Skip to main content

The potential audience for PlayStation Portal is huge | Opinion

More and more consumers need gaming devices that fit around them rather than ones that required dedicated time

Sign up for the GI Daily here to get the biggest news straight to your inbox

Years ago, when discussing the surprise popularity of Nintendo Switch (it was a surprise once), Team17 CEO Debbie Bestwick called it 'a lifestyle device'.

I loved that term, because it epitomised what made the Switch so appealing to such a wide group of players. It is a games machine designed to fit around you, rather than a destination device you had to make time for. For me personally, sitting in front of the TV to play games is a luxury I rarely have these days and so the Swich has been a dream.

Considering how quick Xbox and PlayStation were to capitalise on Nintendo's success with motion controls, I am surprised it's taken this long for them to do the same with Switch. I am even more surprised that it was Valve that made the first move.

What's interesting about the Steam Deck is that it's built to be an extension to the existing Steam ecosystem. Whereas Switch is built to be both the console and handheld, Steam Deck is simply the latter part. But what it offers players is the same thing: the flexibility to play their favourite games whenever and wherever suits. It also offers an alternative for those of us who have found themselves low on time, and is one solution to the 'ageing out' problem that has slowed growth in PC and console gaming.

Xbox is no stranger to the trend either and is an active supporter of both Switch and Steam Deck. In an interview with Eurogamer, Xbox chief Phil Spencer spoke enthusiastically about the potential of console gaming on the go.

"I don't think those are going to be niche devices - those are going to reach scale," he told the website. "They've sold millions of Steam Decks and they get used. We have a lot of games in Steam, so I can kind of see and in fact, I think we just saw in the Steam charts that Linux is now ahead of Mac OS as a runtime platform, and I have to believe the Steam Deck had a ton to do with that.

"I know for me, my ROG Ally is my Xbox on the go. Because almost every game supports cross-save so I can sit down and I can pick up my progress there. My friends are there if I'm playing a multiplayer game. And then when I go home, and I pick up from my console, it's very continuous."

Some may see PlayStation Portal as a niche use case, but the Switch and Steam Deck prove that it isn't

Xbox's solution to capitalising on this is in-keeping with its broader cross-platform strategy. Using its cloud streaming service, it's enabling players to stream their Xbox games to various handheld devices, with third-party accessories designed to mimic the Xbox controller. These devices may not be purpose-built for Xbox software, but it means gamers can take their Xbox games with them using the devices they may already own.

Spencer also touches upon another element that has enabled this trend to take off. More and more developers are approaching their games with cross-play in mind. Now players can pick up their saves on different devices, and games are increasingly designed to be played on all forms of hardware. It's not just the technology that is encouraging this trend to happen, but the games themselves are built with this kind of behaviour in mind.

That brings us onto PlayStation Portal. Sony's effort in this space isn't as flexible as the others, as it is tied to the home (you would hope a broader streaming solution will come down the line). But, again, it is in-keeping with the company's broader strategy around the PS5. By using the technology found in the DualSense controller, the Portal is designed to be a distinctly PlayStation experience.

There's been a fair bit of debate online over the Portal, specifically around its price and the missing functionality. One critic said to me this week that they're not sure who would actually buy this product. But I feel this perspective comes from a privileged position, because I know exactly who would buy a Portal… me. There are so many excellent games coming up, from Starfield to Call of Duty and I've still not finished Resident Evil 4. Even if I was a younger man, unmarried with no children, there is little chance I'm playing even half of them.

Portal will help me here. It's still that PlayStation experience, but I don't have to hide away in my office to have it. The kids can eat their rice crispies and watch Spidey and his Amazing Friends on Disney+, while I'm there blasting through Spider-Man 2 on the sofa.

Some may see this as a niche use case, but I think the Switch and Steam Deck prove that it isn't. I don't represent a minority of gamers, but actually a large opportunity: an audience that wants to play more, and buy more, but can't.

Sign up for the GI Daily here to get the biggest news straight to your inbox

Read this next

Christopher Dring avatar
Christopher Dring: Chris is a 17-year media veteran specialising in the business of video games. And, erm, Doctor Who
Related topics