For years, gamers clamored and begged for a PlayStation phone. Sony kept everybody in the dark for six years after the original PSP launched. Then the iPhone and iPod Touch blew up the scene in 2007, along with the App Store and the rest is history. Sony missed the boat.
This past Spring, Sony Ericsson released the Xperia Play — a real PlayStation-branded smartphone with a real gamepad that slides out. Although there was much hype and anticipation for the Xperia Play on video game blogs, it flopped hard — discounted down from $200 to $100 at a great many retailers, only after a few weeks on sale. It really didn't help that that Verizon, the only U.S. wireless carrier to sell the Xperia Play didn't really trumpet it, either.
The problem with the Xperia Play didn't lie with the hardware — it's a very solid Android smartphone; one of the best I've ever tested. The Xperia Play was missing the one thing that makes a gaming device worth buying: great games.
Forget for a second that the PlayStation games Sony Ericsson promised are 15-year-old PlayStation 1 games. The fact that Sony failed to bring its huge library of PlayStation games or tie the Xperia Play to the PlayStation Store's vast array of digital PS classics already foretold its fate.
Now we hear that a curious developer who goes by "yianflu" has managed to rip legally-owned PS1 games to play on the Xperia Play. Emulators for PS1 games have existed in the past, before Google purged them from the Android Marketplace, but those never ran at full speed and suffered from poor virtual controls. Injecting the ripped games in ISO form into the Xperia Play, yianflu was able to run any PS1 game using the device's "superior emulator."
One guy did what an entire corporation has been unable to do: enable the entire library of old PS1 games. Had Sony had 50 or 100 PS1 games lined up, the Xperia Play might have picked up a little more momentum, but it didn't.
I'm well aware that there are numerous roadblocks to emulating an old PS1 game — namely licensing, quality assurance reports, etc. Sony made that very clear on its official EU PlayStation blog a few months back, but damn it, these are the sort of things that should been taken care of during the planning phase, long before the Xperia Play even hit the market.
Sony should have been right up front, ready to deliver the games as soon as the Xperia Play launched, after it launched and then steadily for the rest of its life cycle. What Xperia Play owners got was Crash Bandicoot. Where's Gran Turismo? Where is Metal Gear Solid? Where is Final Fantasy VII? They're nowhere in sight.
Games like Angry Birds exploded on the mobile scene because they offer a quick pick up and play design — not the long, deep platformer or JRPG that made the original PlayStation such as success.
I want to see a smartphone by Sony that does it all — offer the "premium" content that the PlayStation brand is known for, but the Xperia Play is not that phone.
Similar to how Nokia's taco-shaped N-Gage crashed and burned, any smartphone that's pushing traditional gaming will fail unless it brings a collection of games that make it a killer device to own. What Sony shouldn't do is keep promising consumers PlayStation-certified devices, be it a smartphone or tablet that doesn't have any PlayStation heritage to them.
Why will a primary gaming device like the PS Vita still get tons of love from gamers, even with the convenience of games on the iPhone and Android devices? Because it'll have the games — the "core" games and everything in between.