Opinion// Sony's PSP2: Geek Win but Market Loss

Posted 27 Jan 2011 11:03 by
The PSP2 - or Next Generation Portable (NGP) - will definitely be the most technically advanced hand-held when it hits the streets (in Japan and the USA at least) this coming 'holiday period'. Combining uber-advanced CPU and GPU, dual analogs, touch sensitivity on both sides - there's no arguing that this is a capable little beast.

But I'm not sure that Sony is pushing at the right door. They were roundly beaten in the last battle of the handhelds, by a machine that was laughably inferior, but which introduced the disruptive technology of the touch screen.

Since then, the Apple iPhone has gone on to be the most-played portable gaming platform in the world. Although the often low ticket price of iOS games means that Nintendo may still be winning the revenue battle, iPhone has the mindshare. Wall Street Analysts, Lawyers and Doctors all play games now. Nintendo and Sony did not achieve that.

Bottom of the Form
NGP still has the familiar PSP form factor, one that is too big for comfortable pocketing and which is unequivocally aimed at the gamer. Knobby analogs spoil its aerodynamics, when sleek-lined minimalism is the vogue.

This Gamer-centricity flies in the face of the iPhone's (and smaller tablet PC's) do-it-all-ism. The PSP2 will doubtlessly be a capable media player and can probably handle IP video and voice calls.

But those joysticks still scream 'gaming console' - they still scream last century. People will not be strapping it to their arms while they go jogging. So, they'll need a separate device for that. And if that separate device can also play games, then why do they need a NGP?

Simplicity Not Final Fantasy
I used the office PSP a lot, more as a video player than anything else. I was always intending to buy one but I have never quite reached for the credit card. As soon as the iPhone arrived, the idea of PSP ownership just went out of my head, and despite being a total tech-whore, it's a decision I have never regretted.

Sony's increasingly advanced CPU/GPUs attempt to bring console games to the bus-bound but I don't think this is the correct approach.

Nintendo's barrage of primitive and simple party micro-games, and iPhone's swathe of Bejewelled, Gyrotate and Angry Birds show that the mobile gamer wants simplicity, not Final Fantasy. When I'm in an airport lounge, or on a train, I want a game I can pick up easily, and put down even moreso.

Backwardly Compatible Step
Nintendo made all the biggest and best selling Game Boy games, but then, that's the way of the world with Nintendo. Sony also struggled to win third-party support for their handheld, but they also failed to deliver winning and timely versions of their first-party titles.

Some of the best PSP games (Gran Turismo) require a precision that is hindered by the small screen. And even if precision escapes unhindered, all that visual loveliness is diminished, wasted you might say, at small screen sizes.

The NGP may have backward compatibility, but that wasn't a winner for PS3, and it won't be for PSP either. Not because good PSP games are all too rare but because, by bringing home-console gaming to the handheld, Sony bring the IP obsolescence with it too.

Just as PS2 games looked laughably dated on PS3, PSP games will on NGP. But Super Mario Land still looks (and plays) fine on GBA SP.

Hatie Price?
One final and as yet unrevealed aspect of the NGP will, unsurprisingly, be the price. All that tech won't come cheap.

That presents a big, mobile problem: People know that they drop, lose and break their mobile devices. This puts an unspoken, subconscious price ceiling on such devices. iPhone breaks this ceiling by its very desirability, its multi-function capabilities and the fact you can dodge paying for it all at once with a monthly contract. Will NGP be able do the same?

Geek Winner - Market Loser
I think the NGP is a winner from a geek perspective. It's a technical powerhouse, and an impressive piece of engineering. But I'm just remarkably unconvinced that it's the device the market is wanting. And I think Sony will be pushing uphill all the way with it.

The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect those of SPOnG.com except when it does.

