The Sony Ericsson Xperia Play smartphone (a.k.a. the PlayStation Phone) began making its presence felt on worldwide cell phone markets recently. The phone puts a special emphasis behind gaming, which is evident from its pop-out d-pad and lineup of classic PSOne games. It even comes pre-loaded with some titles, including Bruce Lee: Dragon Warrior, Crash Bandicoot, and Tetris. It is, frankly, a neat little piece of technology, but it’s having some trouble gaining recognition in the unspeakably busy smartphone market.
In fact, the Xperia Play’s most marketable feature–its games library–is selling in the mere hundreds. As of mid-May, the numbers looked dire: Cool Boarders 2 sold one hundred to five hundred copies, as did Syphon Filter. The charming platformer Jumping Flash sold between fifty and one hundred copies. Oh, how that last statistic just makes us ache inside.
Sony fan site PlayStation Lifestyle brought up Xperia Play’s troubles to Dominic Neil-Dwyer, Sony Ericsson’s head of Market Development. Neil-Dwyer admitted that there are only a few titles available for the phone at the moment, but that’s a problem that will be clearing up shortly. Otherwise, Neil-Dwyer played it cool.
“[There are] no concerns, it’s a revolutionary device, it’s shaking up the market, we’re very pleased with it,” he said. “In terms of getting the PlayStation Certified program out, generally, we’re very happy. We know there’s a lot more to come that we’re not, obviously, releasing yet. We’re releasing as we go, rather than telling everyone the full story, and I think everyone appreciates that you have a good line-up at the start of selling a device, because it is a smartphone and it has a good line-up – and that line-up will grow – and the feedback we got on that line-up is that it is a good line-up, so we’re very happy where we are.”
We obviously don’t expect Neil-Dwyer to smack his palms to his cheeks and scream in his best imitation of Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone, but saying that there are “no concerns” with the Xperia Play’s launch is a bit over-optimistic. Obviously, there are some very serious problems that Sony needs to address. For starters, in America, the Xperia Play costs $199.99 USD plus a two-year Verison contract. Sony needs to give people a reason to pick up the Xperia Play for that price instead of the tens of thousands of smartphones that are already available, not the least significant of which is the iPhone.
There’s also the matter of the Xperia’s Play launch lineup, which is, frankly, weak. The launch of the PSOne marked a pivotal time for the games industry wherein many developers did unusual things with the extra storage space CDs granted, and American audiences were compelled to pick up titles from previously-unpopular genres like role-playing games. It would be a good idea for Sony to appeal to nostalgic gamers by (quickly!!) getting well-known favorites on the Xperia marketplace, including PaRappa the Rappa, Final Fantasy VII, and Metal Gear. There’s a rumor that Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear will be coming this summer, but those are two of the PSOne’s most popular titles and should have been available from the minute of the phone’s birth. It’s a busy market, and every second counts.
The Xperia Play has one more major hurdle, though: It’s not compatible with the PlayStation Network. PSOne games purchased for the PlayStation 3 or PSP over PSN can’t be transferred to the Xperia Play, a fact that has understandably left Sony fans feeling chilly towards the smartphone.
It’s not too late for the Xperia Play to find an audience, despite its rocky start. But Sony needs to pull some marketing magic, beef up its game lineup (this phone is supposed to be for gamers, after all), and think about PSN integration. Once the company has checked all that off its To-Do list, it might want to turn its energies into making sure the buying public won’t confuse the Xperia Play with its upcoming handheld game system, the NGP.