the Vita a hardcore gaming device and prohibited the player from easily understanding what the device is for and what it actually does.
There are a bunch of random features of the Vita that reflect it’s poor design and hurt the player’s ability to understand how to use it easily. There is a port on the top of the Vita that has a ridge that looks like you should be able to open it as it’s identical to the port where you insert the game cartridges. It’s sealed shut, however. The designer signified that this is a place the player should be able to interact with however they can’t. That’s bad design, plain and simple.
The Vita also uses proprietary memory cards. Not only are these cards overpriced but they are incredibly small and hard to insert into the system. Players have become accustomed to using SD or microSD cards with their portable electronics. Switching to an unfamiliar method of storage creates an unnecessary learning curve and once again, stops the player from being able to easily use the device.
The Vita is the perfect storm of poor design leading to a confusing device. If they had simply taken into account some simple, basic characteristics of good design they could’ve gone a long way to making the Vita a more intuitive, more successful device. I’ll just have to try and get on the design team for the next one!