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The Xperiation Date

Brendan Caldwell | 20 Jan 2012 09:00
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The Xperia Play is dying and I'm afraid it's terminal. Both those within Sony Ericsson (now owned wholly by Sony) and those outside have known for a long time that things were not looking good for the would-be "PlayStation Phone." A recent spate of sales have seen prices of a network-free Xperia Play plummet from £480 during its launch in April this year to as low as £155 in October as retailers are reporting less than enthusiastic sales figures.

The problem is: how do you appeal to multiple crowds simultaneously without alienating them all?

In reality, the symptoms for the device's illness were clear much earlier than that - indeed, the unfortunate disease is genetic. The medical history of the much-desired PlayStation Phone is a parable that ought to act as a warning to developers and manufacturers against chasing an audience that isn't really there in the first place - and getting a lot of other things wrong along the way.

First of all, Sony Ericsson decided to chase a Holy Grail. The 'hybrid' demographic is a much coveted target in big business such as technology because it's actually poaching from two demographics. It's a risky quest to be able to appeal both to core gamers and to those who play games on their phones during the morning rush hour. Of course, in terms of profits you would be raking in two audiences instead of focusing on one. That is a very tempting prospect. The problem is: how do you appeal to multiple crowds simultaneously without alienating them all?

Unfortunately for Sony Ericsson, their wade into "hardcore mobile gaming" sprouted from an out-dated philosophy that presumed mobile phones should be more like consoles when actually the best games for iOS and Android are organically evolving to embrace touchscreen technology. Casual games like Cut the Rope, Mush and Pax Britannica are perfectly designed to take advantage of the technology in clever, simple and compelling ways, as are any number of touchscreen puzzle games like PopCap's Bejeweled.

To apply complex console style controls to a smartphone game seems archaic and regressive when put next to the instant gratification of sliding one jewel next to another with a single elegant swipe of your index finger. This is why all first-person shooter games released on iOS or Android are less than impressive. Or rather, they are impressive only in the respect that it is an FPS game running on a phone (how unusual) but not impressive as games in and of themselves. On the merit of their own genre, they don't function very well at all.

This is not to say that console games are old-fashioned, or on their own way out, far from it. They simply do not belong on smartphones. Like it or not, this is the widespread belief among both console gamers and forward-looking developers.

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