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Mobile game maker Gameloft throws support behind Xperia Play

by Phil Hornshaw

Like the giant squid of many a seafarer’s nightmares finally rolling up on an Australian beach, Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation Phone is being studied, pondered over, observed, questioned -- and played.

The Xperia Play is finally official and full specs of its hardware are finally available. That’s less important than the preliminary reports that are coming in from journalists at Ars Technica and Pocket Gamer, which feature one key piece of information: the buttons feel good. Rejoice.

Buttons are a big deal. Sony thinks physical buttons will entice people who like to play mobile games to buy the Play, obviously, but they’re not the only ones. In a recent interview with Pocket Gamer, Gonzague de Vallois, mobile game developer Gameloft’s (GLOFF.PK) senior vice president of publishing, said his company has a high degree of support planned for the device.

Gameloft has announced about a dozen games to go with the launch of the Play, a few of which will be preloaded on the phone -- including Asphalt Adrenaline 6 and Star Battalion, according to Ars Technica’s report.

“We believe the next revolution for mobile games is back to buttons and controls like this,” de Vallois told Pocket Gamer. “For years people have played on pads but touch was seen on mobile as a way forward past keypads, the next revolution is likely to be away from pure touch.”

That’s sentiment isn’t at all unreasonable, as a big complaint among mobile gamers is the fact that touchscreen controls are a struggle to play with. Unresponsive keys and controls are often an issue, but at its core, the fact that you can’t feel the buttons makes keeping thumbs on target with their buttons difficult at times.

Sony’s going pretty far to make sure the Play is going to really appeal to Android gamers when it hits the market this spring. An announcement quoted by Ars states, “More than 50 additional titles from top franchises at leading game publishers will be available for purchase at launch.” That’s in addition to Gameloft’s games, Bruce Lee, The Sims 3 and Tetris, all of which will be preloaded alongside the “legendary” PlayStation title, the original Crash Bandicoot.

It’ll be a powerful little device with a lot to offer gamers, although both Sony and de Vallois expect the games on the system to be priced higher than current premium mobile games. This is an expression of their quality, according to Sony, which will hopefully mean that Sony’s going to be policing games at least a little bit as they appear in its PlayStation Store and as part of the PlayStation Suite service. That’s Sony’s big Android gaming platform, which will provide PlayStation-branded games and allow gamers to play against each other on Android and other platforms.

Initial response to the gaming phone seems promising, and it appears Sony has done the legwork of getting lots of game publishers involved with its device to make sure it makes a big impact when it lands in a few months. That’s good news, because Android gaming can definitely use the boost to become more of a contender and draw more publishers and developers.

In another Pocket Gamer story, data from research firm Mobclix stated that Android gamers generate about $1.90 in additional revenue each month outside of just buying games, compared to $4 for iPhone gamers. There are a lot of reasons for the disparity, including the absence of in-app purchases from Android games right now, as well as higher ad rates on iPhone games. But still, getting almost double your money per month per user is a good reason many developers only pick a single platform to develop for, e.g. Apple (AAPL).

Hopefully, the Play is going to make serious progress in changing that situation, and it appears that the PlayStation Phone has the potential to do some real damage. Sony is packing a lot of power and punches in its new device. If gamers respond to it as well as the company hopes, it could have very positive effects on Android as a whole.