Sony to focus on smartphone entertainment

Its gaming chief is betting on smartphones becoming the main portable gaming platform for most people

TOKYO • Sony's gaming chief Andrew House is giving the thumbs-up to smartphone entertainment, seeing limited global potential for dedicated handheld gaming.

"We have not seen that as being a huge market opportunity," he added, referring to handheld gaming outside of Japan and Asia, where Sony still sells the Vita portable device.

In an interview at last week's Tokyo Game Show, he said the company's focus for now is to deliver more products and services for the living room.

These include virtual-reality and non-gaming entertainment such as TV shows and music, with the PlayStation 4 console serving as a key digital entertainment hub.

Although Sony has been selling portable gaming machines for more than a decade, they have not caught on and no updates for the Vita were announced at the show.

Since taking the helm in 2012, chief executive Kazuo Hirai has pushed the company to be more focused on fewer products.

"The Vita experience was that outside of Japan and Asia, there was not a huge demand," Mr House said.

"The lifestyle shift towards the dominance of smartphones as the single key device that is always with you, was the determining factor."

Some game developers had been anticipating a new Vita device, the latest iteration of the PlayStation PSP handheld gaming machine that was introduced in 2004.

While the PSP has sold well, shipments of portable machines have been steadily declining, according to data from Sony and Vgchartz.

"Developers who create games for PS4 and Vita will stop working on Vita" without an update, said Mr Hideki Yasuda, an analyst at Ace Research Institute. "Then they'll develop for the PS4 and Switch."

Most publishers prefer to create games for multiple platforms so that they have a larger potential market of buyers regardless of whether they own the PlayStation, Microsoft's Xbox or personal computers.

"Naturally, to reach as many people as possible, we'd prefer to release our products on various devices," said Mr Takayuki Kurumada, a spokesman for gaming company Konami Holdings.

"Games are becoming multifaceted and being played in various ways at various places."

Mr House is essentially betting that smartphones are well on their way to becoming the main portable gaming platform for most people.

This is why Sony last year established its own studio to create mobile games.

The unit, called ForwardWorks, is doing "fantastic", he added.

With the Switch, which debuted in March, Nintendo is betting that there is going to be a robust market for a hybrid console-portable gadget that lets people play games in their living room or on the go.

So far, it has been a success, with sales on track with the Kyoto-based company's forecasts and helping to add about US$21 billion (S$28 billion) to its market value this year.

Still, the verdict is out on whether the Switch will become a mainstream device.

Mr Tsunekazu Ishiharu, head of Pokemon Co and one of Nintendo's closest partners, said recently that the device, though a vital platform, still has to prove that it can last.

Mr House has not seen any signs of the Switch having an impact on Sony's sales of content or hardware.

"That draws me to the conclusion that they've really been additive to the business in the last year or so," he said. "The folks at Nintendo have their strategy and that's great.

"We remain focused around a highly connected gaming experience and also coupled with having a great range of other entertainment experiences, so you can reach multiple people on the big screen in the household."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2017, with the headline 'Sony to focus on smartphone entertainment'. Print Edition | Subscribe