PlayStation Mobile launched today for the PS Vita and select PlayStation-certified Android devices, and at first glance, you'd be hard-pushed to notice anything out of the ordinary about it -- which is exactly what the initiative needed.
The new system allows indie developers to sell their games via the PlayStation Store with relative ease. Once a studio or individual has registered and paid $99 per year for a publisher license, they can then release as many games as they want, as long as they keep to the relatively lax service guidelines.
There were plenty of worries leading up to the launch. My comparison with Xbox Live Indie Games earlier this year questioned how exactly Sony would do the concept better. We'd seen this sort of open platform on a dedicated games console before, and it hadn't worked out so well.
Sony's answer, it would appear, is to treat this new storefront in the same way it treats the rest of the content on PSN. In fact, rather incredibly, it is now actually easier to discover PS Mobile games than it is to sift through the main games pages.
Boot up the PSN store on your PS Vita, and you'll find a relatively large PlayStation Mobile button on the top right of the store, positioned alongside the "Game" and "Video" tabs. Hitting that takes you straight into the fray, with featured PS Mobile games along the top, and links to discover more in the regular menu format.
What Sony has essentially done is plop PS Mobile down into the store and present the games as if they are no different to any of the games found in the main store segment.
This compares to the "Game" tab, which has separate segments for PS Vita games, demo, PSP games, PS One games, Minis and Apps (if you scroll down far enough). In comparison, it is far, far easier to find a PS Mobile game than it is to scroll your way through to the latest Minis releases.
To put it bluntly, it's a stunning move on Sony's part, and one that shows the company is ready to push PS Mobile as "the next big thing" from the get-go. There's great visibility for each and every PS Mobile title, and a "Featured" tab will no doubt give visitors a taste of the best titles on the service in the months to come. Of course, some extra visibility options, like top lists and weekly deals wouldn't go amiss, but in general, it's a nice system.
Even when you download a PS Mobile game and jump in to play, there is still no discernable difference that gives a sense that a PS Mobile simply isn't as important as a regular title. PS Mobile games get their own icon and LiveArea screen, while looking and feeling like a regular Vita game. There's no "this title has not been vetted by Sony and therefore we cannot take responsibility for whether it's actually good or not" warning screen. This is Sony showing huge confidence in its developers.
The quality of the games themselves are varied, as with any system launch. Of the 20 launch games, you've got a couple of notable ports like Super Crate Box, iOS ports, and titles that have evolved from PlayStation Minis titles. There are also a fair few new titles debuting on the service too, including a couple from Velocity developer Futurlab.
As of yet, the only games really worth grabbing are Tikipod's pixel-art underwater battler Aqua Kitty and the aforementioned Super Crate Box.
But given the doubt previously surrounding the service, and the fact that the PS Vita hasn't exactly sold well, it's not a huge surprise that the launch line-up is lacking. Hopefully the service's many pro points will pull more developers in in the coming months.
In fact, the next few months will be the make or break period for PS Mobile, with it all coming down to the way in which Vita consumers react to the new tab and selection of games.
The good news is that the prices are, for the most part, very reasonable. You have downloads as cheap as $0.79, and no more expensive than $5.49. Plus, there's even a free-to-play game bundled in there.
However, there are still a number of PlayStation elements that PS Mobile games are missing -- trophies, and leaderboards. Any developer will know just how important these are, and how many extra sales something so silly as a notification popping up when you complete a level can bring in.
And what if consumers don't take to PS Mobile in spades? What will happen to the service then? Sony has set it up in such a way that, if needs be, it could very easily remove the tab at the top and slip PS Mobile to the bottom of the Game tab, alongside Minis. Right now, as great as PS Mobile is looking, that is still very much a viable future.
What Sony needs to do next is the following: Open the service up to more mobile devices. Attract more indie developers. Introduce trophies and leaderboards. Hold regular promotions in the PS Mobile section. Introduce PS Mobile into the PS Plus service.
PlayStation Mobile has a real chance of facilitating the uprise of the PS Vita. If Sony plays its cards right and keeps the correct focus, this could be a real turning point.