PlayStation Mobile – What’s Going Wrong At Sony Computer Entertainment?

PlayStation Mobile Logo

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…

Quality

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.

Deja Vu

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?

License Checking

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.

PlayStation Blog

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.

PlayStation Store

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.

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About Simon Plumbe 867 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian.Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe

8 Comments

  1. PlayStation Mobile is a joke, pure and simple.

    Most of the the games are poor quality (though there is the occasional exception), support for devices OTHER THAN the PlayStation Vita is virtually non-existent since Unity support was added, the number of PlayStation Mobile-compatible devices is ridiculous… Not to mention all of the issues the author raised, which are fantastic points.

    Then there’s the fact that fraudulent software frequently appears in the PlayStation Mobile Store, and stays there!

    Take “Light Blogging” – a Tumblr client – it doesn’t work and despite my reporting this to Sony Computer Entertainment for at least four months now (via the in-PlayStation Mobile Store “report” link), it’s still listed and for sale!

    The concept of PlayStation Mobile is great, but Sony have put very little effort into the service and it’s now nothing more than an after-thought… Don’t be surprised if Sony “quietly” phase this out in the future and/or encourage developers to submit “regular” PlayStation Vita games instead.

  2. Apps like Light Blogging just reinforce my belief that all Sony does is checks to see if software loads rather than subjects them to any proper QA testing.

    Generally I have to say that there is a lot of high quality software available for PSM and that’s what prompted me to produce our Top 10 and Top 25 Guides but I do agree that there’s a lot of dross as well but that could also apply to the Vita itself.

    Moving to Unity has improved games *technically* so I can understand the reasoning behind the move but the only positive that could come from abandoning PSM would be better promotion of games as well as integration into the store but that can’t be done without ignoring the current library of titles.

  3. To be honest, I think PSM would be better served as just a testing/feedback section for new Vita games. Everything should be limited but free. Once the developer gets feedback/ratings from players, they can then submit a request to Sony to get the game elevated to a regular Vita listing and get proper exposure. The game would then have to go through regular Sony QA checks before it appears for sale in normal channels.

    PSM is great for testing ideas on proper hardware, but it will always suffer from the same bloat issues as mobile games because of its accessibility.

    I think Vita Player plays an important role in discovering new gems so well done on that front. Maybe there should be a Vita Player app for the Vita which showcases new PSM/Vita gems. Sony won’t do it because there is no money in it for them.

    -Rob.

    • Hi Robert,

      PSM should not be free games. These developers have litte money and they can not afford to get console licenses if they give out free games. And for the Vita Player App, that could happen, but no developer has made it.

  4. I agree with Katy here. The problem with the concept of “free” games is something that has been brought into the industry thanks to iOS and Android and has been pretty damaging to developers. The number of mobile users out there who feel that every game MUST be free is astonishing and when faced with games that are paid for, many seem to think that they are being “ripped off” by developers who are doing so.

    For a developer to survive in the mobile market, games are dependent on in-app purchases and advertising revenue but many smaller developers simply can’t make it because the market is so large. PSM does offer developers a more focused market and it has the *potential* to generate more revenue, but Sony just isn’t marketing it properly and isn’t giving developers a chance to sell enough units right now when the potential IS there. Many gamers simply don’t know that PSM exists or have a clue what games are released, let alone try them.

    As for us doing our own app for the Vita… the only way this could be done would be through PlayStation Mobile (we do have a PSM developer license for testing purposes, just no programming skills!) but Sony’s rules regarding PSM doesn’t allow titles to be released freely – there has to be a charge involved for every release of some sort so it would either need to be a paid download or have a charge attached to it for additional unlockable / premium content.

    In all honesty, we need to get more writing staff for the site as it is let alone dedicate more time to other projects though! lol

  5. I’m a developer too btw. Have been for over 20 years. The point I was trying to make is that PSM is just a toy to Sony. They don’t take it seriously because there is such a low barrier to entry that anybody who wants to make a Pong game can and then upload it to the PSM store. It always will be toy to them. I mean that’s the whole point of this article, right? It’s almost impossible to pick up a Vita and find PSM games as the focus is put on top tier Vita titles. If large quantities of traffic can’t see your game listing, then no money can be made. So unless you are just making PSM games for fun and don’t care about the money, the only thing you can hope for is that Sony see your game and want to promote it. And the only way that is going to happen is if enough Vita players download your game and rate it. And that is not going to happen unless you are an established publisher that people recognise or part of the game is free and anyone can try it. With enough good feedback from players, Sony might (just might) take notice and help promote your game. Even this idea is currently not possible. It would take a shift in principles from Sony and they would have to make a specialized area of the PSM channel purely for this. So I wouldn’t hold your breath. I know this sounds really negative and I wish it wasn’t this way. I love the Vita. But in truth, if you want to actually have a chance of making money, you would be better off making the game first on mobile and if it is popular, ask Sony for a proper dev kit and proper publishing so you can convert your game to Vita. If your game is good, they will make it happen. If your game fails on mobile, the chances are it would have failed on Vita too.

  6. This is the thing. A game that’s considered a failure on PSM financially doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a failure overall. There are games that have been a critical success and have then gone on to be converted to the Vita but when it comes to PSM have failed to either make money or break even when it comes to their development costs.

    In other cases, developers have failed to make money on their iOS / Android games, but HAVE made money on their PSM ports because of the smaller market and the higher visibility that their games have had.

    Unfortunately when it comes to PlayStation Mobile, the biggest problem is marketing and even many PS Vita sites won’t even consider giving games coverage either. There are some out there that do but many won’t give PSM the time of day no matter how good the games are and they’re missing out on some real classics.

    The PlayStation TV is the latest contributory factor as well. There’s no mention on the packaging – or in Sony’s coverage online – that the PSTV can run PSM titles and while there’s only about a third of the PSM range that runs at the moment, it’s still a healthy selection. It does seem as if they want to ignore the range which is bizarre to me. When they can actually MAKE money on these games and do earn a healthy percentage from every single sale, you’d think they would make every effort to promote them and make them as accessible as possible.

Got any thoughts on this? Let us know!