Sony’s Project Q offers far more Qs than As | Opinion
Unless PlayStation's new device has very aggressive pricing, it’s tricky to see what problem it’s solving
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The scenario is straightforward: you're in a household which has one nice big TV in the living room, and one or more of you is an avid gamer. You can't always monopolise the TV; sure, you've got daily quests to do, and battle passes to complete, but not everyone wants to sit and watch you do those on the only big screen in the house. Other people want to watch movies or TV, or even play their own games.
If only there was some way you could move your games off the big screen and keep playing them on a handheld device, freeing up the TV for other people to use, and allowing domestic harmony to reign once more.
That seems essentially to be the pitch for Sony's newest addition to the PlayStation hardware ecosystem, Project Q, which is a handheld device – an LCD screen shoved into the middle of a bisected DualSense controller – which will let you stream games from your PS5 over WiFi using Remote Play.
Up front, let me say; I have no problem with the scenario as described. I think it's a real scenario that plays out every single day for quite literally millions of players, and I think it's valid to think about solutions to that scenario – ways in which someone can say "sure, you take the TV" to their parent / child / partner / flatmate / etc., while simply switching their game over to a handy little portable device that lets them continue playing as before.
"The situation Project Q is designed to address is real, and the problem it’s aimed at solving is legitimate"
So, I think the situation Project Q is designed to address is real, and the problem it's aimed at solving is legitimate. I'm within the demographic this is targeting, in fact; I can absolutely see myself moving over to a handheld advice to wrap up some Genshin Impact dailies or obsessively try to clear some icons off an Assassin's Creed map, while my better half gets stuck into a game that's more graphically intensive and deserving of the big screen.
There's just one problem – I can absolutely see myself doing this precisely because we already do this all the time.
Remote Play exists, works basically fine, is pretty good on a smartphone with a controller add-on (Sony even endorses a third-party PlayStation branded one!), and even better on an iPad with a DualShock paired to it. What Project Q does is already done remarkably well by devices that consumers already own, with or without some relatively cheap add-ons to make things a bit more ergonomic.
Project Q does have some bonuses – fully supporting the DualSense controller functions is nice, for one thing, and the device does look a lot more comfortable and pleasant to use than any controller grip for smartphone I've tried. Nonetheless, it's hard to escape thinking about the second problem: for all that this makes sense on paper, it's an idea that's already failed twice, with two very high-profile devices – the PlayStation Vita and the Wii U – both of which sold themselves heavily on the possibility of using them as remote screens for home consoles.
These devices didn't fail because they were bad at that aspect of their offering; in fact, they both did that job very well! The Vita was a lovely console to use for Remote Play to the PS4 (I clocked up a lot of Final Fantasy XIV hours that way) as well as having a pretty decent software line-up of its own, while the Wii U implemented the idea perfectly well and also did interesting second-screen stuff in some games.
Vita, in particular, offered something significantly more than Project Q will do – this new device won't play its own games or work outside the home (and by the sounds of it, at launch it won't even offer PlayStation Now streaming, though that's presumably something it will support eventually), and there's no suggestion that it'll ever add second screen functionality to any PS5 games. Project Q is a device that will copy the main trick of two of the biggest commercial failures of recent decades but will actually offer less than either of them. That's a pretty tough sell.
Tough, but not impossible.
There's an argument to be made for a stripped-down, single-purpose device being something that consumers might latch onto more readily than the confusingly positioned and over-complicated Vita and Wii U offerings. I'm wary of criticisms of Project Q which essentially bash it for not being a full-fledged console, when it's clearly designed to be a souped-up controller. 'This controller lets you play your PS5 games without needing the TV on' is a pretty simple pitch, and may strike a chord where both Vita and Wii U failed. It may even offer an elevated experience of Remote Play that encourages existing users to switch over from their phones and controller grips – but all of that will depend immensely on the price point Sony chooses for this device.
Not to put too fine a point on it, PS5's ecosystem is seriously expensive right now. The console is $500, a price that has been rising rather than falling in some markets. You'll pay $70 for a new controller, and eventually you might relent and pay $200 for a premium DualSense Edge controller because it'll probably work out cheaper than continually replacing the $70 ones every time their unforgivably shoddy analogue sticks start to break.
"What Project Q does is already done remarkably well by devices that consumers already own"
If you start to accessorise, a PSVR 2 will set you back $550, and the Pulse3D headset you really need to make use of the console's fancy audio options adds on another $100. I'm not questioning the value of any of those things individually (except for those dreadful analogue sticks, obviously) – Sony has generally made excellent hardware in this generation, and the PSVR 2 is a particularly impressive piece of kit for the price – but your wallet will feel the pain nonetheless.
Budget options don't seem to have been a priority for Sony; you could argue that the digital-only PS5 was a concession to pricing, but even that was obviously going to end up being more expensive to own in the long term than the disc-capable model.
There's reason to hope that a different approach is being taken with Project Q. The device looks premium, but it feels like a few decisions have been made to minimise cost – it only does Remote Play over WiFi (so it's effectively a dumb client that just needs a simple stream decoder chip) and has a 1080p standard LCD screen rather than something more expensive like an OLED. An impulse-buy price point for this kind of device would top out at somewhere in the range of $150, which is not cheap per se, but within impulse buy range for many older consumers – those who are more likely to be in a household where sharing access to the big TV is a concern.
If Sony is aiming for that range, then there could be an audience for this – a niche audience, given all the other options that already exist to accomplish the same thing, but not a non-existent audience.
On the other hand, if this ends up being another expensive addition to the PS5 ecosystem – a $250 product, or perhaps even more expensive – then this is dead in the water before it even arrives.
"If this ends up being another expensive addition to the PS5 ecosystem – $250 product or more – it's dead in the water before it even arrives"
I argued a few weeks ago, when leaks pointed to the existence of Project Q, that I couldn't see the commercial justification for a product like this, and honestly, I'm still struggling; as a relatively cheap peripheral it would solve a problem in a nicely streamlined way, but if it's priced in the eye-wateringly premium way that the DualSense Edge was, I'm not convinced that any market exists.
The Edge was explicitly a premium option – and its pricing was in line with Microsoft's similar offering – but Project Q will be compared with the price of other Remote Play solutions, and the "for a few quid more you could buy a Switch" line is going to echo powerfully around the device if it doesn't hit a competitive price point.
I'm here for Sony taking interesting risks, making interesting hardware and swinging for some fences, but it's weird to see the company returning to the fringes of the handheld space with such a niche device. Even if it doesn't fail commercially, the market for it is unlikely to be very large – and its most likely fate is as a "hey, remember that?" curiosity item in a distant future version of Astro's Playroom.
Perhaps there's another shoe to drop with this device – we don't know about the pricing, and maybe there are other features that haven't been discussed yet – but as described right now, Project Q seems like a largely superfluous answer to a problem that's already been solved.
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