At Vita Player, we don’t make a secret of our love of PlayStation Mobile. Since the site launched we’ve been strong advocates of the multi-platform format and as an individual I’ve taken that dedication to PSM to the point of ensuring that my last mobile phone purchase was PlayStation Certified and have expanded my games collection to contain the complete collection of titles currently available for the EU territory for PlayStation Mobile – currently over 300 games and apps so it’s something I have become incredibly passionate about.
As such I have strived, through Vita Player, to make sure that we do everything that we can to promote PSM to Vita owners everywere and to support everyone writing PlayStation Mobile software, it seems that week after week Sony Computer Entertainment are taking steps to diminish the reputation of PSM both amongst its developers and gamers alike. Just what is going wrong right now and what measures can be taken to put PSM back on track and help indie developers who are striving to bring their games to the PlayStation Vita?
It’s not a clear cut case of immediately screaming out and saying that Sony is the bad guy when it comes to PlayStation Mobile and saying that the blame for everything that is wrong with the format lies firmly at their feet but there are problems that have been brewing for some time now that have either been caused by Sony themselves or could be rectified quickly and easily with a little effort…
One of my big concerns at the moment is that of quality control during the approval process… or the apparent lack of it. Defining whether or not a game is good really is a matter of personal taste but there need to be some measures in place at Sony to ensure that at least some standards are adhered to. Quality issues are affecting PSM titles in several ways which I’ll try to summarise now but across the board it means that Sony need to ensure that their PlayStation Mobile team needs to actually check products that are submitted properly rather than deciding that once a product runs then it is suitable for release.
I appreciate that many PSM titles are developed by one-man studios and certainly it’s not easy for them to check their games thoroughly for bugs or to assess games completely to make sure that every aspect of the game works perfectly throughout, but there are titles being released that have fundamental flaws from the offset. I have played titles released recently that have such basic errors that have left games unplayable after just a couple of minutes of play and titles that I have managed to “break” in mere moments. If I have been able to do this without trying, it raises the question as to whether or not these have been tested at all by anyone at Sony. I’m not saying that games need full playtesting from start to finish in the way that major studios would, but at least some testing should be in order.
While it doesn’t appear to be as great a problem these days as it has been in the past, there are still developers releasing countless clones of titles rather than investing time in new original titles but of greater concern for PlayStation Mobile as a format is the clear case of developers taking their own games (and in some cases the work of others) and creating blatant derivative works from them and passing them off as original creations leaving many Vita owners feeling ripped off and frustrated…
This questionable conduct from developers has been with us right from the early days of PlayStation Mobile. When Sony released the SDK for PSM to allow almost anyone with a Sony Entertertainment Network account to register as a developer, the package not only included all the tools needed to develop PlayStation Mobile titles but also a selection of sample games, artwork and code to show what the format was capable of. One less than scrupulous developer, Denysoft, released no fewer than eight games through the PSN Store that used these sample games and simply changed the graphics for them. Surprisingly, these passed Sony’s QA team and it took several weeks before they were all removed from the PSN Store but by that point numerous gamers had already purchased them.
After the Denysoft fiasco we thought that we had seen the end of this conduct but sadly this hasn’t been the case. Zhang Bo’s Sudoku Fun was re-released by Sun Pengfei as Super Sudoku a few months later with just a few cosmetic changes to the graphics and released with a higher price tag. All of the puzzles were the same, the screen layout, everything but somehow this managed to get past Sony’s PSM team.
Of greater concern is the developer Lightning Game Studios (releasing games through the PSN Store under the name B.P.). I’ve discussed their work previously here on Vita Player, but they pose a serious threat to the reputation of PlayStation Mobile. Ignoring the quality of some of their releases, at least seven of their releases to-date are cause for grave concern. The side-scrolling shoot-em-up Steam Lands is the first that set alarm bells ringing. On first playing this, I found it to be quite a departure from their usual games in terms of the quality and playability and I was surprisingly pleased with what I saw… until an avid Vita Player reader pointed out that the game was infact an existing Unity tutorial that had been published online and simply put onto PSM by Lightning Game Studios. The original author not only made public the full source code, but also the graphics, sound files… everything needed to create the game and the only difference implemented for PSM were the controls understandably mapped to the PS Vita. Even the game’s original name had been retained.
Looking beyond this is their Solbrain series. At the time of writing, six games have been released in this “adventure” series and the object of the game is simple – explore a 3D terrain hunting for 5 coloured spheres within a set time limit. Using an over-the-shoulder view and featuring a 3D animated character (three have been used so far), all six games are identical save for the terrain themselves and the theme used for the graphics. Surely this is little more than a repeat of what happened in 2012 with Denysoft so shouldn’t this have been picked up on by Sony Computer Entertainment?
