The writing has long been on the wall, but Sony is finally ending production of physical PlayStation Vita game cards. The company's American and European branches sent out a notice today informing developers and publishers of the decision. Physical Vita releases have become a rarity in the past few years, with most releases seeing limited runs by specialty publishers.
Originally released in late 2011 (although it didn't make its way to North America until early 2012), the PlayStation Vita was the successor to Sony's PlayStation Portable. The handheld found some success early on due to a strong launch line-up and high-profile exclusives such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss, but Sony's attention quickly shifted solely to the PlayStation 4 after the Xbox One's disappointing launch catapulted Sony to a demanding lead in console sales. While essentially abandoned in terms of first-party development, the Vita managed to find a nice niche for itself by becoming the de facto home for handheld role-playing games and indie titles until the Nintendo Switch launched last year.
According to Sony the Vita card production will end on March 31, 2019, which marks the end of 2018's fiscal year. All companies that wish to have games printed physically will need to submit their requests before June 28 of this year. While this will mark the end of physical games, developers will still be able to release games digitally on the platform if they choose to do so.
While this news is certainly sad to see for passionate PlayStation Vita fans, there's no denying that its niche has been largely filled since the Nintendo Switch released. Recently the bulk of releases have come from small publishers such as Special Reserve Games and Limited Run Games, who produce physical copies of previously released digital titles for collectors. This has proved to be a successful business venture, but most titles only sold a few thousand copies at most due to the limited quantities.
The PlayStation Vita quietly exiting the gaming scene has been inevitable as new releases have slowed to a crawl. Aside from a few indie games, Sony's handheld has rarely had any notable releases besides ports and Japanese titles. It's worth noting that Sony didn't announce that physical Vita game cards in Japan were shutting down, which makes sense as it remains more successful in that market thanks to visual novels and other specialized releases.