For a company that once denied the threat of smartphone gaming, Sony showed a lot of foresight when it announced PlayStation Suite in January 2011.
PlayStation Suite, now known as PlayStation Mobile, was supposed to bring console-quality gaming to “certified” Android smartphones and tablets. Sony understood, or so it seemed, that hooking as many people as possible into its gaming platform was more important in the long run than selling devices.
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In other words, PlayStation Mobile was a hedge against the potential failure of Sony’s latest handheld, the PlayStation Vita. That failure is looking more likely than ever, with sales slumping and no price cuts coming in 2012.
So where is PlayStation Mobile now? Not much further along than it was 20 months ago.
Last week, Sony announced the first batch of games available for the platform — a paltry 16 in total. Some of those games are already available on iOS or Android, and for less money. None of the games have a strong relation to the PlayStation brand. There are no ports of older PlayStation games or adaptations of popular console series.
That’s not to say these 16 launch games aren’t any good, but as a whole they’re indecipherable from the thousands upon thousands of smartphone and tablet games you can already get on any iOS or Android device. There’s no PlayStation Network trophy support, multiplayer or leaderboards, either.
What’s the advantage, then, of having a phone or tablet that supports PlayStation Mobile? There’s only one perk, as far as I can tell: If you purchase a PlayStation Mobile game on your phone or tablet, you can also play it on a PlayStation Vita.
It now seems that I completely misinterpreted the purpose of PlayStation Mobile. It isn’t a way for Sony to expand the PlayStation platform, but rather a way to lure people back to its own hardware.
In fairness, Sony says it’s going to keep adding more content to the platform, but I wonder how quickly that’s going to happen when the only non-Sony smartphones currently supported are HTC’s One S, One V and One X. Asus and Wikipad are planning to offer certified devices, but who knows how long that will take.
From here, it’s easy to see a vicious cycle play out: Device makers don’t rush to get certified because the game catalog doesn’t make for a strong selling point, and game developers avoid the platform because there aren’t enough supported devices to justify the effort.
I’d say that Sony should jump-start the platform by porting some of its classic games over, but the company recently ruled that out for PlayStation One games, at least. It’s unclear if PSP or PlayStation 2 ports are a possibility, though Sony says it has no plans to bring PS2 games to the Vita, so they’re unlikely to appear on PlayStation Mobile either. (This is perhaps the strangest move of all, given that right now I can play a port of Grand Theft Auto III on my iPad and Nexus 7, but not through PlayStation Mobile.)
As it stands, PlayStation Mobile is a platform with little incentive for developers and no big attractions for anyone who doesn’t also own a PlayStation Vita. The sad thing is that it could have been so much more.