Sony has revealed more information on PlayStation Vita's online modes Near, Party, LiveArea and Activity.
Near is like the Nintendo 3DS' SpotPass. It's "a location-based gifting system", according to Sony Europe manager of R&D, Phil Rogers.
"What Near does is it allows users to discover each other, leave gifts for each other and essentially find out more about games. You can see where people are in relation to your location, their five most recently played games and also gifts that they've registered. This is fairly cool because it exposes users to games they might not have heard of and you can see how popular those games are and how people are rating them," explained Rogers at the Develop Conference 2011.
Near's gifts don't settle in one place, "unlike another platform" - they follow you around as you "go about your daily life". Near allows one 100KB gift box per game. Boxes can contain multiple gifts but can't exceed the 100KB binary data size limit.
Rogers painted a verbal picture: "Imagine user A visits locations one to ten through that day, and they get home and sync with the server and it uploads to the Near server your ten locations that you've been to.
"User B comes along, does the same thing, but at some point in User B's day they passed User A's location five, which means they're now able to collect gifts that that user's dropped. That comes into the Near application and then in-game they pick up those gifts."
You can specify how many times a gift is picked up, how available it is from your daily locations in terms of relative distance, how long a gift lasts for, who can access the gift and the probability of finding it. A rare item might only be discovered by one in 100 people.
"You could have a rare ship and you could drop that and someone could collect that by using Near."
Phil Rogers, manager, Sony Europe R&D
Gifts can be more than simple items. "You can gift challenges," said Rogers, who used the example of a gift that challenges someone in WipEout, offering possible rewards if successful. You can even gift in-game items: "You could have a rare ship and you could drop that and someone could collect that by using Near," revealed Rogers.
Rogers said there will be functionality to write to a gift-giver and say thank you.
Party is "really good for having friends together to discuss games, chat about them and get into them", Rogers declared.
As on Xbox Live, Party is "platform-wide" and allows you and three friends to form a party that sticks together regardless of what you do on Vita. "You can chat across games through text and voice," explained Rogers.
"Cross-game voice chat," he reiterated, "it's there and it's on Vita."
You can also launch Vita games from within Party and your friends there can click a button and quickly join you.
"You can have different Party groups for different games or genres," expanded Rogers. "Maybe you've got a first-person shooter group that you can all chat and go into.
"The voice chat part you can override," he added, "so if in-game you've got your own teams for audio then you can override the Party chat and turn that off."
Party is integrated with friends lists but isn't compulsory for all games to include. "Games can choose not to," said Rogers.
LiveArea and Activity: "The LiveArea is essentially where you go to launch your PlayStation Vita day," Rogers beamed.
There are three modes in LiveArea: Index, Live and Game. The top area you'll see is the content information zone, which is the "landing point for when you start any game on PS Vita". The communication zone is where you "comment on people's activities within the game as well as publish your messages".
"Activity is a way for players to discuss progress," explained Rogers. "The system automatically puts a few activities in there," he added, such as Trophies and ratings. "That encourages people to then comment similar to Facebook style."
"Publishers: it's important not to spam users too much and to use it sensibly."
LiveArea can be updated by developers and publishers. "When you ship the game it's got the standard LiveArea that you bake into the game card," said Rogers. But through updates "you can even customise it to the user" by pushing out different data.
Publishers can also "push data to users" by putting images on the LiveArea frontpage as well as announcements on the bottom part of the logo. "It's a good way to push DLC," said Rogers. "So there's new levels out, click, go to the Store." It's also a good way to push news about the game. But Rogers offered a word of warning to publishers that "it's important not to spam users too much and to use it sensibly".
LiveArea also has location features and allows pubs/devs to track Vita owners "either by GPS on the 3G model or triangulation of mobile phone cells".
"As well as that we work with Skyhook and they provide wireless access points around to keep a general idea of where you are," elaborated Rogers. "So even with the Wi-Fi-only SKU you can still have a vague concept of where the user is."
Exactly how developers will use all these different features, Sony doesn't appear to know. "We're generally open to innovation," admitted Rogers.