PlayStation Mobile’s Potential – Missed Opportunity or Mass Appeal?

This past Wednesday, as previously announced and completely separate to the usual PS Store update, Sony’s new games-and-app service PlayStation Mobile rolled out onto a select number of PlayStation Certified mobile devices, and more importantly perhaps, the PlayStation Vita.

It is certainly a step in the right direction on Sony’s part but in my opinion, in the world of iOS and Android devices aplenty, it may well be too small a step to really garner the attention it requires or influence Sony’s intended market.

Now, there’s no denying that the launch, albeit rather subdued on the part of pre-launch hype or marketing, has already thrown up some brilliant ‘mobile’ games – Vlambeer’s Super Crate Box and the ever reliable Futurlab’s Fuel Tiracas are two such gems.

Alas, my concerns don’t lie with the content thus far, it’s simply too early to tell what PSM holds in that regard, but rather with the way in which PlayStation have chosen to implement their foray into the already oversaturated app-based market.

[drop]The first thing to niggle was the realisation that although the PSM titles are available on your Vita, at launch at least, they are missing PlayStation Network Account integration, with regards to trophies and friends-list based leaderboards.

Sony have been quoted as saying that full trophy support will be coming to new PSM games at a later date, but currently it’s up to developers to implement their own achievement and leaderboard system, which will rather surprisingly, not be tied to your PlayStation ID trophy count or player level.

Why is this the case? The Vita had trophy support from day one, and similar protocols are in place with rival services. The world’s most identifiable and profitable mobile based app platform, Apple’s iOS, has its own “Game Centre” service and whilst not implemented in all titles, leaderboards and system wide rankings are at the developer’s disposal should they choose to utilise it. Currently PlayStation Mobile developers, and subsequently their customers, don’t have that choice.

With the arrival of the newer Windows 8 handsets and SmartGlass tablets, Xbox Live on Windows is becoming more and more prevalent. Again, this service allows players to unify their achievements and gamerscore – leveling up whilst at home or mobile, and has done for quite some time.

As such, although not entirely expected, I’d have liked trophy implementation within all PlayStation branded gaming going forward from the Vita’s launch. The omission somehow makes one part of the brand feel inferior to another, and certainly makes cross platform titles feel lacking to their counterparts on iOS, for example.

Another major problem with Sony attempting mobile purchases, especially on phones or tablet devices, is the transaction process itself. Sony’s chosen method of payment, the PlayStation wallet, has a minimum funding limit of £5 in the UK. Five pounds.

If I’m browsing the store and see a game I like the look of for, let’s say, 69p, I’m not going to leave £4-odd of my hard earned cash sitting in a virtual no-man’s land on the off chance. It’s probably worth a punt at 69p – people will impulse buy at that cost, and again Apple’s App Store proves this.

It’s a given however, that considerably fewer apps would have been sold if you had to drop £5 rather than 69p on the off chance that the latest Angry Birds or Draw Something wasn’t absolute drivel after an hour.

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of browsing for a game – you’ll have to do just that. Currently, unlike the Game and Video areas, the PlayStation Mobile section of the storefront doesn’t have a dedicated search feature.

I also feel the urge to voice a couple of concerns pertaining to the Vita’s uptake of PlayStation Mobile content particularly, which will not have any bearing on your enjoyment of the games on Certified Android devices.

Your Playstation Mobile games for Vita aren’t necessarily always entirely mobile.

There’s two reasons for this – Firstly, The Vita’s strangely thought out restrictive UI, and it’s 100 icon limit; Less than a year into its proposed 10-year supported cycle, and I’m already using 66 of my allotted bubbles on the 10×10 homescreen system. This is before PSM’s launch. To me it doesn’t seem like a brilliant plan to bring inexpensive mobile gaming to a market who can’t actually carry the games.

Of course, Sony’s Content Manager lets you back-up your old titles to free up the essential screen real estate, but when every other device I own has folders or recursive directory listings, why doesn’t my Vita?

Secondly, If you’ve purchased a PSM title, be it on your Android or Vita, did you read the description clearly?

“The licence verification for this product will be performed periodically via Wi-Fi or mobile network connection. If the licence cannot be verified as valid, the application will not start.”

I haven’t checked them all, but as far as I can tell that quote is in the download terms of every PSM game.

[drop2]In basic terms it means that without an internet connection of some sort your game may not work. This type of always-on DRM, presumably to combat piracy and the like, has been adopted with a select few apps elsewhere, and is widespread amongst PC titles.

