PlayStation, Mobile?

Yesterday, as previously announced and completely separate to the usual PS Store update, Sony’s new games-and-app service PlayStation Mobile rolled out onto a select number of PlayStation Certified mobile devices, and, more importantly perhaps, the PlayStation Vita.

It is certainly a step in the right direction on Sony’s part, but in my opinion, in the world of iOS and Android devices aplenty, it may well be too small a step to really garner the attention it requires or influence Sony’s intended market.

Now, there’s no denying that the launch, albeit rather subdued on the part of pre-launch hype or marketing, has already thrown up some brilliant ‘mobile’ games – Vlambeer’s Super Crate Box and the ever reliable Futurlab’s Fuel Tiracas are two such gems.

Alas, my concerns don’t lie with the content thus far, it’s simply too early to tell what PSM holds in that regard, but rather with the way in which PlayStation have chosen to implement their foray into the already oversaturated app-based market.

The first thing to niggle was the realisation that although the PSM titles are available on your Vita, at launch at least, they are missing PlayStation Network Account integration, with regards to trophies and friends-list based leaderboards.

Sony have been quoted as saying that full trophy support will be coming to new PSM games at a later date, but currently it’s up to developers to implement their own achievement and leaderboard system, which will rather surprisingly, not be tied to your PlayStation ID trophy count or player level.

Why is this the case? The Vita had trophy support from day one, and similar protocols are in place with rival services. The world’s most identifiable and profitable mobile based app platform, Apple’s iOS, has its own “Game Centre” service and whilst not implemented in all titles, leaderboards and system wide rankings are at the developer’s disposal should they choose to utilise it. Currently PlayStation Mobile developers, and subsequently their customers, don’t have that choice.

With the arrival of the newer Windows 8 handsets and SmartGlass tablets, Xbox Live on Windows is becoming more and more prevalent. Again, this service allows players to unify their achievements and gamerscore – leveling up whilst at home or mobile, and has done for quite some time.

As such, although not entirely expected, I’d have liked trophy implementation within all PlayStation branded gaming going forward from the Vita’s launch. The omission somehow makes one part of the brand feel inferior to another, and certainly makes cross platform titles feel lacking to their counterparts on iOS, for example.

Another major problem with Sony attempting mobile purchases, especially on phones or tablet devices, is the transaction process itself. Sony’s chosen method of payment, the PlayStation wallet, has a minimum funding limit of £5. Five pounds.

If I’m browsing the store and see a game I like the look of for, let’s say, 69p, I’m not going to leave £4-odd of my hard earned cash sitting in a virtual no-man’s land on the off chance. It’s probably worth a punt at 69p – people will impulse buy at that cost, and again Apple’s App Store proves this.

It’s a given however, that considerably fewer apps would have been sold if you had to drop £5 rather than 69p on the off chance that the latest Angry Birds or Draw Something wasn’t absolute drivel after an hour.

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of browsing for a game – you’ll have to do just that. Currently, unlike the Game and Video areas, the PlayStation Mobile section of the storefront doesn’t have a dedicated search feature.

I also feel the urge to voice a couple of concerns pertaining to the Vita’s uptake of PlayStation Mobile content particularly, which will not have any bearing on your enjoyment of the games on Certified Android devices.

Your Playstation Mobile games for Vita aren’t necessarily always entirely mobile.

There’s two reasons for this – Firstly, The Vita’s strangely thought out restrictive UI, and it’s 100 icon limit; Less than a year into it’s proposed 10-year supported cycle, and I’m already using 66 of my allotted bubbles on the 10×10 homescreen system. This is before PSM’s launch. To me it doesn’t seem like a brilliant plan to bring inexpensive mobile gaming to a market who can’t actually carry the games.
Of course, Sony’s Content Manager lets you back-up your old titles to free up the essential screen real estate, but when every other device I own has folders or recursive directory listings, why doesn’t my Vita?

Secondly, If you’ve purchased a PSM title, be it on your Android or Vita, did you read the description clearly?

“The licence verification for this product will be performed periodically via Wi-Fi or mobile network connection. If the licence cannot be verified as valid, the application will not start.”

In basic terms it means that without an internet connection of some sort your game may not work. This type of always-on DRM, presumably to combat piracy and the like, has been adopted with a select few apps elsewhere, and is widespread amongst PC titles.

This isn’t as bad as it first seems for the Vita though, and the majority of users won’t notice the underlying license check. A look at the newly published PlayStation Mobile FAQ reveals that the check is once every 30 days. So as long as you don’t try and start the game for the first time without an internet connection, or after a long hiatus, you should be fine. Still a bit of a faff though isn’t it?

This is still a worry for me though. There’s a large proportion of gamers, particularly in the younger bracket (which some of these pick-up-and-play apps will appeal to) who are not connected to the internet.

There are no official statistics from Sony, but from a my own research and early sales figures I believe that around 60-80% of Vita’s in UK households are Wi-Fi only. Elsewhere this figure is at best rising to a 50/50 split between that and the 3G enabled model. In theory, this means that without the hassle of these customers finding a hotspot or similar, PlayStation Mobile’s audience just halved.

Taking everything into account, how many people are going to willingly tie up £5 for a mobile game they may not be able to play?
I don’t have the time to back up an old game, download and subsequently run a new one before I hop on the train of a morning.

I will undeniably enjoy a select few PlayStation mobile games on my Vita at home and occasionally on my Xperia phone too; But truth be told in it’s current form PlayStation Mobile is not Mobile enough and this will ultimately limit my impulse buying – the impulses on which this market relies.

I guess only time will tell for the fledgling market place, but unless it addresses these issues, its originality can be its only saviour. Other ‘mobile’ app stores have a proven formula, and I don’t think this is it.

PlayStation, Mobile?

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