The Charticle

From Fate/Grand Order to Mingol and PlayLink: Two years of Sony's mobile big bangs and misfires

From Fate/Grand Order to Mingol and PlayLink: Two years of Sony's mobile big bangs and misfires

It's safe to say that Sony has seriously stepped up its efforts in mobile gaming in the last two years or so.

It all started shortly after it announced plans to shut down its Sony Mobile service, a premium-only program which offered games across PS Vita and certain Android devices, in March 2015.

Four months later, it published Fate/Grand Order in Japan, which went on to be more successful on Android in its home country than even Pokemon GO.

Following on from there, Sony opened a new mobile studio called ForwardWorks, focused on developing free-to-play experiences for the Japanese market with a mix of original and existing IP.

It's also started experimenting with second-screen play for the PS4 with its new PlayLink games, which require a smartphone or tablet to play either solo or with friends.

It's a wide range of exciting prospects, and indeed many of the ideas and games already available are actually quite enjoyable.

But with every step forward, Sony seems to be taking one step back.

Tempting fate

We'll start with Fate/Grand Order. There's no doubt that the Aniplex-developed game (which actually sits under the Sony Music division) has been an enormous success in Japan, even ranking as one of the top grossing games worldwide in numerous months.

In the last year it hasn't dropped out of the top 50 overall grossing ranks on iOS, an impressive feat by anyone's reckoning.

And its lowest point on the Android grossing ranks is 28th, which it hit the day after it launched.

But while it's been hugely popular in Japan, its release in the West has been a little more troubled. For one, it's taken nearly two years to make the transition – it only launched in the US on June 25th 2017, while the Japanese original was released in July 2015.

It hasn't yet been able to replicate that Japan success in the US yet. On iOS it had managed to peak at 20th on the overall grossing ranks before hovering around the top 100. At one point it even crashed down to around 300th place.

It's performing slightly more consistently on Android, again finding a place in the top 100 and largely sticking around the 75th spot. It's so far managed to peak at 32nd place on July 13th 2017. It's no slouch, but it's no Western cash cow either.

Say again?

There are a number of factors at play here. First off, it's a particularly niche product – there's going to be a very small number of people in the US who even know what the Fate series is, let alone love it enough to engage with a mobile game based around it.

On top of that, those who do know and love the Fate series and couldn't wait for a translation will have already jumped onto a Japanese version of the game and just muddled through.

Sony and Aniplex didn't help themselves out much with these fans either. Shortly before the game's Western launch, it was revealed that players on the Japanese edition wouldn't be able to transfer their saves over to the US version, meaning potentially hours and hundreds of dollars worth of work would be lost.

Those that made the jump may have ended up disappointed with the results anyway, thanks to a rather lacklustre localisation. On Twitter, numerous fans including indie translator Andrew Dice, noted many spelling mistakes, poorly translated lines and total omissions of important details.

With that in mind, you may wonder whether Sony should just focus on Japan if the games it publishes in the West aren't performing so well.

But not all its games in Japan are such big hitters.

Swing and a miss

Sony ForwardWorks launched its first game, a title based on the company's Everybody's Golf series called Mingol, in July 2017.

In terms of downloads, it's doing pretty well. It's managed two million downloads so far, no doubt thanks to the power of a huge pre-registration campaign and the strength of both Sony and the IP.

But revenues are a different story. It had a fairly strong start on iOS, peaking at 12th on the overall grossing charts the weekend of its release, but has been in decline ever since, punctuated with slight jumps here and there.

The Android grossing charts are a similar story, with a slightly higher peak of 11th place before dropping down to 98th in the space of two weeks.

Having a game in the top 100 grossing ranks is not to be sniffed at, of course. But for a company as big as Sony, it's not exactly encouraging to see a game start to slide so quickly down the grossing ranks. The two million downloads and early grossing performance appear to say more about Sony's user acquisition strategy than they do about long-term engagement.

Get connected

And then there's PlayLink, the PS4 second-screen initiative which is being touted as one of the next big things for multiplayer games on Sony's console.

It's only had one game released so far, the social quiz That's You!, and based on some preliminary tests it's a fairly enjoyable game.

But aside from some very unscientific opinions, there's not a whole lot to say about the game. Sony hasn't released any download figures for the title, which is currently free for PS Plus account holders, and the app download figures don't tell much of a story.

In the US iOS download charts, its currently lingering at the bottom of the top 1,000 downloads. But it's an app that you download specifically to play another game, so it's unfair to draw conclusions from this.

It does raise one big issue with PlayLink however – each game requires a separate app to play. Not only is this going to rapidly fill up people's device memory, but who's going to keep an app on their phone on the off-chance that they'll play a party game in the near future? And is a new download for each user each time a barrier for play?

Early days

Of course, in the rapidly-changing world of mobile games, it's entirely possible that the misses Sony has suffered so far will be replaced by big hits further down the line.

Fate/Grand Order could face a huge relaunch with a vastly overhauled translation, which would no doubt boost its profile in the West.

And ForwardWorks has a lot more games to come, including the fantastically bizarre Soma to Umi no Aida which is launching alongside its own anime series, and big IP such as PaRappa the Rapper and Wild Arms.

Both ForwardWorks and PlayLink are still in their early stages too. There's no telling what Sony will do once it takes the time to study the metrics, look at what's working, and rethink its strategies.

But for now, it looks like the company is still struggling to find its feet in the free-to-play world – even when it has one of the top grossing games worldwide under its belt.

Deputy Editor

Ric has written for PocketGamer.biz for as long as he can remember, and is now Deputy Editor. He likes trains.

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