SCEA’s Chris Norden confirmed today that all PS Vita games released at retail will also be available as downloads on the PlayStation Network on the same release date. Also, flexible online-centric business models including free-to-play will be supported, and all of these features will launch with the system.PSN is supported “right out of the box at launch,” Norden explained at the GDC Online games development conference in Austin, TX. The system of providing digital downloads has been simplified for both developers and users. For users, the PSN Store on Vita looks much like the one on the PlayStation 3 and shares common login credentials. For developers, games can be provided to Sony in a single file for release across formats, retail, and digital alike. This is an improvement over the existing system in place on the PS3 and PSP.This makes it possible to “just leave everything on the Vita,” meaning that the device itself will be fully functional provided simple network connectivity is available.Norden also explained that the free-to-play business model will be supported out of the box. This means that Sony will be allowing free downloads of fully-functioning games to players while developers can expect microtransactions for additional items or content to drive the game’s profits. Norden also conceded that within reason, and pending approval from Sony, any business model is acceptable.The Sony engineer also chimed in on the minor Internet controversy about the Vita’s hardware power. Some have expressed disappointment at not running at 1.5 GHz clock speeds, as some modern mobile devices do. Norden dismissed those complaints, saying that the devices in question don’t constantly run at that speed and that the Vita is subject to the same heat constraints as the others. All modern processors, he continued, change clock speed “at sub-second intervals” to balance performance and heat requirements.Lastly, Norden explained that the Vita’s Party functionality will work like that of Xbox Live, where voice and/or text chat between friends will work across games. “We know everybody wants it,” he remarked.The PS Vita is expected to launch in the US in February 2012.Read more at GamasutraBlake’s OpinionWhile there has been much fear over the fate of the PS Vita following the less-than-stellar launch of Nintendo’s rival 3DS handheld, I think there’s reason for optimism for the Vita given how Sony is handling the hardware launch. Three reasons may turn skeptics into believers:1. Sony has learned from the online mistakes of the PS3. From the stuff easily copied from Xbox Live (Party, voice chat, a well-curated store) to the real innovations on the platform (universal digital releases, cloud support), the PlayStation Network of the future looks to be a more solid product than in the past. Smartphones have taught us that a good online platform is critical to a modern mobile device.2. Allowing different business plans is forward-thinking. The mobile apps world moves incredibly fast. It only took about a year from the App Store’s creation until the free-to-play model came to dominate the Store. It’s currently revolutionizing PC gaming, as business cases show over and over again when MMOs change business models. It’s not too much of a stretch to argue that it will affect console and handheld gaming very soon. Compared to Microsoft, which appears to be stodgy about changing its pricing practices for its Xbox Live business, Sony is taking a step forward by acknowledging that it can’t curate pricing.3. Sony designs hardware for the long term. The PlayStation 2 and PS3 both aged very well. While the hardware was commonly called “too much” or “too powerful for developers to actually use” at launch, several years later the systems have sustained sales when other platforms started to lag. Among features that launched with the original PS3 and were only added to revised Xbox 360s were HDMI, 1080p visuals, wireless networking, and high-definition movie discs – all features that are very relevant here in 2011.