A throwback to the multi-format nature of PlayStation Mobile, this is now something that needs to be re-evaluated for PSM to remain viable. At present, there is still an occasional need for PlayStation Mobile games to check with the servers to validate that gamers have purchased a license to play the games that they have downloaded. While this may be fine for mobile phone apps and games as phones are permanently connected to a mobile network, this simply isn’t practical for PS Vita owners. While the original 1000-series PS Vita was released both as a 3G and wi-fi only model, the 2000-series is wi-fi only meaning that owners of the new model can only get online at home or when they are near wi-fi hotspots. At the same time, not all owners of the 3G PS Vita make use of this feature or choose to use their data all the time with the console.
Bearing that in mind, having to connect to the PlayStation Network simply to verify a purchase makes no sense (with the exception of PlayStation Plus titles, naturally) and prevents gamers from doing what PSM was intended for in the first place – bite-sized gaming on the go. If only one improvement is made to the service in the immediate future then the removal of this requirement must be it.
Breaking The Language Barrier
PlayStation Mobile has been wonderful in allowing small development teams from all across the globe produce titles that will run on the PS Vita. Whether they were for the original PSM platform or for the more powerful Unity-based SDK, it’s allowed a whole new generation of developers to share their creativity with the PS Vita owning community. However, the global nature of PSM has a few drawbacks as some of the games have shown… The majority of titles that have been released so far are available worldwide in every territory that supports PlayStation Mobile which is great for gamers and the developers maximising their income potential but some of these have left me more than a little curious. For me, the perfect PSM title is something that you can pick up and play with very little thought or preparation in advance, a game that needs little or no introduction and certainly one that has no need for page after page of complex instructions. In essence, a game that can be enjoyed universally no matter where you live.
So that leaves me wondering why some games have been released in the EU PSN Store that only offer Japanese as a language option (for speech and text) but are the type of game that need to be understood. I have no issues when it comes to shooters, platform games, puzzle games or titles that are relatively easy to figure out but what about titles like Re: marriage or K-POP ni koi shite that are text-dependent? If you are unable to read and understand Japanese then these games become unplayable. Submission from the developer for release shouldn’t be reason enough for games to be distributed in a particular territory and I’m sure that there are more than a few frustrated gamers out there who have paid for titles that they simply can’t play.
I know that I have talked about this in the past, but I can’t stress enough the importance that the PlayStation Blog plays in promoting games to the Vita community.Whether it is through the weekly PSN Store updates or individual guest blog posts from developers, this is a perfect opportunity to showcase all of the latest PlayStation Mobile releases but it is still an area where PlayStation Mobile is being failed by Sony. While PSM titles are being included in the updates most weeks by Sony, they are generally ignored by the US Blog. Japan’s website fares much better with a complete PSM guide with all the new and existing content, pricing, details, screenshots and more.
However, more is needed and developers need to be given the opportunity to promote their games and Sony need to be proactive about this. Either Sony need to approach PSM developers offering them the chance to guest blog or they need to be open to having more PSM developers posting about their new releases. Most PS Vita owers are oblivious to new PSM titles being released and the Blog would be a massive step forward, especially as many Vita sites look to the Blog as an invaluable news resource.
Finally – and this is still a sore point for developers two years on – is the Store itself. No matter how you view the PSN Store, PlayStation Mobile games are burried away and treated like second-class citizens. They are nowhere to be found on the PS3 or web-based stores (although games for every other PlayStation format are available there despite the Minis and PS One Classics now losing their dedicated categories) but the only way to find PSM titles is on the Vita itself. Making matters worse is that they are not integrated into the main Store but hidden away in a separate tab and with the exception of one game out of the 300+ released since PSM started, none have been featured as part of the new releases or included in the main store area. To make matters worse, PlayStation Mobile titles don’t appear in search results making them extremely difficult to find. If you are after a specific game there’s no A-Z listing – you just have to hope that you choose the right category to find the game you are after.
Come on Sony… if you want people to buy PSM games, make it easy for them to do so. Add them to the Stores properly, make them more visible and they will sell better. Ask any high street retailer – they will tell you that products won’t sell if they hide them out the back in their stock rooms so please treat them with a little respect.
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Sadly I know there’s a lot more that could be said about PlayStation Mobile and what needs to be done right now to push things forward to improve the quality and marketing of games but right now it’s in Sony’s hands. All we can do as gamers is keep asking them to do the right thing and hope that they’ll listen.