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Comments

Rutabaga 27 Jan 2011 12:09
1/7
What should they have done then? Copy the Iphone? (It has a 2 touch pads with the added benefit of buttons). Gone 3D like the 3DS? (Thats a gimmick according to a lot of people, when it comes to movies, and the 3DS benefits from being switched to 2D). The only option that I can see that your suggesting is to give up and not bother realising a new PSP.
supersonicsjm 27 Jan 2011 13:13
2/7
@Rutabaga Agreed, they seem to be taking into account what has made other devices popular previously and include it in their next gen handheld. Not only that they have improved on it, like you said with not just a touch screen, but also a touch panel. There's also motion controls in there as well. The other thing to point out is that this is intended to be a GAMING device, hence the point of people will only see it as a gaming device means nothing, because that's how it's meant to be seen. The iPhone isn't really seen as a gaming device, it's seen as a phone which has gaming capabilities. In that case, gaming is a convenient extra, not a main function. In terms of pricing, think of it this way, it couldn't be worse value than what Nintendo did with the 3DS.
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config 27 Jan 2011 13:37
3/7
I'm utterly flummoxed at this whole backward compatibility thing. I really don't care about the old PS1 & 2 era games - I played & was done with them "back in the day". As Marcus says, anyone playing them for the first time on NGP would laugh their tits off at the comparatively poor visuals. I also doubt NGP owners be any more happy to cough-up again to "re-own" their PSP UMD games then they were with PSPGo.

Where Sony could still create a win is by fostering "amateur" development, but they're famously bad at that. It either spectacularly fails to deliver (Yaroze, or the long forgotten announcement of a PS3 XMB app platform) or simply crushes the possibility (cf. PSP and PS3 firmware cat & mouse).

Providing a development platform with low/no cost to entry, backed by a digital publishing model that allows creators to name their own price is something Sony must do now if its to succeed in the post iPhone market. Without that approach we wouldn't have Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Words With Friends, Plants vs Zombies, and Apple wouldn't be raking in quite so much cash. Why stop at NGP ? The same publishing model should be (and should have long ago been) adopted across the whole of PSN.

Without it, PS3 & NGP owners will be stuck in a world of overpriced, piss poor Minis and missing the possibility decent non-game apps (a decent media player might be a good start)
config 27 Jan 2011 13:40
4/7
@supersonicsjm "There's also motion controls in there as well."
Have there been any truly great motion-based iPhone games? I'm not a great iPhone gamer, but the ones I have played had a dire "play feel" to them.
PS. Yay for me. I posted my last msg at 1337 o'clock
DoctorDee 28 Jan 2011 07:06
5/7
Rutabaga wrote:
What should they have done then? Copy the Iphone?


Not the hardware. Even though that's what every mobile phone producer has done in the last four years. Sony needs to do something compelling, from a form factor, price and features point of view. And while NGP may be packed with technology, it's not a compelling package. The whole approach of making home console games mobile is the wrong approach.

But they might take a lesson from Apple in terms of software development and distribution.

I may be wrong, it's just my opinion. That's what opinion pieces are about. But I have been playing games for over 30 years, I've made my living from games related industries for over 20 years. I love video games and gaming. But I have never wanted to play home console games on the move.

Apple does not develop the creative and innovative iPhone games that have caused the current phenomenon. They have created a platform that delivers a low cost entry point to development, and while they have a bizarre and arcane approval process, it still enables very very many developers to get into the game. Gareth is correct when he identifies this as Sony's weakness, and it is something they MUST overcome, unless they are prepared to produce killer apps for NGP. But it is something they have never shown any serious commitment to.
Rutabaga 28 Jan 2011 12:21
6/7
I still don't see what you think they should of done from a hardware point of view. How could they have improved it? As for the type of games, they can cover both bases the hardcore (console type ones) and the mini (iphone style ones). Unless there's a magical new type of game that we don't know about.

I agree with you in the fact that they need a more "apple style" eco system, but there is noway this couldn't be done with this hardware.
supersonicsjm 13 Feb 2011 03:24
7/7
@config
IPhone isn't a gaming device though. NGP is, and hence is likely to have more games that will utilize it better, bearing in mind the 3DS is also motion sensitive, it'll allow the NGP to compete better with it.
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