Sony PlayStation Vita online and social features detailed

Sony's yet-to-be-released uber powerful foray into the handheld market has had its online and social networking features detailed. 

The PlayStation Vita is set to launch with four distinct modes: LiveArea, Activity, Near and Party, all of which will (in theory) bring plenty to the handheld experience. 

First up is Near, bearing a striking similarity to the 3DS's spot pass function. Sony Europe's research and development manager Phil Rogers explained to Eurogamer at the 2011 Developer Conference exactly how the service will work: 

"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."

Gifts can be up to 100kb in size and if users' paths are to cross at any point during the day they will pick up gifts left behind, these digital presents will then materialize in game. Parameters can also be set on the gifts you create, controlling things like availability, access and probability of discovery. Take Wipeout as an example, you could gift a challenge or drop a ship for someone else to pick up. 

Party is the PS Vita's take on Xbox Live, bringing in friends and cross game chat. Games can be launched and joined instantaneously from within Party, allowing easy hop in and out online gaming. 

LiveArea is like the homepage built into each game. It acts as a hub where you can find out information, communicate and comment on others' actions. Activity is more like a trophy and progress tracker for friends.

LiveArea will be highly adaptable, allowing publishers to push out information and tweaks to the front page. "It's a good way to push DLC," explained Rogers.

Right now without giving the new Vita functions a hands-on it is impossible to understand exactly what these new services will bring to the console. As with any network-based technology, things are usually slow at launch but become enriched by the number of people using it. If location services like Near really take off it could be a whole new way to play games on a portable, and a serious selling point for the Vita over smartphones. 

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