A few days ago, images of an early PlayStation Phone prototype hit the Internet. Sony hasn’t necessarily denied its existence either, with some thinly-veiled remarks in regards to the matter. While it shouldn’t be a surprise that this thing exists at all, it does come as a surprise that it’s taken this long for Sony to create a PlayStation Phone in the first place.
Based on the information out there, it looks like the phone is built off of the PSP Go body. It adds a cell phone to the body and removes the analog nub. The articles I linked to above also mention that the phone is built off of PSP 1 tech and that Sony wants to offer mobile gamers a deeper gameplay experience. Also mentioned on the Weekend Confirmed podcast was that this phone supposedly runs on Android 3.0.
While I think Sony has no choice but to at least give the cellphone gaming thing a shot, my gut says they might already be too late.
There are a number of reasons why I feel this way. The most obvious reason is pictured above. During the time that Sony was struggling to get the PSP to compete with the Nintendo DS, the iPhone and iPod Touch hit the marketplace. These devices (the iPhone in partuclar) now completely dominate the cellphone gaming scene, and arguably the entire portable gaming scene, depending on how you slice the pie. On sheer market share alone, there’s no way Sony can ever catch up to the market share of the iDevices, regardless of how good the overall product may be.
I sort of see where Sony’s coming from when they say that gamers aren’t satisfied with mobile games. They’re generally quick and light experiences, and the iPhone doesn’t have buttons, which makes playing traditional games on the platform very difficult in most cases. Where Sony trips up is their belief in how big the audience yearning for hardcore mobile and cellphone titles actually is. The biggest reason why the DS has outsold the PSP more than 2:1 and the reason why iPhone gaming is so popular is because the library isn’t hardcore. The majority of people who play games on a mobile device mainly want something quick to pass a few minutes here and there. I like Uncharted, but I don’t want to play that on my phone because that game wasn’t designed for me to play for a minute in line and then put away.
I know Sony’s recent PSP ad campaigns have been attacking iPhone gaming for being shallow or not real games, but what hardcore gamers are actually shunning the device as a gaming platform? Every major video game publication that covers multiple platforms covers iPhone gaming. IGN does. Gamespot does. Giant Bomb does. Why? Because hardcore gamers play iPhone games. Are they going to sacrifice all of the cool games and functionality, as well as cancel their current cellphone contract so that they can get a PlayStation Phone to play God of War on the go? I’m going with, “No,” though you’re more than welcome to prove me wrong.
It’s not like the iPhone doesn’t have hardcore games on it, either. If anything, in terms of sheer volume, I’m pretty sure the iPhone already has more ‘hardcore’ games than the PSP. Civilization Revolution is one of many hardcore turn-based strategy games on the iPhone. If you want to play an online first-person shooter, you’ve got no shortage of games to choose from, such as N.O.V.A. and the Modern Combat series. There are even MMOs on the iPhone if you really want to go all-out on the go.
Speaking of support, the PSP has already proven that Sony isn’t very good at this digital distribution thing. The PSP Go was a huge flop because the hardware was too expensive for what it did, not all major PSP games were available for download and the PSP Minis catalogue is horrible. If the PlayStation Phone is supported in the same way the PSP Go is, then forget it.
I may be jumping to conclusions, but I have a feeling this project is dead before it’s even really started. I’m not saying this to bash Sony. If Nintendo was putting out a phone in this manner, I’d share the same concerns. I recognize where Sony is coming from, and understand that they have to give the cellphone gaming thing a legitimate shot. However, current market factors such as the iPhone, Sony’s current mobile failures such as the PSP and a number of other factors I haven’t even delved into in this post do not bode well for them in my books. Am I alone in my thinking?