After a year of beta testing and a particularly wise name change, Sony’s PlayStation Mobile platform is now available for the PlayStation Vita, Sony’s Xperia smartphones, and a number of other portable devices that fall under Sony’s PlayStation Certified classification, including tablets from ASUS, HTC phones, and the WikiPad gaming tablet. Much is riding on PlayStation Mobile. Sony needs it to act as a thread binding together its struggling portable gaming business, its faded Xperia brand, and its nascent PlayStation presence in the broader Android market. Sony needs PlayStation Mobile to be Apple’s App Store, and it needs to achieve that goal without the benefit of being identified with specific devices. Will it work?
There are factors working in Sony’s favor. PlayStation Mobile and its games are tied with the Sony Entertainment Network, the home of its entertainment services like Qriocity, and its subgroup, the PlayStation Network. As of March, Sony claimed it had 90 million registered PlayStation Network accounts. While that figure by no means represents individual paying customers—many of those accounts are duplicates or inactive—that’s still a huge audience of users that can seamlessly use PlayStation Mobile without having to set up an entirely new account. A PlayStation 3 owner with an HTC One that wants to play the original Crash Bandicoot only needs to download the app to get going.
Or at least they would have been able to. A huge factor working against PlayStation Mobile is Sony’s decision to bar classic PlayStation games on the platform. The potential to bring games from old Sony consoles to mobile devices could have helped get people interested in the platform. It previously offered a selection of PSOne classics on Xperia phones, and it wasn’t unlikely that it would at some point offer PlayStation 2 games through PlayStation Mobile as well. (It already offers them as PlayStation 3 downloads through the PlayStation Network.) It announced at Gamescom that classic games would only be available on its devoted gaming machines.
Original games, however, are also a problem for the PlayStation Mobile network. A presence on moderately popular Android phones from HTC isn’t enough to make up for the low consumer penetration of PlayStation Vita and the Xperia line. What incentive to developers have to bring their games to PlayStation Mobile? Without decent original games, how will Sony get people interested in buying games from the service?
PlayStation Mobile is out in the wild now, but Sony doesn’t have the software to make it a success. It’s one more example of Sony’s fractious structure. If PlayStation Mobile is to be a success, it needs parity across all platforms.