Sony has outlined the social features of the PS Vita - Near, Party, LiveArea, and Activity.
Near is "a location-based gifting system"
"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," said Phil Rogers, Sony Europe manager of R&D, to Eurogamer.
Near's gifts don't settle in one place, "unlike another platform" (this is the point where somebody coughs and shouts 3DS) they come with you as you "go about your daily life". There is a 'gift box' of 100kb per game, and boxes can contain multiple gifts.
"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."
Users can specify the rarity and duration of gifts, as well as who can get their hands on them to begin with.
Gifts can be more than virtual tat. "You can gift challenges," said Rogers, detailing a scenario where a user could get rewarded in WipEout 2048 for successful completion. It is even possible to 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. Why you would want to drop a rare ship and give it away for free is something Rogers presumably didn't explain.
There is also the option to write back to your gift sender, where you can tell them how silly they were to drop a rare WipEout 2048 ship which you subsequently picked up.
Party is "really good for having friends together to discuss games, chat about them and get into them", said Rogers.
Party is "platform-wide" and allows up to four people to band together regardless of what they're doing on Vita. "You can chat across games through text and voice," says Rogers.
"Cross-game voice chat," he said triumphantly, adding "it's there and it's on Vita."
"You can have different Party groups for different games or genres," he said. "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 isn't a compulsory addition, and "games can choose not to [include it]".
LiveArea and Activity
"The LiveArea is essentially where you go to launch your PlayStation Vita day," said Rogers.
The three areas in LiveArea are called Index, Live and Game, with a content information zone at the top. You can "comment on people's activities within the game as well as publish your messages," says Rogers.
"Activity is a way for players to discuss progress," said Rogers. "The system automatically puts a few activities in there," he said, mentioning Trophies and ratings. "That encourages people to then comment similar to Facebook style."
LiveArea can be accessed by developers and publishers. "When you ship the game it's got the standard LiveArea that you bake into the game card," said Rogers. With updates "you can even customise it to the user" by selecting data.
Publishers can "push data to users" by placing images on the LiveArea frontpage and announcements beneath the logo.
"It's a good way to push DLC," said Rogers, "so there's new levels out, click, go to the Store."
Rogers warned publishers that "it's important not to spam users too much and to use it sensibly".
Last month VideoGamer.com learned that the PS Vita European launch plans are a mess - it remains unclear if the handheld will launch in Europe this year.