This isn’t as bad as it first seems for the Vita though, and the majority of users won’t notice the underlying license check. A look at the newly published PlayStation Mobile FAQ reveals that the check is once every 30 days. So as long as you don’t try and start the game for the first time without an internet connection, or after a long hiatus, you should be fine. Still a bit of a faff though isn’t it?

This is still a worry for me though. There’s a large proportion of gamers, particularly in the younger bracket (which some of these pick-up-and-play apps will appeal to) who are not connected to the internet.

There are no official statistics from Sony, but from a my own research and early sales figures I believe that around 60-80% of Vitas in UK households are Wi-Fi only. Elsewhere this figure is at best rising to a 50/50 split between that and the 3G enabled model. In theory, this means that without the hassle of these customers finding a hotspot or similar, PlayStation Mobile’s audience just halved.

Taking everything into account, how many people are going to willingly tie up £5 for a mobile game they may not be able to play?

I don’t have the time to back up an old game, download and subsequently run a new one before I hop on the train of a morning.

I will undeniably enjoy a select few PlayStation mobile games on my Vita at home and occasionally on my Xperia phone too; But truth be told, in it’s current form PlayStation Mobile is not Mobile enough and this will ultimately limit my impulse buying – the impulses on which this market relies.

I guess only time will tell for the fledgling market place, but unless it addresses these issues, its originality can be its only saviour. Other ‘mobile’ app stores have a proven formula, and I don’t think this is it.



  1. I feel this is very much Sony as you know them lately. A lot of the stuff they release barebones, with promises of improvement. With firmware updates in this modern day, improvements there will always be, but some basic stuff should be done at launch. PSN functionality is one of those basic features. For me personally, trophies. I will not buy any PSM games unless they have trophies, which brings me to another very basic, yet very important feature. To buy the games. No matter how much money I throw at my Vita, I won’t be able to buy them. They have launched PSM in very few countries. Another huge mistake.

    • Agreed. They rarely seem to think things through and have this terrible habit of patching and updating (for years) to often bring a service up to the spec it should’ve been at launch, let alone half way through the life-cycle.

      God knows there’s still basic functionality missing from the PS3 and how it works online with both games and its own store.

      I’m sad to think it’s either incompetence, arrogance, or… there’s simply not enough money to justify the expenditure of a fully realised support system. The latter may well be the truth and will only do more damage as time goes by.

  2. And lets not forget the fact that PSM is only available in select countries, while that is huge countries like USA, UK, Japan, Canada, Germany, Spain, Australia and so on, you are still leaving out a HUGE market, who again can do nothing but wait for Sony to support them.

    And frankly as a person who still hasn’t Movie Store on PS3 (was promised to launch 2 years ago), Youtube on Vita (for NO good reason) and like the rest of the world other then US, no Youtube client on PS3, I have ZERO confidence in Sony delivering PSM support in 2012.

    Oh the things Sony do… so much *facepalm*. You have to wonder how great a gaming company and how great their products would be, if they had some proper management.

  3. Firstly it should have been there at launch & feature complete eg PSN & Trophies (for those that avoid great games if they don’t make a ping)

    It’s a great opportunity… Small indie games with a low-ish barrier to entry that can be turned out without costing millions creates buzz… Just look at iDevice.
    This is something that really makes the Vita a machine suitable for being mobile, certainly much more suited than AAA games better suited to being played on a sofa.
    Impulse buy price is key thing too

    As usual for everything Sony touch though they represent a missed opportunity, great idea with absolutely awful follow through, like I said not being ready at launch, not being feature complete on launch… There is still unavailability on PlayStation Certified devices like the HTC One X & others.

    This lack of attention to detail is why Sony struggle, rather than this great new thing they’ve launched being amazing & creating buzz from the start everything has this impossibly slow build up where initial launch hype fades & never comes back.

    Also shows that streak of arrogance that dogged the PS3 launch in so much as Sony think they only have to mention something & people will lap it up with no further effort on their part that extends to marketing too.

    That’s not how the world works now, Sony seem spoiled by the ease of the PS2 sell through, they see Apple success & think a nice product is what sells when in actual fact it’s the details, which is what Sony never implement.

    Anyway I’m drifting, PSM as usual is a great idea (especially the Certified side of it) but the jury is out on whether Sony themselves can bring it home.

