Sony's new portable will play games against Android phones

by Phil Hornshaw

Android gaming is about to get a whole lot more interesting.

Sony (SNE) announced the PlayStation Suite, a new Android-compatible game service, today at its PlayStation Meeting in Tokyo. The service will make older PlayStation games available on mobile devices and provide a new gaming channel for developers, it seems.

PlayStation Suite will also be supported by another big new device -- Sony’s NGP, or “Next Generation Portable,” a super-powered portable gaming machine that’s capable of playing slightly tweaked PlayStation 3 games. The NGP is going to include Wi-Fi and 3G support, and its PlayStation Suite capabilities will mean that Google (GOOG) Android owners will be able to play games against NGP players over the Internet.

If you were doubting the importance of mobile gaming, you might want to rethink your position.

Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Kaz Harai told press members at the event that the suite would include a PlayStation Store and other features. He also announced “PlayStation Certified,” something that sounds like a screening process that will determine if games allowed on PlayStation Suite are up to Sony’s muster. It’ll also give the company full control over what’s allowed on the platform, like Apple’s (AAPL) iTunes App Store screening process, but probably more rigorous and quality controlled.

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There aren’t any more details about pricing for either PlayStation Suite or the NGP, but Harai said both would be released sometime in 2011, with the NGP due to drop around Christmas. It’s pretty likely the PlayStation Suite will come around that time as well.

Make no mistake, Sony’s announcement is a huge one. PlayStation Suite sounds like it’ll be both its own app store and its own app platform within Android, filled with games compiled, screened and sold by Sony. With enough developer support, it could be an app store to rival the ones Apple and Google manage, at least on a gaming front.

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of issues PlayStation Suite runs up against with Google, especially given its recent removal of Flash game website Kongregate.com’s app (and subsequent, somewhat modified, return), which Google said violated the Android Marketplace’s developer agreement by distributing other apps from within an app. From the sounds of things, PlayStation Suite will do exactly that, and charge users for whatever they download. It begs the question of just what Sony has done, or is doing, to prepare to distribute the app; whether they’ve worked out a deal with Google or they just plan to ignore the Android marketplace altogether.

Regardless, a dedicated gaming space within the Android framework could be amazing; in fact, it could be exactly what mobile gaming has been waiting for. Both the Android Market and the iTunes App Store are simply flooded with shoddy, half-baked games -- many of them knock-offs of other games -- and it sounds like Sony is putting the infrastructure in place to prevent a similar situation in PlayStation Suite. If it works well, if Sony does a good job rolling it out, if it’s attractive to developers and if it’s cheap, PlayStation Suite has the potential to become the new standard gaming space for mobile -- at least as far as Android is concerned.

That’s a lot of ifs, obviously, and it’s really, really early to be speculating. But it’s hard not to be excited, because from what little we’ve heard, it seems Sony is taking a hard look at the mobile space and seeing that not only is it possible for it to be a part of it, but that the company needs to be a part of it. Harai said early in his presentation that the development of mobile has eclipsed dedicated gaming devices like the PSP, and PlayStation Suite is Sony’s solution to that. We know that the company sees a need to make a concerted effort in mobile gaming; it seems likely that it’s planning to make that effort as strong as possible.

Speculation aside, for the moment, take a second to geek-out about the possibilities, gamers: regardless of what you think of Sony (I’m not their biggest fan), the company is rolling out a sweeping attempt at cross-compatibility that could get hundreds of thousands of gamers playing together that previously weren’t, or couldn’t. If the games are good, mobile and portable gaming, as well as video gaming in general, could truly be entering the Next Generation.