If you can’t beat’em, join’em. It’s an adage as old as time, and it’s one that Sony now apparently subscribes to. Mixed into a week filled with announcements about their upcoming next gen portable device, codenamed NGP, Sony has unveiled the next platform that will play host to the PlayStation brand – and for the first time ever, it’s not a platform that’s owned by Sony.
PlayStation Suite is a new initiative to be launched by the gaming giant that will offer select PS one Classics and original PlayStation-branded content to “PlayStation Certified” Android devices. In essence, the PlayStation Store is coming to the Android Market.
While it may not sound that enthralling at first (after all, who’s really lining up to play Ape Escape and Spyro the Dragon in 2011?), there’s no denying that this is a landmark moment for the gaming industry. With only a few notable exceptions (Zelda on CD-i, I’m looking at you), a major console manufacturer has never taken its first-party software, branding, and characters to a competing platform. Sometimes a company might fold in the hardware market and join the multiplatform fray (SEGA, Atari), but that’s far from the case for Sony – we’re talking about a successful company here.
Then again, the one place Sony hasn’t seen much success is the portable marketplace. Sure the PSP has sold enough units to hold its own, but in North America it’s always taken a backseat to the Nintendo DS in terms of popularity and sales. And now that smartphone gaming is quickly replacing the DS as the portable platform of choice, the PSP is getting so tiny in the rear view mirror that you’d have to squint just to see it.
2011 looks like it’s going to be the year that they’re committed to turning it all around. How? With a three-pronged invasion of the mobile market.
Sony has more than one ace up their sleeve, and it looks like they’re intent on playing every card. In addition to PlayStation Suite hitting Android, the company has announced the successor to the PlayStation Portable. Currently known as NGP, their upcoming portable device aims to reel in the core PlayStation demographic while building in features that will try to make it as flexible as a smartphone. On the one hand, the NGP features something that core gamers have been begging for since the launch of the PSP – dual analog sticks. On the other hand, the device features smartphone staples like a touch screen and a front/rear camera combo. It’s the best of both worlds.
Completing Sony’s triumvirate is the worst kept secret in the mobile industry, the yet-to-be-announced PlayStation Phone. You might be quick to write this off as a hoax or an abandoned project (especially now that the NGP has been announced), but it’s real, it’s officially called the “Sony Ericsson Xperia Play,” and Engadget just posted a hands-on with it. Turns out it’s not unannounced after all – it’s just not called the PlayStation Phone.
And did we mention the Xperia Play runs on Android 2.3? Hmm.. Something tells me this might just be one of those “PlayStation Certified Devices” Sony was talking about. 😉
The blogosphere has been abuzz today with what this may mean for the future of mobile gaming. Over at Touch Arcade, Brad Nicholson is speculating that the PlayStation Suite may eventually make its way to the iPhone or iPad. “Sony isn’t saying ‘exclusive’ when it talks about Android, so it’s obviously leaving some wiggle room.” Brad makes a valid observation, but I can’t help but feel choosing Android over iOS to kick things off seems like Sony’s way of yet again giving the middle finger to Apple. Maybe I’m a little bias being the iPhone editor of a gaming website and all, but the only reason you’d back Pepsi over Coke is if you really hated Coke. Then again, Brad points out that Sony said they were “bringing a curious official Sony app to the App Store with ‘tons more features’ coming in the future.” Maybe there’s something to his theory after all…
Nicholson wasn’t the only blogger to speculate about what PlayStation Suite might mean. Over at FingerGaming, Kris Graft felt that “the introduction of PS Suite is an acknowledgment by Sony that it has to address a growing threat to its PSP handheld business posed by smartphones.” It’s not really a bold statement per se, but this is clearly the elephant in the room. Once you scratch beneath the surface and start to ask why Sony would even consider putting their brand on a competing platform, Graft’s answer seems to be the only realistic option.
It may seem like a defeatist move on Sony’s part, but it’s also a logical one. If PlayStation Suite sees success, Sony’s Ericsson division might be able to hit the hardware sales numbers that they’d always hoped for with the PSP. And so long as they keep the service on “PlayStation Certified” phones, they could control as much of this market as they like.
Yet with all this speculation, nobody really knows what PlayStation Suite is going to offer once released. Sure it’ll have a mix of old and new games, but what about movies? What about music? What about trophies and friends lists and such? For all we know this could either be the total PlayStation experience or just a branded storefront to recycle old IPs. Nobody really knows a thing.
Well – that’s not entirely true. I know one thing. I know I’m going to fire up my PSP tonight, play some Metal Gear Solid, and dream of the day that I might be able to do the same on a smartphone.