Note: this article has been moved and is now outdated. Please see the Asynchronous Gaming Wiki for the latest version.
No handheld has been as tightly connected to the internet and online play as the PlayStation Vita aims to be. It comes in two versions, a WiFi version and a 3G version that adds 3G and GPS support to the WiFi model for $50 more. It goes without saying that games will need to support the WiFi edition fully to avoid penalizing gamers unwilling or unable to shell out for a separate, capped 3G data plan from AT&T in the US.
Since I've used only the WiFi version of the system, I am getting a clear view of how well asynchronous gaming -- when online and when away from a WiFi access point -- are supported by the system and its games. I'll be publishing "asychronous profile" posts on games as I try them out to see how games fit into asynchronous online gaming and support what the Vita system itself offers in this vein.
How does the PS Vita support asynchronous gaming?
Trophy support on the system works nearly identically to how it works on the PlayStation 3. Games can earn Trophies when played online (connected) or off (disconnected), and the app will prompt you to sync when it opens, triggering a connection via WiFi (unless you have the 3G model) to bring the server up to date and bring down information on any PS3 Trophies you have acquired if you have that system as well. The Vita app for Trophies lets you view both PS3 and Vita trophies, and marks each title as being a Vita or PS3 title to avoid confusion, but the PS3 Trophy app doesn't show Vita games or Trophies earned. Your Trophy level and percentage, however, is shown the same on both systems. Trophies earned on the Vita are added to the same level and percentage as Trophies earned on the PS3.
Unlike on the PS3, every Vita game is not required to have Trophy support. The augmented reality titles that shipped as free downloads with the system don't offer them, for example.
One slightly more complex feature of Vita is the Near feature. This app will attempt to determine your location (via GPS on the 3G model or via an access point or IP address location database of some kind on the WiFi only version), will upload it to the Near servers, and then allow you to see some location-based leaderboards. These leaderboards can show their PSN name, what they have been playing, and how they may have rated some of their apps or games. The system shows these individuals and leaderboards covering a roughly 10 mile radius.
Privacy settings for the Near feature include the ability to control whether your location will be shared or what games or apps will be shared or hidden. The system also includes an option to hide your activity when you are in a specific location.
Near support appears to be required. Every app and game appears on Near (if you allow that kind of sharing), whether it has Trophies or Game Goods or not.
In addition to the Near leaderboards and data on individual PSN gamers that are location based, games that support unlockable Game Goods will automatically upload them to players on your PSN Friends List or who are nearby. Game Goods are typically non-critical unlockable items that enhance the recipient's game in some way. They are typically not revealed to the gamer that will be sending them to their Friends List and/or nearby gamers. The gamer's friends simply reap the reward of that person playing that game -- if they have that game as well, that is.
The Game Good system works similar to the Near leaderboards as a kind of network effect, telling your friends and nearby gamers that you're playing a given game and they should really try it. Reinforcing this idea is the fact that Game Good unlockables expire differently based on whether you have the game launcher installed on your Vita (which would prompt you to either insert the game card or launch a digital version from internal storage). If a game has a launcher, implying you own it already, you have 3 days to redeem it by tapping on it and letting it install. If a game isn't known to your Vita, you have 14 days to redeem it, ostensibly giving you time to buy the game.
Game Good support is not required by Sony. There are titles that don't use or distribute them at all.
Each application or game on the Vita has a LiveArea. It resembles a web page of sorts that appears when you first tap an icon to launch something. To actually launch the application you need to tap the center of the LiveArea. The LiveArea is used to introduce the application and includes icons to update the application, launch the browser to go to an official website for the application or game, and other buttons to link to DLC in the Store, for example. The LiveArea can be scrolled up to reveal game-specific messages from you and those on your Friends list. Games can publish to the LiveArea automatically, or the player can choose to publish to the LiveArea.
Many games don't use the LiveArea at all, while others broadcast to it frequently. Dungeon Hunter Alliance, for example, posts to the LiveArea when you acquire new equipment or weaponry. Treasures of Montezuma Blitz will post to the LiveArea when the player earns a Reward in-game, and allows the player to post their score on a given game to the LiveArea using a Share button.
Other than the broad-brush Trophy system as a leaderboard, individual games do have their own leaderboards and scoreboards, but implementation is left to developers on how to work online and offline. The initial crop of launch titles on the system have already exposed differences in how developers have chosen to approach their leaderboards.
We'll see more information about this in future asychronous profile posts on specific games.
Image source: the PS Vita 3G System and Wi-Fi System page.