Mar 28, 2011
I’ve continued to wrack my brain on what exactly has stood between Android and wider success with the gaming market, and I still find myself struggling to come up with good reasons that made sense. So, as I still consider why things aren’t what they seem with Android gaming, my thoughts turned to one special Android device that could mean a lot for Android gaming, a phone designed for gaming from one of gaming’s biggest names – Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Play.
The Xperia Play is a wonderful idea. A cell phone that has actual gaming controls? That ought to shut up a lot of the people who whine about and deride mobile gaming’s controls STILL. Of course, Sony keeps making ads that mock mobile gaming and their supposed lack of “real games”, whatever those are. Of course, the Xperia Play, a cell phone, will be getting so-called “real games” through the PlayStation Suite, which will start off with a variety of Playstation 1 ports, like Syphon Filter and Wild Arms. Oh, and Sony’s unleashed their marketing A game on this one, launching a hilarious series of ads with the incredibly funny Kristen Schaal. The problem is that none of this really matters – the Xperia Play won’t really change much in the scheme of things for Android gaming.
The first problem is that not everyone can even get their hands on this phone. For whatever reason, Sony’s launching it on only one carrier at first – Verizon. It’s kind of a shame, as even if you’re interested in the Xperia Play, if you’re not on the Verizon network, you’ll either be SOL or looking for another phone. And it’s not like we’re talking about an iPhone either – that device seems to exist in a different universe where people will jump carriers just for it, but no one’s ever accused Apple fans of living in a rational universe, either. The Xperia Play is certainly not going to make people jump ship from their current carriers and contracts just so they can play Cool Boarders 2 with their phone. And by the time it likely hits other carriers, the technology won’t be as attractive, especially as other phones launch, and especially the iPhone 5. Remember, Apple is the only company that can get people excited for hardware released half a year ago, and I don’t know if the Xperia Play, being a phone barely associated with the PlayStation branding, will be able to draw Apple-level interest with future models.
Also, let’s get to the real problem here – this isn’t the next PSP. Sony punted on this one – if they wanted the Xperia Play to be taken seriously, they would have made this the next PSP model. It will likely wind up being like the iPad, where its 3G access will be solely for entertainment value, rather than as any kind of significant communication device, which will still make it a #2 option for entertainment. The phone has the advantage of being something that is always in someone’s pocket – handheld systems are usually something that are brought along if there is room or if there is some intent to play a game at some point. The NGP will be just like the PSP in that regard – and it’s hard to look at it next to the Xperia Play, and not be potentially disappointed at what could be.
Granted, the Xperia Play is a really neat idea, and the Playstation Suite could be really exciting if Sony works on expanding it out to devices beyond just the Xperia Play and NGP, and it could be great for Android gaming. The problem is that once again, a company is punting when it comes to trying to push mobile gaming. Apple has succeeded in part because they’ve been willing to go all in with the iPhone and iOS, especially since the App Store launched. Apple has the major advantage of being Apple, having that fanbase and their design philosphies that others don’t, but with companies like Sony unwilling to take major risks with their products to to try and topple the App Store’s gaming dominance, how will they ever actually do so? Because Android gaming is advancing at a slow crawl compared to iOS at times, and it needs a kick in the pants to speed it up. The Xperia Play could have been that kick – but I do not see it happening.
Of course, would such a phone even succeed? I may be giving Sony far too little credit here – I’m sure they’ve done plenty of market research and maybe decided that the correct direction to go in with a PSP successor was to launch with primarily wi-fi with 3G options. Of course, considering how Sony has fallen from the heights of console dominance by mismanaging the PS3, and how the PSP has become an increasingly irrelevant platform in recent years, there’s part of me that doesn’t have the kind of faith to say that I trust their judgment here in essentially making the Xperia Play act as second fiddle to their own upcoming product. So, forgive me if I’m not quite sold on the Xperia Play as the future of mobile gaming – I fear it will only be an interesting blip on the radar, and not quite the revolution it could be, if only Sony was willing to work at making it a real possibility.
Ed note: after spending way too much time on youtube, watching all of these hilarious videos, I have to say this one is my favorite: