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The Xperiation Date

Brendan Caldwell | 20 Jan 2012 13:00
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Even so, the Xperia Play as a technological device is well-made and fairly powerful. It remains an impressive piece of kit but is only desirable to that small group of people who have not yet raised their eyebrows at the promise of 'core' games.

Niches can be filled but never manufactured.

This niche of fans will argue that when compared to other phones the Xperia Play is great for gaming. This is actually largely true. Yet it isn't just being compared to other phones - it's really being compared to the PSP and the 3DS. That's a battle the Xperia Play can't win, especially in terms of what games are available. Asphalt 6: Adrenaline, a Burnout-esque racer from notorious cloners Gameloft does not stand up next to Mario Kart 7. This is bad news for Sony Ericsson. As any hardware developer should know by now, there's no cure for a lack of good games.

But that isn't stopping Sony Ericsson (or fans) from trying to find one. Promotion continues apace, with Kristen Schaal injecting a dose of humour. Deals have been struck to give away EA's entire library of Xperia Play games for free until January. OnLive is now working on the phone, with all its associated possibilities and limitations. And then there's the Big Thing - the fact that Sony have recently bought Sony Ericsson straight out for over $1.5 billion, with fans speculating this will someday result in better continued support (or a new, more successful device - a "real PlayStation Phone").

All these measures combined with the huge price drops are likely to give sales a nudge up, making the device look a little perkier. But it feels like it's too late. The affliction has long gone malignant and any energetic burst of sales now is not what it looks like, not what every fan is hoping for. This is not a turnaround, it's a death rattle.

Whether a second attempt would be successful remains to be seen but Sony, like every company, should take a lesson from its now-incorporated former partner: Don't go after an audience that simply isn't there. Niches can be filled but never manufactured. This lesson was delivered before when Nokia's N-Gage appeared and it'll be delivered again if companies don't stop trying to grasp at mythical "chimera markets" where they believe a viable crossover exists. This doesn't only apply to games and consoles but to every ill-fated half-and-half invention that pops up on infomercials promising to brush and mop your floor at the same time.

The truth is: it won't.

Meanwhile, Sony Ericsson (now Sony) must continue to nurse their patient. On one face, they are pulling an expression of admirably dogged perseverance and optimism. On the other face they are pulling a look of concentration as they do the arithmetic, trying to figure out exactly where they stand and diagnose what went wrong. When many already know what went wrong - they went after two conflicting markets and ended up with neither. The disease is written clearly on the Xperia Play's chart. Greed.

Let's hope it's not contagious.

Brendan Caldwell is a freelancer. He has written for Rock Paper Shotgun, PC Gamer and Edge. He also covers the Xperia Play section at Pocket Gamer. You can read more at his blog."

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