It’s been over a year since I wrote my Open Letter To Sony Computer Entertainment Regarding PlayStation Mobile. There have been some positive steps taken to further the cause of the platform and there have been some fantastic games released over the last year to the extend that – at the time of writing this – there are now a total of 200 titles available for PlayStation Mobile in the EU territories alone. In fact, not only have I had to continally revise the Top 10 PlayStation Mobile Games list I have written for Vita Player but also create a Top 25 PlayStation Mobile Games Guide because there are so many titles worth looking at.
However, the format is still being overlooked by gamers and Sony Computer Entertainment themselves and many things that we were calling for back then simply haven’t been done or there has been a peacemeal effort when it has come to making change. In addition, while there have been improvements in some areas, there have been changes for the worse in others dramatically affecting the image of the platform so where is the format heading?
I can’t talk about PlayStation Mobile without first talking about Unity. The adoption of the incredibly advanced software development tool at the start of 2014 for PSM has already revolutionised the games that we have been seeing. There has been an influx of 3D games and the capabilities of the platform have grown immensely. We’ve seen games with rich, open worlds, arcade adventures, 3D space shooters and all manner of existing game genres with enhanced visuals. There has been a trade-off with newer titles being restricted to the PS Vita itself but if this means that more of the console’s power can be used then this can only be a good thing in the long term.
A side benefit of Unity has also meant that we are seeing ports of games from other platforms to PSM as well. Developers have been more willing to convert games from Android and iOS and while we don’t necessarily want PSM to be flooded with these games, as long as the quality is there and pricing is right, there’s no reason why good games shouldn’t come over to the Vita.
We asked to see real change with the PlayStation Blog with regards to PlayStation Mobile but frankly this hasn’t happened. While PSM games are now getting mentioned in the weekly PSN Store updates, this is generally as a footnote to a long list of releases. Rarely PlayStation Mobile titles may get featured blog posts but considering the number of PSM titles being released compared with PS Vita games right now the coverage is proportionately low.
More worryingly is the new designed being favoured by the blog. At the top are links for the PS3, Vita, PS3 and PlayStation Mobile but on selecting this option, a very small number of posts are displayed, all of which are over a year old. Is this really an appropriate way to showcase part of the PlayStation family? Granted, these games are smaller, but PlayStation Mobile should still be treated as an equal part of the brand and receive the same level of exposure. It would seem that despite receiving income from each sale, Sony do not wish to capitalise on this.
This is one of the biggest areas where we have seen improvement for PlayStation Mobile over the last year. Back in December 2013 nine additional territories were added to the original nine able to access the format bringing the total to eighteen with more promised. Not only is this bringing great PSM games to a wider audience, but also allowing more developers to release PSM titles as well. It’s not perfect looking at the wider range of countries that have access to PlayStation content globally (or as many have commented in relation to mobile devices, the iTunes or Google Play stores) but it is a step in the right direction.
Since that time, another four countries have been announced to expand the total further to 22 by June this year and hopefully things will grown more by the end of the year. At the same time, the developer network is expanding and since the end of May, 32 territories are now opened up for developers to create games for PlayStation Mobile. This is a fantastic move forward and only bodes well for the future.
Without stating the obvious here, PlayStation Mobile has access to a potentially vast userbase of over 10 million Vita owners. In additition to PS Vita owners, Non-Unity based PSM titles can also be run on most modern Sony smartphones as well as phones and tablets produced by other manufacturers. At the time of writing this, while I do not have figures for the number of owners of other devices, Sony themselves shipped an estimated 40 million phones just in 2013 alone. According to the official list of PSM certified devices, I would estimate that the majority of these phones shipped during this period would be PSM compatible. Taking other manufacturers into consideration – and even considering the issues regarding availability of the PSM service itself – and it is not unreasonable to assume that there are at least 25 million plus potential users worldwide for PlayStation Mobile especially when you consider many of Sony’s 2012 range were PlayStation certified, not to mention their tablets and more.
It’s a little known fact, but you don’t need a PlayStation Certified to run PlayStation Mobile games. While we certainly don’t condone the practice of doing so, most modern Android tablets and smartphones can be adapted with an update to the operating system to allow non-standard software to be installed. Certainly we won’t provide instruction here how to do it, and it’s not something we have tried ourselves but access to PSM – and in turn the PSN Store for purchasing games – has been enabled on a wider range of devices. That being the case, we believe that it’s time for Sony to open up the PSM Runtime Library for use on any compatible Android device and allow a wider range of tablets and smartphones to play PSM games. Rather than limiting PlayStation Mobile to the Vita and a small number of devices, by allowing more gamers to be able to play these titles it opens up PSM to a new market and helps not only the format but developers as well.
