Gaming goes mobile
The launch of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play - the PlayStation Phone - marks a new chapter in mobile gaming
It wasn’t that long ago that Nintendo’s Game Boy and Sega’s Game Gear were every teenager’s favoured gadget: portable video gaming on tiny screens was an international craze culminating in more advanced toys such as the PlayStation Portable. Then along came the mobile phone.
Apple’s iPhone has made scores of major international gaming companies seriously rich, with high-resolution gaming now possible on a device that’s small enough to fit into a jacket pocket.
Now, however, gaming is going to a new level with the launch of the world’s first official, “PlayStation Certified” phone, the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play.
Julian Stocker, the UK MD of Gameloft, says the new phone is “a console in your pocket”.
Nathan Vautier, Managing Director of Sony Ericsson UK & Ireland, says the device will open “a huge, untapped segment of the market”.
The Xperia Play’s launch, marked with a glamorous party in London’s West End, has not however been without incident.
What Vautier calls “supply chain issues” have delayed some stock, and the network O2, which had planned to launch the handset yesterday, now says that software bugs render the phone unable to offer “a great experience”. They’re working on fixing them as soon as possible.
Retailer Phones4U, however is selling the phone. A spokesman for the shop said, “Although a number of networks have stated that there has been a delay in their deliveries of the Xperia Play, we have received plenty of stock ".
The announcement, along with a similar one from Carphone Warehouse, scotched rumours that there was any problem with the hardware.
Indeed, the design of the Xperia Play is just one of its radical features: slide the touchscreen up and it reveals, rather than a keyboard, proper gaming controls.
As Stocker says, where conventional touchscreens force you to cover part of the screen with your fingers, specific controls enable precise movements and let you see the screen.
It’s no accident that, among the 60 games launching on the Xperia Play, one is football game Fifa, where complex controls are particularly important.
That’s part of what Vautier calls the “huge difference” between games that use controllers and games that are simply another application for phones.
He says that as games on phones “become more credible, we’ll see far more games and we’ll see them move beyond something that people use purely to fill dead time”.
Crucial to the success of any such device, however, is the range of games. Gameloft, for instance, will be offering a new game, Back Stab, on the Xperia Play for a month before it launches on iPhone.
The pirate adventure will initially join racing game Asphalt 6 as an Android exclusive, while a host of major titles should, Sony Ericsson hopes, also prove alluring.
The Xperia Play is based on Google’s Android operating system, and in that crowded field of similar devices offers a unique experience because of its focus on games.
Sony Ericsson, too, works closely with PlayStation makers Sony, and so fans expect a deeper level of integration to follow soon.
Vautier’s idea, however, is that a PlayStation Certified phone stands on its own merits: “it will open up a new market for casual gaming”, he says.
In a world where the DVD industry is being eclipsed by video games and mobile phones are everywhere, that certainly makes sense.
But Nintendo's new 3DS is impressive, and software developers increasingly find they have to embrace Apple, the web, Google and a host of other platforms. The Xperia Play will need to offer a major new market for it to be truly viable.