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Daily Reaction: How PlayStation Mobile Failed

May 29, 2013 Written by Sebastian Moss

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As we near E3, excitement for the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita is reaching epic levels, but what about PlayStation Mobile? Daily Reaction’s Seb and Dan look at the struggling platform and discuss what went wrong, why it’s failing and if anything can be done.

Seb: If you don’t know what PlayStation Mobile is (and who could blame you if you didn’t), it’s a cross-platform marketplace for indie games that’s available on PlayStation Vita, various Sony phones and tablets as well as some HTC, Fujitsu and Sharp products.

After having launched last October, the service has been far from a runaway success, with weeks going by without game releases, hardly any sales and titles not seeing a return on investment. For example, for this DR, we asked Claire Hill-Whittall from Super Icon about whether they made their money back with Life of Pixel and were told that the game’s “PSM sales currently don’t cover development costs”. They’re currently running Kickstarter to bring it to new platforms, in the hope that it’ll have better success there, so if you want to help contribute here.

So why has it been a failure so far? First off, it’s not on enough platforms – there aren’t that many Vitas out there and the biggest Android phone company by far is Samsung. Secondly, there’s a ton of competition – Vita owners have full Vita games and Android users have Google Play. And third, discoverability is awful – it’s hidden on the Vita’s store, and, on mobiles, users often have to go through a complicated install process.

Sony’s own promotion of the platform has been abysmal. The PS Blog spends more time talking about which TV shows are up on the store than which PS Mobile games are coming out, there is zero advertising and zero effort from Sony to engage the press, who generally need to be prodded to cover anything that isn’t megaton news. Claire also shared her thoughts with us on why the platform hasn’t taken off: “I guess for the same reason Vita hasn’t – iOS and Android. It’s a shame as the Vita is 100x a better gaming machine than an iOS device.“

This is a platform with no first party support, no push behind it and on hardware that isn’t selling; it’s stuck between other marketplaces that are more popular and it still doesn’t even have the oft-promised trophy support… it’s no wonder that it’s not a success.

And now, with news of developers like Super Icon having trouble making a return, can we really expect new devs to risk their livelihoods by focusing on this platform? Sony’s only chance is to invest some money and subsidize developers until it kicks off. It should be integrated into the main store on the Vita, it should get proper support from the PS Blog/Sony PR and it should get trophies. Super Icon’s Claire also believes that trophies are vital, telling me when I asked how the platform could be improved: “Trophies and leaderboards in the short term – these are absolutely essential. And a greater roll-out to more territories.”

That way PS Mobile won’t go weeks without a new release and may actually end up being the hub for quality mobile games that it originally set out to be. E3 is right around the corner and I hope they spend even a fraction of a minute talking about it, implementing some of these changes or at least bringing some attention to the platform

Dan: While I do agree that the PS Mobile platform was launched with little to actually drive it, I think it is still too early to say it can’t be a success.

As with any platform that launches, especially one that seems to be so driven by a community that is more indie by nature than most, it will take time for development to find its stride. Development possibilities for PS Mobile are only now starting to be realized and could eventually find a footing as we see more and more from the homebrew scene (like Rymdkapsel, which was developed solely by Martin Jonasson). But, Sony’s biggest failure has to be that they haven’t let people know that PS Mobile is a platform open to almost anyone, much like iOS, and that is hindering people from even making the homebrew games that would create the market in the first place.

When the PSP was originally hacked, the driving force for that scene (besides free games) was homebrew development: the premise of being able to have indie developers produce products that could be played on a handheld spawned a market of its own. Sadly, as development for iOS has really taken off, most of that scene has moved onto an already established and infinitely more profitable platform.

This does leave Sony in an odd position of being too little too late to capitalize on the need for a mobile platform that supports bedroom developers. But the iOS market is notoriously oversaturated, with simply too many games released every week. What this means for Sony is that they shouldn’t aim for a quantity over quality business model like other mobile markets, and instead curate their marketplace so that only titles with some quality be shown. This allows consumers to have some faith in the products that are being produced, and they’ll know that they are not wasting their money on $1 gambles that will be forgotten in a day.

PS Mobile is still very much in its infancy, so as things move forward I think there is still potential for developers to utilize it and bring out some interesting things that just haven’t been able to get traction in the mobile space before. Luckily, developers have been finding the platform easy to develop for, with Claire telling us that working on PSM “was actually really enjoyable – the first time we’d done proper 2d stuff so it was like a breath of fresh air. Plus the SDK got better and better as we developed the project – it is getting really solid now.”

Sony has been sitting on their hands since the launch of PS Mobile, but they still haven’t sealed the fate of the platform. If they do not do something about the dwindling presence it has in consumers’ and developers’ mindshares, we might be writing a Daily Reaction obituary sooner than later.

Do you use PS Mobile? How would you improve it? Have you contributed to Life of Pixel’s Kickstarter? Let us know in the comments below, email us pictures of PS3s on wheels to DailyReaction@PlayStationLifeStyle.net and get mobile by watching us dance on Twitter at Seb and Dan.