Amidst all of the stats, controls, potential games and hype surrounding the NGP is a feature likely to fall into the realm of practically useless once it sees American soil. Near, the proximity based social interaction portion of the NGP, is a feature that Americans will never truly appreciate.
And once you release that, the fact that Sony held their press conference in the late afternoon in Japan (1AM in the States) starts to make sense. One of the most impressive features to Japanese people, where the NGP is concerned, is probably the Near functionality. You read that right, I’m guessing that Japanese people got extremely excited over the 3G capabilities coupled with the option to socially game and stalk those around them.
For those that don’t know, Near makes the user’s location and activity public to other NGP gamers around them. Players will be able to see where others have been, what they’ve been playing and probably challenge them to multiplayer contests. In theory, this seems really awesome. But think, Americans, for a second about exactly where you’ll be using this discovery-based mechanic.
Nerd conventions. That’s where you’ll see this feature put to good use here in the States. Americans don’t game on trains for two hours every day. They don’t rock their PSPs in cafes and on waiting lines. Those that do are a small minority. In Japan? PSP and DS handhelds are everywhere.
I’ve spent around three months living in Japan. People play their devices constantly while riding public transportation. Most high school kids, college students and young adults spend around two hours a day riding trains to get to where they need to be. That time is occupied by playing Monster Hunter or trying to catch them all (you gotta). For Japanese people, this really unique location software is perfect. They’ll be sitting on the train and see peers playing games all around them. In that country, Near makes sense.
In the States? Sorry, it just doesn’t. Sure, there are those that live in places like New York or Boston and ride the train every day. But how often do those people actually see other gamers? Practically never.
Think you’ll make use of Near as an American? Unless you weekend at anime and comic conventions, I don’t think you will.