Right off the bat, let me point out that I currently own both a 3DS and a Vita, with a healthy bundle of games for the both of them. So, I'm not trying to stir up hate against a handheld that I don't own. Rather, I wanted to take the time to look ahead at the future of the 3DS and the Vita, and why I think one will end up with more developer support compared to the other. I love handhelds, more than I like consoles, in fact, so the reality is that I'd like to see ALL handheld systems flourish. Still, there's a big reason why all my hopes are on the Vita and not the 3DS.
It boils down to one thing:
Nintendo has a track-record of dumping their platforms after a few years. Typically, we get one sidescrolling Mario, one or two 3D Marios, Animal Crossing, one or two Zeldas, a Mario Kart, a Metroid, and then some lesser-loved franchises like Kirby or a Donkey Kong spin-off. That seems like a long list of games, but if you stretch those out across a platform's life-span, it's obvious that other games need to fill in the gaps between releases of big-name Nintendo titles. Now, this is somewhat understandable, because Nintendo only has a limited number of developer teams, but what this amounts to is that after a few years, a Nintendo platform stops getting big Nintendo games. Consequently, if the 3rd-party devs don't pick up the slack, support for the system dies off (like we saw with the Gamecube, the N64, and the Wii). Nintendo handhelds have traditionally done very well with 3rd parties, but the 3DS is currently doing very poorly with 3rd party games, with a couple of notable exceptions. Yes, they're getting Monster Hunter 4, which will be a huge boost in Japan. ATLUS is also giving the 3DS a great deal of love, which will also help in Japan. And while Japan does not equal the world, historically speaking, when a handheld starts to pick up steam in Japan, it is the first step for improving in other regions, too.
Sony's history is a bit different. They've always had a "slow burn" philosophy. The PS1, PS2, PS3, and even the PSP were successful systems, but they weren't successful right away. They took time to get going. But Sony has never failed to make sure that those platforms DID indeed get going. Inverse to Nintendo systems, Sony systems tend to have an...okay game library for the first two years, but then the platform really picks up some momentum and skyrockets. Sure, it can sometimes take a few years before we begin to see a steady stream of quality titles, but the quality does eventually come. God of War 1 and 2 were late-era PS2 titles, as were Persona 3, Persona 4, Okami, MGS3, and Odin Sphere. Believe it or not, the Guitar Hero/Rock Band craze didn't even get started until 2005, and both franchises found a lot of success on the PS2. MGS: Peace Walker, Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, an the two Valkyria Chronicles games were late-era PSP titles. The PS3 is still going, but Ni No Kuni, Beyond: Two Souls, Last of Us, Last Guardian (?), and a bucketful of Nippon Ichi titles will probably be fondly remembered as late-era PS3 gems.
And here's the thing: I hope BOTH handhelds do well in the future. However, I've seen Nintendo's pattern since...well...the days of the NES. I already KNOW what Nintendo is going to do. While I very much enjoy New Super Mario Bros 2, I know that it is likely the last sidescrolling Mario for the system, and that makes me sad. While I very much enjoy Mario Kart 7, I know that it is likely the last Mario Kart game for the system (okay, bad example, since typically there's only one MK per platform). What I'm trying to say is that, while I am eager to play all of the big-name Nintendo titles coming to the 3DS, I'm fearful that there won't be much else to look forward to. It is what has happened on pretty much every Nintendo platform: once you pass the first three or four years, that platform is going to stop getting interesting games. And, goodness! We've already passed Year 2 with the 3DS! Where are the influx of games? Even the DS was picking up more steam by this point in its life. With the Vita, however, it's the opposite. I know games like Killzone are coming out. Okay, cool, I'll probably play it. They've already made Portable Uncharted and Portable LBP. Okay, cool, those games are fun. But what I'm MOST excited about is the fact that there will be plenty of brand-new titles coming to the system. Soul Sacrifice looks like it will be the first big made-for-the-Vita action game. Who knows what else will come down the line? Unlike the 3DS, which feels like its clock is already ticking, I'm eager to see what new titles are coming out for the Vita. And since Sony has already announced Vita/PS4 compatibility, who knows how much longer the Vita will last? The PSP has lasted about 7 years. Will the Vita last even longer? No one expected games on PSP like Patapon, or Cladun, or ZHP, or Valkyria Chronicles II and III, or Dissidia, or two God of War games, or two complete Metal Gear games and two Metal Gear spin-offs. That's the difference between Sony and Nintendo: with Nintendo, I already know what I'm getting, and I know I'm not getting much else. With Sony, I know what I'm getting, but I know there will be plenty of other completely-unexpected titles in the works for years to come.
In this day and age, access to a digital library cannot be underestimated. Here, again, I have to give props to Sony. They've always done a great job of attracting indie developers and smaller titles for their download-only store. Additionally, there are a ton of PS1 and PSP titles available for the Vita. The 3DS is another story. Nintendo hasn't done so well with their Virtual Console, nor have they been able to attract the same number of developers that XBLA and PSN were able to nab. Worse yet, Nintendo has this bizarre habit of withholding their vintage games and slowly releasing them, month by month, year by year. Why not just open the floodgates and release as many as possible? Nintendo believes that it "diminishes the value of the games". Yeah right. As more and more developers pursue the digital-only route, Nintendo's 3DS is going to be left in the dust. Nintendo simply does not carry the same weight with 3rd-party developers that Sony does, especially when you consider all of the relationships Sony has built with devs on the PS3's PSN Store.
Last but not least, the hardware design of the 3DS and the Vita is going to play a role in how these systems fare in the future. System power is one aspect. Yes, the Vita is more powerful. Yes, that means that it is easier to port games to it. But that's a pretty big deal. Let's not forget that a lot of popular games on the DS, the PSP, the 3DS, and the Vita have been ports and remakes (Chrono Trigger, Persona 4, Castlevania Dracula X, MH3 Ultimate, etc). Sony already has the upper-hand here with their Cross-Buy initiative. The other side of the coin is that with more power comes the ability to port not only games, but game engines. This is where devs can save time and money on development, and here again, the Vita has the upper hand. Nintendo also made a mistake betting on glasses-free 3D. There. I said it. We've all been thinking it and saying it for the last 2+ years. 3D was a bomb. It didn't help the 3DS one bit. Now, the Vita isn't a flawless piece of tech, either. Personally, I think the cameras and the rear touch pad are worthless, but that's just me. I'm a "just gimme the games!" sort of guy. However, the Vita wasn't built around these options. The identity of the Vita isn't directly tied to the rear touch pad nor the cameras nor the motion controls. The identity of the 3DS should be obvious: it's right in the handheld's name! Granted, Nintendo hasn't been emphasizing the 3D aspect nearly so much (and that's smart of them), but the hardware, as a result of Nintendo's choice to push glasses-free 3D, is being held back by its fundamental design.
Once again, I'd like to emphasize that I want ALL handhelds to succeed. I do the majority of gaming on handhelds, even though I have a PS3, a Wii, and a gaming PC. I want both the Vita and the 3DS to get a lot of games in the future. But, with that said, I have a hunch that we're already leaving the golden years of the 3DS, while on the other hand, the best is yet to come for the Vita.