20/09/2011 12:10 BST | Updated 20/11/2011 05:12 GMT

PlayStation Vita's PAYG Data Model Shows Smart Way Forward For Mobile Gaming

Sony's confirmation of a date for PlayStation Vita - its next generation take on hugely successful gaming handheld PSP - may have been the flashy headline from the firm's Tokyo Game Show keynote this morning, but it wasn't the most important.

Vita, a powerful device easily capable of delivering PlayStation 3-level graphics, will release on December 17 in Japan in two versions ahead of a western launch next year.

You'll be able to buy either a unit with both 3G and WiFi connectivity, or one with no mobile connection. More interesting than the date itself, however, is how Vita's remote connection will work.

Sony surprised the gaming world today by confirming a pre-paid system for Vita's 3G component with partner NTT Docomo in Japan, by which gamers will pay for time up-front for both games and any of Vita's wide array of social networking applications.

Data pricing was also confirmed. It's to cost ¥980 (£8/€9.30/$12.70) for a 20-hour pre-paid card, and ¥4,980 (£41.10/€47.50/$64.70) for 100 hours pre-paid.

The ramifications of the move are huge. Up to this point, dedicated handheld games devices have been either WiFi-only or mobile phones and tablets, tied into data contracts with traditional carriers.

Pre-paid iPad data is available, but you pay by the megabyte - and there's not much chance of fitting an iPad into your pocket.

But Sony has skirted the default method of data delivery, allowing for anyone to play online, anywhere, with no expensive data contract.

The social networks instantly fired up as to whether the system will be replicated in the West, but given Vita is an intrinsically online device it seems likely that Sony will adopt the same model in the US and Europe.

The big question now is who will win the local 3G contracts.

This pre-paid system will directly pressure mobile phone companies in the games space. As Sony and Nintendo moved into the next generation with their mobile games offerings this year, there appeared to be a deadlock between the old schoolers and the new kings of handheld games, Apple and Google, with the phone-makers storming apparently unchecked into the world of mobile gaming thanks to their ubiquity.

Now, though, people have Vita for their pockets. Yes, Vita will provide a very high-end mobile gaming experience - technically superior to that of an iPhone or HTC handset, with physical buttons and joysticks - but it will also give users something that Apple never can: pay as you go online mobile games based on time.

And no: iPad doesn't fit in your pocket.

Sony demonstrated brains today. Nintendo has made some shocking errors with its latest handheld games system, 3DS, and probably the worst of them is a failure to understand the modern handheld landscape's insistence on connectivity.

There is no 3G version of 3DS; it was a puzzle Nintendo couldn't solve.

Many had sneered at Vita, too, saying it was impossible for it to compete with always-on iPhone and Android systems and their dollar games, but we are now looking at a device that can deliver a dedicated, top-drawer gaming experience; can fit in your pocket; can support online play anywhere via 3G; and doesn't need to be tied to a contract.

It's unique, and it has its place in the hideously competitive world of modern mobile games thanks, in part, to offering easy 3G access to all. Vita's success isn't assured, but that Sony has managed to steer the console into a position where it has the best chance is to be lauded.

PlayStation Vita will launch in Japan on December 1, priced ¥29,980 (£248/€286/$390) for the 3G version and ¥24,980 (£206/€239/$325) for the WiFi-only machine. It's to release in Europe and the US early next year.