PLAYS­TA­TION

Win­ning back the smart­phone gamer.

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

SONY last week launched a gad­get that could de­ter­mine the fate of the por­ta­ble gam­ing mar­ket.

The Plays­ta­tion Vita of­fers Aus­tralian gamers un­prece­dented tech­nol­ogy for a por­ta­ble con­sole, in­clud­ing an OLED touch­screen, quad- core pro­ces­sor and built- in 3G in­ter­net con­nec­tion.

The pock­etable de­vice, a fol­lowup to the Plays­ta­tion Por­ta­ble, also ar­rived with a host of big- name launch ti­tles, in­clud­ing Un­charted, Wipe­out and Mo­torstorm.

But while an­a­lysts pre­dict the con­sole will be keenly wel­comed by ded­i­cated gamers, they fore­cast a bit­ter bat­tle ahead as smart­phone and tablet game apps claim a larger share of mo­bile gam­ing.

One re­port claims smart­phone games al­ready ac­count for 58 per cent of por­ta­ble game rev­enue, lead­ing one ex­pert to as­sert that ‘‘ maybe the horse has al­ready bolted’’.

Un­veiled in Jan­uary last year, Sony’s Plays­ta­tion Vita is the most tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced por­ta­ble game con­sole yet.

While it re­sem­bles its PSP pre­de­ces­sors, the Vita fea­tures a 5- inch OLED touch­screen, a touch­sen­si­tive rear panel, two joy­sticks, quad- core pro­ces­sor, space for a mem­ory card and game car­tridge, plus wi- fi con­nec­tiv­ity.

The top- tier PS Vita will also de­liver 3G mo­bile in­ter­net ac­cess, which is a first in a por­ta­ble con­sole. Voda­fone is of­fer­ing a 12- month plan.

The con­sole will cost $ 349 ( wi- fi) or $ 419 ( 3G) out­right at launch, a price Swin­burne me­dia and com­mu­ni­ca­tions se­nior lec­turer Dr Mark Finn says sur­prised some pun­dits.

‘‘ Sony has come into this with a price that is much, much lower than many peo­ple ex­pected,’’ he says. ‘‘ It’s com­ing in with a price that is cheaper than [ its pre­de­ces­sor] the PSPGO, about $ 100 cheaper. It’s al­most an im­pulse buy.’’

But while Finn praises the Sony Vita’s power and price, he pre­dicts the com­pany, and fel­low por­ta­ble gam­ing gi­ant Nin­tendo, will strug­gle to win back some gam­ing fans who have opted for apps over game car­tridges.

‘‘ We’ve had a bit of a gamechanger in the shift to­wards mo­bile de­vices be­com­ing game plat­forms,’’ he says. ‘‘ Tablets and high- end smart­phones have taken away a lot of the thun­der from tra­di­tional game com­pa­nies.’’

Re­search firm Flurry es­ti­mates Google An­droid and Ap­ple IOS games took up 58 per cent of all game rev­enue last year, up from 19 per cent in 2009.

Nin­tendo’s share dropped to 36 per cent, ac­cord­ing to Flurry, while Sony’s share fell to 6 per cent.

But IDC pre­dicts ded­i­cated por­ta­ble game con­soles are in for a ‘‘ re­bound’’ this year, helped by Vita’s launch and a big price cut to Nin­tendo’s 3DS con­sole ( to $ 249).

Gam­ing re­search man­ager Lewis Ward says the en­tire mo­bile games mar­ket will gen­er­ate $ 14.7 bil­lion this year and pre­dicts gam­ing apps will in­crease their rev­enue share by 4 per cent by 2015 be­cause of bar­gain base­ment prices.

An­other ad­van­tage of por­ta­ble games con­soles is the qual­ity of their games, Bond Univer­sity com­mu­ni­ca­tions and me­dia as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor Dr Jef­frey Brand says.

While app stores of­fer a wide va­ri­ety of games, smart­phone ti­tles range from crudely made and ‘‘ ex­per­i­men­tal’’ games to pol­ished ex­pe­ri­ences.

‘‘ Some gamers are look­ing for a very rich and deep ex­pe­ri­ence with­out some of the fail­ings of con­verged de­vices [ like smart­phones and tablets] such as sta­bil­ity, screen size and game qual­ity,’’ Dr Brand says.

In a strange way, por­ta­ble game ma­chines may also ben­e­fit from the pop­u­lar­ity of smart­phone games. ‘‘ The game au­di­ence is much more di­verse than it was only five years ago and . . . smart­phones have con­trib­uted to that,’’ he says.

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