Sony Claims iPhone, iPad No Threat To Gaming

According to Sony executives, the recent growth in cell phone / mobile device gaming poses no danger to the company's gaming-focused products. Instead, Sony's president of Sony's etworked Products & Services Group, Kazuo Hirai, believes new interest in gaming is an opportunity. "It’s something that will lead to broadening the customer base of the overall game industry, Hirai said in an interview in Chiba prefecture, near Tokyo, yesterday.  "People who had never played a game before may enjoy it on their iPhone or Android cell phone and may want to play more at their home.”

Sony has launched several high-profile products/capabilities in the past 12 months (think the Move, 3D gaming, and the execrable PSP Go) and is confident that it can continue to deliver an experience superior to a mobile phone or other MID. In this case, the company is probably right—interface and screen size are both tremendously important; attempts to integrate gaming and communication have failed more often than not (Ngage, we're looking at you.)

What's particularly interesting here is Hirai's second comment, where he states: "People..may enjoy a game on their iPhone or Android and may want to play more at their home." The clear implication here is that while a mobile device may handle the mobile version of a game, the 'real' game will be waiting at home. There's nothing new about porting a game across multiple platforms, but Hirai's comment implies we may start seeing more games explicitly designed to complement each other.

Ahh, nostalgia.

We'll use a well-known example to illustrate the point. In the Squaresoft classic Final Fantasy VII, players eventually gained access to the Gold Saucer casino. Inside the Casino there were a wide variety of minigames one could explore or compete in. What you did in the Gold Saucer had little to no impact on the larger story, but the mini-games were fun in their own right.

Today, a location like the Gold Saucer could potentially be accessed by a mobile device linked to one's game account. Rewards, bonuses, or additional gear would be ready and waiting when the player logged in again on a PlayStation. This type of linkage could easily be turned into a selling point; with the mobile client available either for a small additional price or included for free when buying the Collector's Edition of a game.

Sony has already extended the PlayStation brand into portable devices with the PSP series, so the concept already has traction. We don't want to dismiss the complexity of creating a cross-mobile gaming platform, or the process of deciding what hardware/interface options a phone or MID must have in order to qualify as "PlayStation compatible." We predict Sony will at least explore a software licensing deal for one reason—money. According to iSuppli, if phones sold in 2009 are counted as gaming devices they account for 93 percent of all the mobile gaming devices sold. Handhelds—including both the PSP and the DS—accounted for just three percent of the market.

Handhelds still dominate actual game sales, with 67.l percent of the market, but mobile phones are steadily gaining on handheld devices (when evaluated strictly in terms of graphics and processing power). The realities of ergonomic design guarantee that there'll be a market for handheld gaming for a long time, but the mobile market represents an ocean of revenue. One way or another, Sony will try to find a way to tap it.