Looking back at my time with the PlayStation Vita, it’s easy to note some stand out features of the system. The gorgeous OLED display, the bold decision to include a 3G model, and I’d be remiss to not comment on the horsepower of the system for the time, and it’s form factor. While it’s direct competition, the Nintendo 3DS enjoyed almost none of these features; it did excel over the Vita in one, arbitrary but fun, way. Social functionality.
Everyone with a 3DS adored StreetPass and many wish that its successor, the Nintendo Switch, had the same functionality. Unfortunately, Sony’s effort at proximity-based social feature, dubbed Near, was a complete and utter failure. Near wasn’t a success in the eyes of many, including its creators. However, it did have some standout applications, and I’d like to dive into some today.
Near was a GPS based social platform that allowed gamers to find and interact with other Vita owners. The application came pre-installed on every Vita and was able to be used right out of the gate after launch day. Most of the social functionality didn’t see implementation until about a week or so after launch, but the application was still accessible. The 3G model of the PS Vita was best suited for Near users, as it allowed their location to update dynamically at any time, regardless of wifi connectivity.
While I compared it to the 3DS’s StreetPass functions earlier, it is worth noting that Near was not a clone. There was no system to system communication for Near; it was purely location-based. It would be possible to miss out on many “Out and About” opportunities if you did not have wireless connectivity at all times. Near also lacked any minigames within the application; it was strictly a social platform.
Diving into some of the functionalities specifically located within the app, it’s easy to see why this lacked the approval of gamers and developers alike. If you did use Near, you spent most of your time under the “Out and About” section. The moment you opened Out and About, you saw the most up to date information of gamers in your area. The Home screen was like a primitive news feed, containing different trends and “charts” to highlight games that people near you were playing. The “Out and About Radar” was the meat of Near. Here you could tap on players’ icons and see their top three games. As you met players, you “collected” their games. It also alerted you if you “found” a game that you hadn’t encountered before, allowing you to have quick access to see who was playing and also links to the website and PS store for that specific game.
Near also contained “Discoveries,” which were by in large the most significant factor about using the service. If developers opted in, they could allow players to share exclusive DLC between each other using Near. While it was somewhat lacking, the premise had weight and could have become far better if they explored it further. It’s unclear which games exactly shared these “Game Goods.” From from my recollection, it was primarily a push from first-party games, with support from third parties in the beginning, but support from them dropped quickly.
Many of Near’s functions took a hit in 2015 when Sony decided to pull Vita’s mapping software with a system update. This decision crippled the service for two years until they decided to pull the plug for Near entirely in 2017. Although it’s been two years since the official death of Near, you can still access the application on a fully up-to-date Vita, and even attempt to collect location data. Once the data is collected, you see a prompt stating the service ended.
My experiences with this application were favorable overall. I quite enjoyed going into different games and using various emoticons to showcase my feelings on each title. I never made any friends on the PSN using the service, but I did become slightly familiar with other Near users in my area. The support and the death of Near pretty much falls in line with Sony’s entire mentality surrounding its final handheld. In an alternate universe, I can imagine all of us using our PS Vita 2s to socialize and communicate, maybe even integrating some Miiverse-esque aspects into the system. It’s perplexing that Near remains on the console today, considering the removal of the other pulled applications.
If you’d like to see more information about Near, the official online manual for it still exists, along with some official promotional material. I was inspired to write this article on a whim. I fired up my Vita for the first time in a long while and wondered what happened to Near. Other than the official communications from PlayStation, information regarding the service is extremely limited online. IGN has a single video on the topic. The video was released before Near officially went live in the US, so many features did not receive attention. I’ll leave the links down below for your clicking pleasure.