Sony Should Ignore Smartphone Gaming, But They Won’t

Commuters use smartphones in the subway

Things have been going pretty swell for Sony over the past few years. There’s no denying that the Japanese giant is currently reigning kingpin over its rival hardware manufacturers, with PS4’s impressive sales putting it on track to beat records. So much so that Sony have all but abandoned support for their handheld unit, the PS Vita, choosing instead to double down on PS4’s success with the souped-up Pro edition, and its recently released peripheral, PlayStation VR.

Sony, then, almost have everything in place to dominate each of the market avenues they consider able to bear fruit, but there’s still one sector with enormous potential that remains unconquered. Indeed, it seems that, having witnessed the successes of other publishers on smartphones, the potential of the platform is proving irresistible to Sony, and the company is intent on a second attempt to breach the mobile market.

With Nintendo’s Pokemon GO recording over 500 million downloads, that reaction is certainly understandable, but Sony’s ability to emulate the success of Nintendo – a publisher with a sizeable pool of household characters and a history of success with spinoff titles – remains to be seen. And despite the allure of revenue reports suggesting smartphone gaming’s lucrative potential, the instability and fickle nature of the market might be far more trouble for Sony than it’s worth.

Earlier this month Sony confirmed that its subsidiary company, ForwardWorks, which opened earlier this year, aims to help bring more than five smartphone games before March 2018. The move, it seems, is inspired by a desire to gain better traction in the Japanese and Asian market. And, indeed, these markets will be the first to receive this new wave of Sony smartphone games.


The imperative is obvious. Console gaming might be booming in the west, but the numbers aren’t adding up to quite such impressive statistics over in Asia. In Japan, console makers have been struggling to penetrate the market, which represents the third-largest globally. Though console sales aren’t disastrous by any stretch of the imagination, by comparison, consumption of smartphone games is rampant, with revenues accounting for over 50 percent of the $12.4 billion market, according to games research firm Newzoo. Little wonder, then, that Sony wants a slice of the pie.

Speaking with CNBC, advisory group Kantan Games said:

“Japan is a market where Sony and other console makers are struggling to sell units. Sony had to react. People are consuming smartphone games like there is no tomorrow,”

Sony has stated that this new mobile project is designed to bring “fully fledged” PlayStation titles to smartphones, and each game will be built in a way that makes sense for the platform. This is a marked shift in strategy from “PlayStation Mobile” – Sony’s failed attempt to bridge the gap between PlayStation and Vita, in which PSOne and Vita’s games were made available for users of Sony Smartphones. And with that venture having proved a dismal failure, the question now is whether Sony has the stable of popular characters and IPs to emulate the successes of Nintendo.

From what little we know about the nature of the five or more smartphone games in development, the suggestion is that IPs such as Uncharted, Crash Bandicoot, Gran Turismo, and God of War are likely to be given a mobile spinoff. And while these IPs undoubtedly carry weight in the gaming world, their brand appeal among the more casual mobile market is unclear. What you can be absolutely sure of, though, is that it isn’t anywhere near the level of Mario or Pokemon – the type of Nintendo IPs that have brand power to attract young and old, the hardcore and the casual.

And it’s this lack of brand power among the much more varied mobile audience that could prove problematic for Sony. A franchise such as Uncharted and God Of War are appealing as tactile console experiences, complete with Hollywood levels of cinematic presentation, but how are they likely to work as a basis for smartphone games? And even if, hypothetically, they were solid in design as smartphone games, what kind of a person does that sort of experience appeal to? More importantly, what percentage of smartphone gamers will buy it over the hundreds of thousands of F2P casino, strategy, and brain-teaser games that saturate the market?