Are self-loathing gamers responsible for poor Xperia Play sales?

Blogs Damien McFerran 16:43, 8 Jul 2011

Could self-loathing gamers be responsible for the Xperia Play's poor retail performance? We investigate

It doesn't take a mind reader to know that we're rather fond of Sony Ericsson's Xperia Play here at Know Your Mobile.

While the phone has its faults, it's been a firm favourite with us thanks to its brilliant gaming controls and ability to play classic PlayStation games and other vintage gems via emulation. In short, it's the gamer's dream handset.

Surprisingly, the general public don't seem to share this viewpoint.

Sony Ericsson has thrown thousands and thousands of pounds at advertising the device, but news has trickled in this week that the Xperia Play is struggling at retail, with reports suggesting that some high street mobile shops are only selling 'around 2 or 3 a week'.

Compared to the hundreds of iPhones that routinely march out of stores on a weekly basis, that's worrying news for Sony Ericsson.

In these situations it's always vital to figure out what has gone amiss, and its the opinion of the retailers that Sony Ericsson's marketing is to blame.

Speaking to Mobile Today, a Carphone Warehouse staff member said: 'Sony Ericsson got it all wrong this time because it is a far too niche product. They have totally misjudged the market. The reality is that the so-called gamers that it is aimed at probably already have PlayStation 3 consoles. It would be better suited to 12-16 year olds.'

A staffer at Orange seemed to agree with this sentiment, adding: 'The Xperia Play is too much of a gimmick product. A 20-30-year-old man is unlikely to walk around with the Play and use it as their main phone because they want to look professional.

That’s why a BlackBerry or an iPhone is better suited to that market. We have sold a few but it’s nothing much compared to the other handsets that we have in store. Targeting 12-16 year olds would have been a smarter move because they would love it, but the price point means that they just can’t afford it.'

A T-Mobile spokesperson twisted the knife by telling Mobile Today that: 'It is essentially a kids phone but it’s too expensive for them.'

These viewpoints are both worrying and somewhat puzzling; are these people suggesting that because a phone has a gaming interface, it should automatically be aimed at children?

We're not convinced. If gaming on your phone is so socially unacceptable that men are shunning the Xperia Play because they want to look professional, how does one explain the meteoric rise in the popularity of touch-screen titles such as Angry Birds and Cut the Rope?

Clearly adult males are using their smartphones for more than just email and surfing the web for mucky pictures of Imogen Thomas.

Rather than watering down the experience, adding buttons to a phone actually makes it suited for more complicated gaming experiences, such as the sublime N.O.V.A. 2 – which controls much better on the Xperia Play than it does on the iPhone.

However, claims of poor marketing by Sony Ericsson do have a ring of truth to them. While the company has spent a significant amount of cash promoting the phone, it has failed to really illustrate the tangible benefits of having both physical and touch-screen controls.

To the average member of the public, the Xperia Play ads suggest a phone which is great for console-quality gaming, but they make little effort to underline a parity with iPhone touch-screen entertainment.

Of course, Sony Ericsson isn't going to be able to make a song and dance about the Xperia Play's ability to run Super Nintendo, Mega Drive, N64, NES and Game Boy games via emulation, but they could have been more vocal about the fact that the phone offers the best of both worlds.

Not only can it run Angry Birds and any other touch-screen game, but it also offers a more precise and accurate way of playing titles such as BackStab and Modern Combat 2.

As much as it pains us to say it, there is some truth in the notion of most mobile users wanting a phone that looks professional. Many casual gamers see the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP as childish, immature items, despite the fact that they will quite happily sit and spend hours playing games on their iPhone or Android handsets.

Mobile phone gaming allows people to get their gaming fix without having to admit to the world that they are a gamer. It's a bizarre situation that has as much to do with the failure of the Xperia Play as poor marketing.

We sincerely hope that the dire commercial fortunes of the Xperia Play won't dissuade Sony Ericsson from launching a successor that fixes the phone's various problems.

From a purely personal standpoint, the Xperia Play is one of the best phones we've ever used – mainly because it allows us to carry around an entire collection of retro-gaming goodness as well as functioning as a great phone.

Going back to an entirely touch-screen driven interface is going to be difficult, and if the general public were a little more open-minded, perhaps they might be in a position to feel the same way.


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