Trophies and PlayStation Network Support
This is still a sore point for gamers and developers alike. While there are many gamers who are not interested in Trophies and Leaderboards, it is clear that social gaming lies at the heart of Sony’s plans for the future of PlayStation. If PlayStation Mobile is to be a part of this, then the ability for PSM gamers to be able to interact with each other is vital. There are gamers who are still shunning the format simply because they can not share their achievements with each other, they can not compare scores with online friends or as part of a global Leaderboard or can not play online. This was seen as a failing of Minis and both gamers and developers alike have been asking for this to be added. When Leaderboard support was introduced to PSM, it was clear that those games that offer leaderboard support were more popular with players than those that didn’t so it was a bewildering move when Sony pulled this feature and asked developers to remove this from their games.
Some games do offer Leaderboards but these are self-hosted and don’t use PSN IDs but a unified system would make the format so much more appealing and even if PSM titles were to offer just one or two trophies each they would be more attractive to gamers as well. Is it really so difficult to support developers in this way?
At the moment, very little is being done. It appears that, with the exception of Sony-supported titles, it is down to developers and the media to promote PlayStation Mobile. As most developers are not provided with review codes for their games to distribute, many websites and publications simply will not provide review coverage so it is left to the smaller, fan-run websites to cover titles that have been purchased by site owners / writers. It is an unfortunate position, but without complimentary review code, the mainstream press simply will not consider covering PSM.
What is needed to market PSM properly in addition to review codes is a multi-levelled approach. Not only do we need to see more media coverage of PSM games, but also more coverage of PSM generally. Both the mainstream gaming community and mobile phone market need to be aware of PlayStation Mobile and the range and quality of gaming that is on offer. For the majority of potential PSM customers, the reason they are not currently buying games is that they simply don’t know about PSM rather than the fact that they do not want to buy them.
Even more surprising was the advent of Unity for PSM. When the first wave of Unity based titles were released in July, you would have expected some form of fanfare from Sony but there was nothing. The first thing we noticed as gamers was a mention in the listings for titles in the store that they were not compatible with Android devices and seeing the Unity logo on screen when games loaded up. Surely a big announcement through the blog would have been in order?
PlayStation Network Store
Two years down the line and PlayStation Mobile is still being neglected on the PSN Store. To find PSM titles you need to go through the store on the Vita and select the PlayStation Mobile tab. New titles can be found easily but there’s still no no search function, no alphabetical listing, no way to purchase titles through a PS3 or the web-based store for later downloading and games are still not listed in the main store as are all the other titles released, even Minis and PSP games. Out of the 290 PSM titles available (at the time of writing) only one has been featured in the main section of the Vita store – Eufloria Adventures – and that’s just not acceptable.
PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4 / PlayStation TV
As I touched upon earlier, cross-compatibility has been a key strength of Sony systems in the past. We have seen the PS3 capable of running Minis and PS one (and more recently PS2 games) and the PS Vita is capable of running PS one, PSP, Minis and PlayStation Mobile titles. What would give PSM a significant boost would be to tap into the sizeable established userbase of the PS3 (or even better the PS4 considering the current focus on promoting the Vita as a companion device) by providing a runtime engine allowing PlayStation Mobile games to run on the console. While this would not be possible for all games without some form of touchscreen emulation, the majority of titles that utilise the directional pad / joystick and action buttons would function perfectly. Introducing this range to owners who do not currently own a compatible phone or PS Vita would open up the market again to a new world of gamers.
When it comes to the PS4 the touchpad on the DualShock 4 could potentially be used to emulate the touchscreen if needed and hopefully this could lead to better integration of games into the stores as well. Finally, while it hasn’t had a European release yet, we can only hope that the PlayStation (Vita) TV has retained PSM support with as many titles as possible and that it’s own version of the PSN Store is adapted to ensure that only compatible titles are available.
We’ve all seen it with the Vita – you’re settled down ready to play a game of Killzone or your favourite other AAA title and then you’re hit with the all-familiar message on screen that a new update for the game is available so you can’t proceed without downloading it. We’re used to it by now and it’s a small price to pay for bug fixes and extra features being added to our favourite titles but when it comes to PlayStation Mobile while authors still give their games the same care and attention when it comes to bug fixes and new content, it’s rare that we get to learn about them but why?
