PlayStation's Project Q is missing the handheld mark, here's why
I don't put much stock in gaming "insiders" on Twitter. For the most part, it feels like they just make sweeping, educated guesses that anyone who keeps up with the news could make. So when I heard the rumors circulating about a Sony handheld device that would be revealed at the PlayStation Showcase, I was very skeptical.
As it turns out, those analysts didn't exactly have it right either. Yes, Project Q was shown off during the PlayStation Showcase and yes, it's a gaming device you hold in your hands. But in terms of what we'd call a handheld gaming device today, I'm not sure it really qualifies.
Project Q, as far as we know, only works with a PS5 tethered over wifi, so it isn't exactly something you can truly take on the go and use as a PlayStation-Switch if Remote Play has to be involved. Remote Play is PlayStation's answer to GamePass, and requires a PS5 console to be either switched on or in standby mode, allowing you to stream PS5 games to your phone and play with one of the best mobile controllers.
Project Q looks like it will only play games that have been downloaded and installed on a PS5 too, so it's not exactly a substitute for buying a home console like the Steam Deck is. The appeal of portable gaming PCs like a Deck or an ASUS ROG Ally is that you can take one on the go or dock it with a Steam Deck dock to play at home. It doesn't require you to have a gaming PC already that you're tied to. So where does Project Q fit into the market then? I'd say it's Sony's foray into the mobile gaming market, but the Backbone One PlayStation Editions already exist.
Perhaps more importantly, who is this device for? As funny as the emerging memes are, the closest comparison to Project Q might genuinely be a Wii-U, which feels like a major step backward. For folks who just want an extra screen to play on while someone's using the TV, I can understand the appeal, but there must be an easier way of going about it that doesn't warrant the high price this thing will no doubt have.
With the born-again handheld gaming scene being what it is at the moment, and the demand from PS Vita stans being more present than ever, there are some fairly obvious-seeming beats Project Q seems to have missed.
Switching it up
The reason I think the Nintendo Switch sent shockwaves out into the wider games industry is that it nails the one thing portable gaming has always lacked. Yes, you want to be able to take games on the go, but you want a seamless way of playing the same games when you're at home in a more stationary setup. Not only that, but it's a cheaper alternative to a more powerful stay-at-home platform. That's why The Steam Deck and its emergent market have done so well - it's proven there's a serious demand there for that type of gaming.
Project Q, if it's only for streaming games from a PlayStation 5 you have to own first, misses the appeal of those devices entirely. If Sony isn't going to make a PS5 Pro, why not really hit Nintendo and Valve where it hurts, and attack the new-found market for portable gaming properly?
The PS5 is expensive enough, so the idea of paying more for a beefed-up version that, let's face it, just isn't necessary at the moment, is ludicrous. But a cheaper PS5 that has portability and a few minor downgrades in its specs? You'd best believe that would have been a fire-starter - if you don't believe me, look at how well the Steam Deck and Nintendo Switch are selling.
As it stands, Project Q won't likely add anything to the PS5 ecosystem you can't do already. Mobile gaming is easily the biggest platform in the industry, and the officially licensed Backbone One PlayStation Editions shows it's worth the Japanese console giant's time. But with those mobile controllers already on the market for probably cheaper than Project Q, it makes me ask what the point is.
Who wants to spend extra for a controller with a screen when, as far as we know, it has the exact same functionality as the phone in your pocket?
Pro controller, anti consumer
Project Q just feels a bit anti-consumer to me, and its biggest rival shows us why. Xbox's route into attacking the portable market is the same as its answer to any other. Game Pass - with its one-liner being "play on the device you own".
There's no need to buy an Xbox, nor an Xbox handheld, to have genuine access to the library of games you're subscribed to. Remote Play doesn't quite live up to that, because it requires you to have a PS5 first and foremost, and have it at least on standby and connected to WiFi.
What Sony could have done, was make a PS Plus app that has the same cloud gaming functionality as the Game Pass one. But instead, it's coming out with Project Q, which I'd be willing to bet will be around $300 if not more. And that's on top of a PS5 purchase, remember.
That isn't even bringing into question that Project Q has "all the same buttons of a regular DualSense", because if that's true, I'd bet it'll suffer the same stick drift issues and battery life problems we know from that gamepad already. I had enough problems with Sony not having an authentic solution to the potentiometer sticks in the DualSense Edge, never mind a handheld that will probably cost more.
Close, but yet so far
I'm trying to stay somewhat measured here because we have such limited information on Project Q. But from what Jim Ryan said in the showcase, this seems like a very misjudged and anti-consumer move into the handheld scene that won't live up to the potential of what a new PlayStation handheld could be. I'm not optimistic, because if Project Q was going to have features that rival the biggest handheld competition, sure Jim would have been shouting about it straight out of the gate.
If you need a PS5, you need it to be connected via WiFi, and you can only play games you have installed, Project Q is a really hard sell to me. Sony is already late to the party in the new handheld scene, so I don't know why the device they're cooking up seems like a Wii-U. In a day and age where handheld gaming is becoming more and more advanced, this feels like a serious step back.
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