By PushSquare editor Sammy Barker
I’ve had a few days to analyse the reaction to Sony’s NGP announcement this week, and I’ve been overwhelmed by how much positivity I’ve read. People seem to get it. The PSP never quite delivered on the “portable console experience” because it was hampered by restricted, unwieldy and uncomfortable control inputs. Some developers came close to delivering the vision, but it just never felt quite right. No-one can out and out disregard the notion of portable console experiences because none of us have experienced it yet. The NGP brings with it control mechanics that will make the original PSP’s vision a reality — dual-analogue sticks and their implications on game control should not be understated. The infamous “Monster Hunter claw” springs to mind.
While I’d argue blind that console experiences can — and will — work on the NGP, I think some critics are overlooking the other key component in Sony’s mobile strategy. It’s natural that a concept statement and flashy marketing name should get overlooked by videos of Uncharted and flashy new moulds of silicon, but the PlayStation Suite really is the smartest component of Sony’s mobile strategy. Those who are quick to assume Sony has learned nothing with the PSP need only look at the initiative.
I’m not a mobile phone expert, but I have enough awareness of the technology sector to know that the install-base of Android devices is growing. Yet, as I understand it, the platform is yet to have a unified, certified location for quality software. This is Apple’s biggest strength — the App store has been a revelation, providing iOS owners with a variety of great (and let’s be honest, plenty of not so great) software at low, low prices. PlayStation Suite competes directly with Apple, and it does so in a method that’s extremely clever on Sony’s part.
The armchair analysts assume that the NGP can not compete with the iOS media tidal-wave, presumably arguing that Sony’s new handheld should have been a simpler, paired down device with short mini-games to compel the casual audience. Realistically though, who would get excited for that device? Apple already caters to that audience, and the NGP wouldn’t be quite the same blockbuster story if Sony had announced LocoRoco as its main title rather than Uncharted. But this is exactly the area that PlayStation Suite slips in through the back-door ready to unsettle the market.
Launching on an install-base of millions of Android devices (tablets, mobile phones, etc) and the NGP, PlayStation Suite gives indie-and-small developers a platform to produce cheaper applications and mini-games for a vast number of devices. What’s more, with Sony at the helm, consumers can be assured a certified level of quality that’s just not present on the App Store’s free-for-all open market. Not only does PlayStation Suite give the Android market-place the software stability it craves in order to compete with the Apple marketplace, it also enhances the NGP’s software-base by an extraordinary number. The PlayStation Minis’ platform suffered from bloated pricing and a general lack of interest. There was never going to be a true word-of-mouth smash hit like Angry Birds or Cut The Rope. That, in my opinion, is because the initiative was limited by the PSP’s (and later the PS3’s) limited install-base. But PlayStation Suite overcomes that issue with simplicity. Android is huge in the mobile sector, and with the PlayStation Suite sharing content between all those devices (and the NGP) it guarantees quality software and, most importantly, developer support.
This also means the long-touted Xperia Play (or PlayStation Phone) makes a lot of sense. While many had been confused by the device’s “standard Android phone with PlayStation controls” make-up, it now makes a lot of sense. Those who really want to engage in the PlayStation Suite can choose to do so with a phone that crosses both the traditional PlayStation experience, and the new-age app world.
The more I think about the NGP, the more I realise just how versatile the NGP is. Clearly the device is capable of amazing traditional gaming experiences, and I explained why I want those type of games through here. But at the opposite end of the spectrum, PlayStation Suite really is the smartest decision Sony’s made in years. It’s all the more exciting in a post-Kutaragi world. The NGP is Sony’s first piece of hardware without the legendary “PlayStation father” in charge, and while Yoshida and Hirai’s vision keeps many of Sony’s traditional traits — horsepower, high-end, consumer electronics — it also shows a respect for the development community that the likes of PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable never did. You could count on two hands the number of developers who said it took them a week to get their NGP demonstration running. By catering to developers needs and the growing mobile market, Sony almost guarantees software support for the platform. When the president of Epic Games — the company behind the widely used Unreal Engine — is waxing lyrical about the NGP’s potential, then there’s evidence that Sony’s got things right under the hood.
Of course, to balance the argument, while I feel Sony’s poised to really put their stamp on the handheld market with both NGP and PlayStation Suite, it’s important to recognise there are still hurdles to overcome. Pricing, marketing and software will be imperative for the device’s success. The pressure on Sony Bend’s shoulders with NGP’s Uncharted entry must be enormous. If, for any reason, the game fails to deliver on people’s expectations, then the hardware will instantly be damned by the mistakes of one piece of software. As a headline charging piece of software, Sony need to ensure Uncharted NGP is close to perfect.
But with Sony seemingly winning over their critics, and looking like they understand the modern mobile market as well as the traditional one, I really am excited for the potential of their mobile initiative going forward. The armchair analysts will be quick to tout their criticisms across the Internet without doubt, but when you really begin to look at the NGP and PlayStation Suite strategy, it’s clear that Sony “gets it” more than people think.