Tech Talk: Can Sony Mimic Pokemon GO's Success?

Earlier this week, Sony's CEO Kazuo Hirai told IGN that the Japanese company is going to make another attempt in the mobile gaming market and has specifically named Nintendo's Pokemon GO as the main reason for that decision. However, can Sony truly accomplish such a feat? Given the relative lack of support for its PlayStation Vita console and the fact that the company has already repeatedly tried to make some waves in the mobile games market without much success, are there enough signs that Sony has a good-enough understanding of the portable games industry?

In the aforementioned interview, Hirai stated that the company will make an "aggressive" push in the market after being awed by the incredible global success of Pokemon GO. Was Sony's CEO suggesting that its developers will soon create their very own augmented reality (AR) game based on one of its well-known brands? If he was, is that the perfect recipe for instant success on the mobile games market? Naturally, things aren't that simple. First of all, an AR Pokemon game makes all the sense in the world given how the entire two-decade old franchise was based on catching Pokemon in the wilderness. Something like a God of War AR game might be a little more challenging to imagine, as it could be difficult to imagine a game from this series which fits the context of Augmented Reality yet follows the lore of the game.

When you think about it, it's hard to recall the last time someone managed to replicate the success of a hit mobile game by perfectly following in its footsteps. Remember games like Angry Birds, Clash of Clans, Candy Crush, and Flappy Bird? Sure, none of these titles were revolutionary when they came out but they scratched that certain itch and for one reason or another made its way into tens of millions of hearts all over the world. They had clones but none were nearly as successful as the originals. We don't even have to go back to ancient history in order to see that the approach of trying to perfectly replicate a successful game formula simply doesn't work as there's already a pretty fantastic Pokemon GO clone in China that tens of thousands of people are claiming is vastly superior to Niantic's hit mobile game. It's called City Spirit GO and is more polished, complex, and content-filled than its role model. However, it hasn't achieved even a small portion of Pokemon GO's success. There are numerous examples of developers copying a less-successful game's formula and achieving incredible popularity but the opposite is basically never true.

Regardless of everything stated above, there is still little doubt that Sony can replicate Pokemon GO's success. The catch is, it must resist the temptation to actually try to mimic Pokemon GO. It's understandable that Kaz Hirai is awed with what Nintendo managed to accomplish but once you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, at the actual inception of Pokemon GO, the formula for success is actually rather clear. The trick lies in the fact that Nintendo was willing to take a risk with its second most valuable IP. In fact, it was so willing to risk the reputation of Pokemon that it actually hired an external studio to develop the game. Why? Because AR games are what the San Francisco-based Niantic Labs does best. Sony doesn't even have to go that far as it already has an incredibly diverse pool of talented studios under its roof so the company just needs to trust them and give them the creative freedom to make mobile games they want to make.

Once upon a time, there was a J2ME-powered God of War game and it was actually a pretty good side-scroller given the constraints of the Java platform. Surely a modern remake of that game would play great? Crash Bandicoot is another one of Sony's IPs which would probably be a fantastic fit for touchscreen controls. If that's not your cup of tea, how does a turn-based SOCOM sound? Or a mobile game in the vein of the legendary Killzone: Liberation for the PSP? If there's a market for Gameloft's Real Racing series, surely there must be plenty of people who would have loved a Gran Turismo mobile game. Ever since the first PlayStation console, Sony's main strength was its diversified  library. Each one of its consoles had something for everyone and despite publishing a bunch of hits, very few of them were trying to appeal to half a billion of people like Pokemon GO is. That strategy worked with every PlayStation system so far and—coincidentally or not—three out of four of Sony's last home consoles outsold Nintendo's competing hardware.

The gap in numbers was sometimes so big that certain people were claiming Nintendo and Sony weren't even competitors and that Nintendo is a unique niche. So, why would Sony want to change that now? Why would Sony try to mimic Nintendo when it already has its own tradition, conventions, and fans with their own unique preferences? It hasn't achieved major success because its concept has already been done by a major player. In other words, can Sony be as successful as Nintendo in the mobile games industry? It's quite possible. Can it be as successful as Nintendo by abandoning its core principles and just trying to mimic what Nintendo does? That may be less likely.

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