The PlayStation Vita is released in Japan in a little under three weeks. It carries on its diminutive shoulders the weight of expectation that can only be levied by an army of overzealous cheerleaders for the PlayStation brand.
It would be foolish to think of the Vita’s predecessor, the PlayStation Portable, as a failure but it would be equally as blinkered to believe that it was anything like the success it could have, or perhaps should have, been. A plague of piracy issues, an unsuccessful hardware redesign and a lack of widespread software support in later years have led to a portable device that has been beleaguered with problems from relatively early on in its life cycle.[drop]That faltering PlayStation Portable and a largely unsuccessful PlayStation phone (Xperia Play), coupled with Nintendo’s recent lethargy in the handheld market, has led many to declare that the traditional portable gaming market is dead. The complex, relatively expensive, development platforms and strict rules for licensing have made it difficult for new ideas to be explored and chances taken. In many cases, there’s simply too much to lose for tiny studios.
Mobile gaming, in the shape of Apple’s iOS devices (and Android, to a much lesser extent) has grown a traditionally niche market into something that not only captivates a far wider audience than ever before but fosters an extremely healthy development ecosystem. With a low barrier of entry and relatively simple programming tools freely available, iOS development has provided a system which promotes experimentation and risk-taking. The only drawback is that to be noticed in such a well-stocked marketplace you need to have some serious marketing clout behind you, or be extremely fortuitous. With so much choice, there is a lot of dead wood to sift through before true quality is able to surface.
PlayStation Suite might be about to marry the best bits of both systems and in the process, take the Vita to barely imaginable heights.
PlayStation Suite is a software framework which will be functional on Android devices running version 2.3 (or higher, presumably) of the OS which also meet PlayStation’s as-yet-unannounced hardware specifications. The framework is cross platform, cross device and based on an open source software platform called Mono.
If Sony is sensible about who it allows to become “PlayStation Certified” then we could see a cohesive platform that bonds the many various Android hardware possibilities into a relatively narrow set of hardware specifications, screen resolutions and form factors. I believe that Sony needs to be open minded about what devices and which manufacturers it is willing to give its stamp of approval to. Allowing many different manufacturers to carry the PlayStation Certified monicker will increase install base and promote healthy development communities.[drop2]I also believe that they need to be clear about what criteria should be met to gain access to the PlayStation Suite family. Ensure there’s not too much variation in hardware revisions and you allow developers the best possible chance of selling sufficient numbers to make their investment worthwhile. This focussed set of specifications would make developing for the platform significantly simpler than the current mess of Android possibilities which contribute to disparity in release schedules with the more restricted iOS platform.
Put simply, if developers have a clear set of criteria to develop for, a cheap way of developing and a large install base of potential users then they will stock your online marketplace with innovative, imaginative and captivating software.
Sony could potentially make far more money by providing that framework, allowing broader licensing and filling up an online marketplace, from which they take a percentage – just as Apple does with the AppStore.
But an increase in profits on licensed software downloads isn’t the only benefit here. Potentially, a well stocked marketplace, packed with innovative, cheap and entertaining products could sell the Vita far more widely than all of the traditional, “full console experience” games that Sony itself will be publishing. The people who flock to iOS devices because “there’s an app for that” might just arrive at the Vita instead and that market will provide all the platform success Sony needs to justify commissioning another core console experience for you and I.