Earlier this week I asked a pretty pedantic question: what exactly is PlayStation Mobile? Sony’s smartphone gaming platform, which will allow developers to create and distribute Sony accredited games on Android devices and the Vita, seems to make a lot of sense. But I wanted to know exactly what studios and gamers could expect. And I didn’t have that information. But now I do.
And that’s because I contacted Ricky Haggett of Honeyslug, the developer of wonderful Vita game Frobisher Says. The company is currently working on a PlayStation Mobile title, the touch-based footie game, Passing Time. I figured he could give us some solid information. So here goes:
“On the tech side of things: you write your game in C# – which is easier to develop for than C or C++, and Sony provides some magic which allows that game to run on a range of Android devices, plus the Vita. I’m really into the vision of the tech: it’s comparable to Microsoft’s XNA, but hopefully without the content being put into a ghetto like XBLIG. The line-up of announced games is testament to the success of this idea: you can see that a load of small indie teams are now able to get onto PlayStation with interesting games. It’s unlikely that a team like Vlambeer – just two guys – would have brought Super Crate Box to Android and Vita, but PSM makes it possible. The corollary to the ease of development is that PSM is a slower, interpreted environment, rather than a native one – so if you really want to push the hardware, you may need to develop natively.”
The shopping experience
“The marketplace on Vita is going to be a new section inside the PSN Store, like Minis. The benefit is clear: you get your game on the PSN Store alongside all the other games.
“On Android there will be a new Store app which must be downloaded to get the games. The benefits of this are less clear-cut: there’s an extra download between the customers and the games, so driving people to download this Store app will be key. Once inside this new store, all the games will have been curated by Sony. I’m personally a fan of curation: for example I like browsing on Steam because I don’t have to hunt for good games among all the cack. However, it remains to be seen to what extent this approach is commercially viable. After a long period where there were very few worthwhile games on Android, there are now plenty; at this point, a rival store for games is not going to replace the Google Play Store for Android gamers, but if Sony can get enough decent games on there, hopefully people who care about playing good stuff will download their Store app too.”
“I believe Sony’s plan is that PSM games will only be available on officially ‘certified’ devices – so Android devices will need to meet some kind of minimum specification to play these games. I suppose they’re doing this because they can’t support every ‘droid device out there, especially since many won’t run the games very well (or at all). The concern here is whether they will be able to certify new devices fast enough – there are a lot of powerful devices available now, with more coming out all the time, and they need to support as many devices as possible to avoid fragmenting their market too much. The curveball here is – what happens if you download the store app and try to get games on a phone which isn’t certified, but which is perfectly capable of running them? It will be interesting to see how this one pans out – both for Sony and Android generally. It’s worth remembering that platform fragmentation was one of the things that broke the Java games market: too many phones were completely different so developers had to spend way more time and money making ports than was viable.”
So, yes, PlayStation Mobile makes more sense now – not only will it be easier for developers to write and distribute their titles using the technology, but gamers will also find it easier to discover and enjoy really good curated titles on their Android devices. And Sony is a really good, benevolent curator – it has always supported indie titles, and some of its most interesting games at E3 (Tokyo Jungle, When Vikings Attack) were produced by small studios handpicked through the manufacturer’s third-party development process.
But there are still question marks, still hurdles for Sony to leap over, especially as the numbers and varieties of Android phones and tablets increases.