At present, PSM has no notification system letting gamers know when titles have been updated. It’s sheer luck that we find out by visiting the PSN Store seeing older games promoted as part of the latest releases or when we re-download them for whatever reason only to get the most up-to-date version installed. With developers working hard to add new functionality to their titles, shouldn’t this effort be rewarded or at the very least be acknowledged with a better system for making these updates more readily available?
This is a personal gripe I have with PlayStation Mobile and while I can understand the reasoning behind it, it’s now something that needs to be changed for the format to thrive. At the moment, all PSM titles need to check with the PlayStation Network sporadically to see that they have an appropriately purchased license otherwise they fail to load. While this may be fine for those gamers who are playing PSM titles on smartphones or at home on wi-fi enabled PS Vitas what it does mean is that it can render PlayStation Mobile games completely unusable on the move if those checks can not be performed. Granted, it is possible if you have a 3G version of the PS Vita but that means using your data allowance simply to play games you already own but the key thing to bear in mind is that with the introduction of the 2000 series of the console, 3G models are no longer being produced so future Vita owners simply won’t be able to connect to PSN without accessing a wi-fi hotspot.
It’s no secret that many developers are struggling with poor sales figures. The majority of them are small operations writing games for PlayStation Mobile in their spare time running alongside full time employment. Most of these would love nothing more than to be able to become full-time software developers but they have no alternative because sales simply aren’t strong enough to support them. Is it because of the quality of their games? Certainly not. There are games that have been critically acclaimed by the media and praised highly by gamers yet simply don’t sell in anything but meagre numbers.
Pricing And The “Sweet Spot”
Prices of PSM titles has varied heavily from 40p right up to around the £10 mark depending on the game although many consider games around the £2 – £3 to be the upper limit for an acceptable game unless it is something that offers a deeper, more involving game experience such as an RPG. Since the advent of Unity, game prices have been rising steadily and it’s been a regular occurance seeing games priced at £4 or more if not higher. I certainly don’t want to detract from the hard work of all of the small developers out there supporting the PS Vita, but while these prices are set by the developers themselves there must be a point where Sony has to step in and speak out against high prices of mobile titles – over £5 for an endless runner is abhorrent as it over £3 for a shoot-em-up that can be completed in under 90 seconds.
This is something that I have become increasingly concerned about of late. Every PlayStation Mobile title (and updates) needs to be submitted to Sony Computer Entertainment for approval prior to release. I would argue that either someone in the PSM team at Sony isn’t doing their job properly or the current policy now seems to be a case of “if it loads, we’ll release it” because there are a large number of issues arising lately. Games have been released that have been bug-ridden, are questionable when it comes to copyright or are using trademarked names / content, are exact copies of existing titles, or in the case of apps simply don’t work. Anyone who has a vested interest in PlayStation Mobile can check for these issues quickly but when sub-standard products are being released, it tarnishes the whole brand.
While it has had a somewhat rocky time over the last couple of years, PlayStation Mobile is improving. There is now a large and impressive range of titles and looking at what is on offer overall there are some truly great games available and with the introduction of Unity is now even easier to develop for. The increase in the Vita’s Icon Limit means that people who want to support PSM no longer have to worry about having excessive free space on their memory cards through buying PlayStation Mobile games so that should give more gamers an incentive to try titles out and with more territories promised that can only encourage more developers and gamers to sample the delights of PSM gaming.
There is a thriving developer community and growing fan base who are discovering what PSM has to offer and steps are being made in the right direction from Sony, developers themselves and gamers who are starting to talk more positively as well and certainly looking across the whole range it’s easy for everyone to be able to find at least a couple of games that they’ll enjoy or one or two apps that they’ll find useful. Not sure what to try? Take a look at the reviews here or on other sites that give coverage to PlayStation Mobile as for the price of some cheap DLC you’ll be able to grab yourself a new game that could keep yourself occupied for hours and slot into a small gap on any memory card you might have.
There’s still a lot that needs to be done for PlayStation Mobile and Sony still have a lot to do if they’re serious about improving the format. Adding Unity support alone isn’t good enough and they now need to show us that they are serious about the quality of the games that are being released as well. As we are paying for digital and not physical titles, we simply can’t return “broken” games for a refundso it’s time that our loyalty to the Vita and PSM is rewarded. PSM could have a valuable part to play in the PS Vita’s future if only Sony would allow it. The range of titles is there, there is enough quality out there to play a valuable contribution, now let’s see this momentum continue.
Site Editor, Vita Player