Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. has announced the launch timing for PlayStation Mobile (PSM). This fall, the new platform will begin "delivering the world of PlayStation on open operating system-based devices," with games to be sold through the PlayStation Store. (The program was originally announced under the name PlayStation Suite.)
Canada is among nine countries that will see the initial roll-out of PSM. Others include Japan, the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Australia. (Hong Kong and Taiwan are also mentioned in the announcement.)
"In simple terms, Canada remains to be an incredibly important region for SCEA and Sony in general," said Matt Levitan, Director of Marketing & Public Relations, Sony of Canada Ltd. He added that Canada represents about 15% of North American PlayStation revenue, and is seen as "a leading region for new and exciting marketing and merchandising programs."
Sony promised that at launch users would be able to play about 30 new titles, in genres including action, adventure, puzzle and sports. These would be created both by third-party developers and its own SCE Worldwide Studios. Sony stated that it had agreements to develop for PSM from 56 third-party "developers and publishers" in Japan and Europe, plus 29 more "across regions including the United States."
Two new hardware partners were also announced, with ASUSTeK Computer Inc. and WikiPad Inc. joining the PlayStation Certified license program. In June, Sony had previously announced that HTC would be joining the PlayStation Certified program.
No specific devices have so far been mentioned (although the HTC One series is said to be a likely inclusion). But WikiPad perhaps points to a possible evolution in mobile-gaming products. Its tablet features a removable set of gaming controls, including the familiar thumb-stick and D-pad.
While Sony's announcement is exciting, and sure to boost interest in Android generally, it's also a bit tantalizing, leaving a number of key points unclear.
The most notable omission is any clarification of requirements for a device to be ‘PlayStation Certified.' The assumption is that Sony will require certain hardware specs and OS capabilities, but no detail has been forthcoming on the subject.
Software requirements are equally nebulous. All we do know is what's in the current pre-release PlayStation Mobile SDK (Software Developer Kit).
The SDK runs on Windows (XP SP3 or later), and requires OpenGL 3.0 graphics support. Surprisingly, it's based on Mono, the open-source derivative of Microsoft's .NET programming system. It seems odd that Sony would have picked up this technology, albeit indirectly, from its biggest competitor. But on the other hand, .NET is highly-regarded among programmers, so it's hard to fault the choice on a technical level.
The SDK includes all the stuff developers will need to start cranking out games. The core of the kit is PSM Studio, which is apparently a version of the MonoDevelop IDE (Integrated Development Environment). An add-in is reportedly being developed, that would actually allow development in Microsoft's own Visual Studio IDE.
There are also several demo games, including full 3D action and flight-simulation types, as well as 2D side-scrollers.
As you'd expect, the SDK requires installation of a software emulator. Apparently, a Windows-based emulator is included, but the preferred method of testing games in progress will be using the PlayStation Mobile Development Assistant, which runs on the PlayStation Vita.
Unfortunately, none of this technical detail helps us answer the most important question: what will PlayStation Mobile bring to Android devices that they can't already do on their own? Or, to turn the question around: why would a game developer pick PSM as a platform, rather than coding for Android alone? Clearly, Android-standard games will have the widest possible audience.
It's possible that Sony's software tools will enable easier and more-rapid development. But it's harder to believe that they'll offer some proprietary PlayStation magic that can't be replicated in other ways, on non-Sony-certified Android devices. (Witness the many robust 3D action games already running on Android.)
Will PlayStation Certification create a new world of extra-powerful Android gaming devices? Again, this seems unlikely.
So far, we know of nine devices that are definitely PlayStation Certified, all of them made by Sony: the Xperia PLAY, Xperia arc, Xperia S, Xperia ion, Xperia acro, and Xperia acro HD smartphones, and the Sony Tablet S and foldable Sony Tablet P. These run a healthy range of hardware capability, but don't seem to incorporate any particularly unusual processing or graphics power.
The one edge we do know PlayStation Mobile will have is its ability to give Android users access to popular Sony-exclusive titles. Clearly, Sony will target PSM when bringing any of its own first-party franchises to Android. Third-party games on which Sony has exclusive dibs will likely be limited to this approach as well.
For Android customers, getting access to the Sony library of games will be great news. Anything that widens cross-platform capabilities can only be healthy for the gaming business as a whole.
But on the other hand, if we're to think of PSM as anything more than a new Sony DRM (digital-rights management) platform, we'll need to see independent developers voluntarily choosing it as the best means of delivering their next generation of games on Android devices. Unfortunately, Sony has yet to announce its financial terms for developers, saying only that it is "considering a pricing structure based on current market conditions."
It's also not clear at this point how welcome Sony's PlayStation Store will be on Android. While Google is allowing third-party app stores to set up on Android, in practice their deployment has been limited in various ways. Amazon's Android Appstore, for example, works only on certain devices, and is available in the U.S. only.
Presumably, Sony has these sorts of issues well in-hand, and we'll hear more about the logistics as PlayStation Mobile gets closer to launch. Meanwhile, we can look forward to the prospect of demonstrating (and playing) familiar PlayStation games on Android devices - and maybe seeing some new game-related mobile hardware on the shelves.