  4. For me it is becoming too much of a hassle to do anything with any Playstation brand now! Far too many “unfinished” services that just need some firm backing to get the basic functionality working!
    Home – half arsed and sod all in the way of what was mentioned! Trophy cabinet, games hub etc etc – hasn’t happened.
    Vita – Content manager requires internet connection and the trophy list is seperate. Though I don’t agree with a lack of games as I think it has quite a good catalogue right now.
    Store – As mentioned – the minimum £5 to load your wallet. Fragemented releases with huge delays in Europe.

    And now PS Mobile released with sod all polish and support! Sony have all the right ideas but execute them so poorly! If they were to release a Playstation toaster it would produce the best exclusive toast but you would have to connect it to the internet, wait for an hours worth of updates, pay for 5 slices when you only want one and then find out that the butter “dlc” won’t be out in Europe for another 6 weeks due to localisation!

    Come on Sony – rub those brain”cells” together and back your services with an unmatched dedication to getting the basics right!

  5. Really good article. I’ve got to say I’m not interested in psm in its current format, I’ve not bothered to browse the games or read much about them. what will change that? Trophy integration and like you say, impulse purchases without having to spend £5. Sort those 2 issues and I’m sure I’d end up impulse buying quite a lot.

  6. I’m in shock at the 100 icon limit in the Vita’s Os… :O wth… i’ve got 61 bubbles used on my 16GB card and could fit another 10-20 minis still. And i was only thinking last night about how much vertical swiping i would have to do when the 64GB cards become available – no need to bother with one of those now. Seriously poor design choice for a console that’s supposed to carry us through the next few years. I really hope they can re-jig the Os to handle more icons as i don’t favour shuffling content back and forth onto my Vita. :/

    As for PSM, after my initial disappointment at it not rolling out everywhere, i’ve been looking at round-ups of the available games and their prices. Apart from a handful, many of them seem ridiculously overpriced and i suspect some of them will be heavily discounted soon.
    I think PSM needs more time to mature before it can be fairly compared to the AppStore – whether Sony have that time on their side or not is another thing of course but the pricing and lack of profile-synching doesn’t help.

    And here’s my alternate take on the having to spend a fiver bit.. Not owning a credit card, i had to buy a €25 itunes card just so i could pay the 3 or 4 euros required for the ipod update at the time. It took me eighteen months to find something worthwhile to spend the rest of that credit on. I’ve gotten used to having to top up my PSN account by €20 or €50 at a time but at least i always know it’s going to be spent fairly rapidly.

  7. Would’ve bought at least a few games were it not for the minimum spend

  8. To be honest the fine line between spending £200 on a Vita or not was trophy support. Without it im pretty sure i would not have got my vita. I love playing games and getting trophies for my tasks is a satisfying.

    It goes the same with the mobile apps. Alot of the time the only reason i keep playing a game after doing most thing is that there are a few achievements.

    I bought Fuel on my vita but that is it really, i dont think I could justify more expensive apps and the fact that my HTC one X cant support psm just yet.

    So I guess as always with sony, we will have to wait and see.

  9. I think its just another one of those examples where sony is trying to make vita be in the same ball court as smart phones because of reports hither and dither about smartphones selling better than DSs and PSPs a year or so ago.

    Dare say experience will improve over time but the two major things that need to be sorted is the £5 limit, thats always anoid me when I want to buy a PS1 title, and also the DRM which is just pathetic, I’m 20 and at Uni, I have internet access but I can’t use it with vita, basically because CMA is crap and one can’t browse PSN, and vita’s firmware for wi-fi isn’t comprehensive enough that I can log on to a netwrok secured by password/security certificate.

    the 1.8 firmware update is pretty cool, lets hope the atitude sticks and sony deal with firmware, because it comes to something when I aspire the PSP’s file based firmware, at least what I wanted where i wanted it and download it on my PSP.

    To confirm another point, if I were at home, I wouldn’t have an internet connection at all, (I would be able to download games like escape plan because of hotspots), so I just wouldn’t bother with anything DRM.

    At least LBP makes sense, arcade and vertical-based games are fantastic.

  10. Good article with constructive criticism Sony should be looking to adress. Minimum spend is not an issue for regular PSN customers but Sony should be looking to appeal to new customers.

    I feel positive about PSM. There are a lot of good developers on board and the quality of the initial batch of content reflects thiis. Time will tell as always. It would be good if Sony expand on the supported platforms and allow a smaller minimum spend to encourage the impulse buyers.

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