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Piracy and lack of marketing holding back Minis

But developers positive service can evolve in 2010 with better promotions and content

Sony's Minis have got off to a good start since they were launched alongside the PSPgo and the PlayStation 3, but the format holder will need to continue improving and marketing the service if it is to be a success, according to developers for the platform.

The introduction of the bite-sized downloadable PSP titles to the PlayStation 3 at the end of last year was a welcome move for developers, which instantly multiplied their potential market. An anticipated Japanese launch is also hoped will help push the format.

But that alone won't be enough to make them a complete success, according to several studios. Sony will also need to improve in a numbers of ways - in its marketing of Minis, by fixing technical issues such as transferring save files and offering online functionality, and in its support of the development community.

"Allowing Minis to have greater online access – leaderboards, multiplayer - would help to improve the service," said Shainiel Deo, CEO of Australia-based studio Halfbrick, which has released several games for the service, including Blast Off.

"Being able to share save data between the PSP and PS3 in a more seamless way would also improve the customer experience."

Additionally, the issue of piracy on PSP needs to be addressed, said Alexey Menshikov of Beatshapers, the studio behind the games BreakQuest and MelodyBloxx.

"The platform is viable," he says. "The problem is that the PSP audience won't pay much. It's way better than it was three years ago but still not enough. There are some reasons for non paying - including piracy and no credit card."

Experiences with Sony's marketing teams are mixed - with some happy with the levels of communication but others reporting problems.

One developer who wished to remain anonymous said his studio had received little support. "Sony doesn't help us promote our titles at all," he said, adding that the press only learn about which Minis are scheduled to launch from developers themselves, and not from Sony.

And the publisher is severely lacking in its promotion of the service, he continued. "Most of the people I know - and they work in the games industry - have never heard about [Minis]. I can imagine how it is with people who don't work in the industry."

Others though are more positive. Sony has done a reasonable job of promoting the PSP digital service, said Deo, and while no official information on the timing of Minis is sent by Sony to the press, it should ultimately be the developer's responsibility to promote and market their games prior to launch.

"Sonys certification process for Minis is very straightforward so you can fairly accurately predict when your title will be released. The communication lines with Sony's content teams are clear and developers are given plenty of notice when their games will go live," he points out.

"Getting promotional trailers and screenshots to the press is not difficult. The only issue that Halfbrick has found is getting preview builds in front of reviewers due to DRM and technical issues. This is not a problem post release as Sony provide promotional tokens for developers to distribute to the press."

Menshikov backs up this sentiment too, saying that Sony advises developers on how they can increase sales using marketing tools.

Drawing on experience, he says that Beatshapers spent significant time sending press releases and review code to online media prior to the release of its first title. "As a result we had about 20 reviews in the first month. This took some time to promote but it's not impossible at all. Developers have to care – that's it."

Deo agrees the platform works, and he also predicted the Minis service will gain ground considerably in 2010.

"If you've got a decent game and you market it well then the platform is certainly viable, especially with the introduction of being able to play Minis on the PS3. The service is still relatively new, so it isn't as crowded as the iPhone App Store and discoverability for our games is still high.

"I'm confident that we'll be seeing an increased marketing push by Sony for Minis in 2010 as the service ramps up," he added.

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Kath Brice

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