How much different would it have been for Xperia PLAY if it just had a bit more love from Playstation?
Brand is Everything. Brand is King. Companies and Corporations spend Millions of Pounds - Tens of Millions, even - establishing their name, product or service in the public Zeitgeist. It's a hard business, and one not guaranteed to success by merely throwing vast sums of money at it. But get it right, and your Company name becomes a verb. How often have you Hoovered, as opposed to vacuumed, the carpet? Or Googled the answer to something, even when pulling up the answer via Bing?
Money isn't the route to success here, though it certainly helps. What really seals the deal is having something that people really, really want. For instance, no-one bought tablets until Apple started selling the iPad. Before, tablets were a total joke. Imagine taking a chainsaw to a laptop, cutting it in half along the hinges, and saying, "Buy this! It's the future! Woooo!" Joe Public of course simply pointed out that the keyboard had been needlessly omitted, to which they were shown the short plastic stick they could use to jab at the pretend keys obscuring most of the screen. Then Apple came along. And whatever your feelings are on Apple, there's no denying they came up with something that not only made tablets a viable form factor, but shook the very foundations of the PC space: at the rate tablets are selling, in the near future they may well cause a paradigm shift that sees PC's and laptops relegated to niche devices.
My niece recently showed me the iPad she got for Christmas. Initially I thought it was an iPad Mini until I realised it was a Nexus 7, then the penny dropped: iPad had also become a verb. To her, it was an iPad; it didn't matter particularly who made it, or how big it was. For me this just demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that Apple's iPad brand had become an eponym.
Certainly, Playstation is a brand, and a big one too. It is a name synonymous with Sony, gaming and consoles, one created and developed and honed by its parent company over nearly two decades at the top of its game, and at quite considerable expense. As far as brands go, I would hazard a guess that Playstation is up there with some of the most well-known, high-profile brands in existence: Coca-Cola, MacDonald's, Playstation, in that order. The reason for this exposition is thus: Why is the Xperia Play actually called the Xperia Play? Out of context, this may sound a very odd question to pose. But indulge me a little here. As early as 2005, rumours were circling the World Wide Web of a Sony Playstation-branded device that was also a mobile phone. After many years, a healthy dose of corporate politics, rumours, counter-rumours, denials, outright lies and yet more internal machinations, we finally took delivery of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play in early 2011. And it mattered not how good the hardware or software was.
Why? Because it was called the "Sony Ericsson Xperia Play", and not the "Sony Playstation™ Mobile". For whatever reason - be it internal politics, a lack of commitment, whatever - Sony failed to properly leverage their famous Playstation brand on this device, and effectively doomed it to - well, not outright failure - but certainly disinterest, apathy and indifference on the part of the buying public. And no, 'Playstation-Certified' doesn't cut it: it's a bit like Ferrari designing a stellar sportscar and badging it as a Lada. No matter how good it is, it lacks the badge cachet of the parent company and pretty much guarantees it will be overlooked. People don't buy quad-core SoC's and 40-core Adreno GPU's, they buy concepts, ideas, dreams, promises. It's as intangible as it is elusive, but ultimately without a big fat Playstation™ logo plastered all over the Xperia Play, I'm afraid it was always doomed to mediocrity sales-wise.
Dig a little deeper into the history of the Xperia Play's gestation and certain Chinese Whispers continually crop up. Sony never, ever wanted to do an Android powered mobile phone due to conflicts of interest with their pre-existing and future mobile lineup; Sony were pretty much forced into collaborating with their mobile partner Ericsson in the development of a game phone due to their ties with them (hence, obviously, the Sony Ericsson branding - that interestingly ended not soon after the Xperia Play's birth. Hmmm.); and that at the final hour Sony inexplicably refused or at the very least chose not to leverage their Playstation brand on this device. The key to all of the above is the second part of the equation in the Xperia Play, Ericsson. Sony may or may not have had any desires on a gaming phone, but Ericsson clearly did. Whether Sony were dragged, kicking and screaming, into an enforced marriage here, we will never know. But as much as I love what they finally came up with, there is no getting around the fact that people - lots and lots of people - were clamouring for a Playstation-branded mobile phone, and they never actually got one. Not really. They got something approximating one, one where the parent company seemingly hedged themselves against failure by hiding behind a smaller partner, and one that lacked the killer branding that would have virtually guaranteed recognition, cachet, awareness and most importantly sales.
So let's sum up. What, in terms of hardware, does the Xperia Play actually lack, even today? Sure, it could do with a slug more memory, but everything else is good enough. Even today. It's still light years ahead of the concepts being bandied about by gaming heavyweights such as Nvidia's Shield or Razer's Edge at the recent CES, simply because it is so much more portable, integrated, elegant and futuristic. The Xperia Play looks like the device Nvidia or Razer would have produced to follow up those devices. It is inescapingly, draw-droppingly cool. All it really lacked was a certain level of commitment from Sony. It could have survived with the Sony Ericsson branding, but the omission of the Playstation moniker in the title doomed it from the start. Certainly there were mitigating circumstances with regards to the accompanying software framework (especially content delivery) but this was something that could be - and largely was - resolved after the effect. What it could not recover from was Sony's lack of dedication to the cause, a failure to go the whole nine yards and simply put its name to the product. Now of course, I'm not saying that if Sony had simply called it the Playstation Mobile instead of the Xperia Play, that it would be in every other household today. But if Sony were to offer up a quad-core, 2gb, 5-inch screened Android Jellybean phone with 32Gb of storage and Vita-esque controls today - and actually had the balls to produce exclusive content, and port a decent number of the better PSP, PS1 and PS2 games to it - and released yearly hardware updates (à la iPhone) to ensure the Playstation Mobile brand wasn't displaced and forgotten by newer hardware - and furthermore actually badged it as a Sony Playstation Mobile - then I suspect they would find themselves in a completely different situation than they found themselves with the Xperia Play. It's a great piece of hardware, but it's such a shame Sony couldn't muster up the courage to put its money where its mouth was and simply call it the Playstation Mobile.
And I'd still buy that for a Dollar.