What Does the PSP Want to Be?

By  |  Monday, April 20, 2009 at 7:10 pm

pspslimAsk Sony for some thoughts on the state of the PSP, and it seems you’ll get a profoundly different answer than that of third-party interests.

In an article titled “Sony’s Forgotten Console,” Edge did a bit of quote gathering on what’s wrong and right with the handheld, and though the authors don’t explicitly point this out, it seems there’s an identity crisis going on. Sony continues to insist that the PSP provides deep, immersive video games, while at least one publisher believes it’s just too costly and risky to do that sort of thing anymore.

The key quote comes from Sebastien Rubens, a former SCEE employee who left to found Anozor, which makes download-only PSP games. “If you look at the market for PSP developers, it’s impossible to find a publisher that will put money into making games for PSP,” he said.

Rubens adds that the investment to make a full-featured PSP game is too high. Meanwhile, a game like Brain Age for the Nintendo DS performs wonderfully and is dirt-cheap to produce.

I’ve talked about the issue of “hardcore” gaming on the PSP before, but in a different light; this was back when Sony marketing executive Peter Dille called the iPhone “largely diversionary” and said PSP owners want a 20-hour game by comparison. Now it seems that even the game makers are turning against this idea. If Edge’s article is any indication, PSP developers want to make iPhone-like games — cheap to produce and easy to distribute, maybe even free from the old brick-and-mortar model.

Shelf space is competitive, after all, and when it comes to selling those big and fancy games, Sony’s first-party offerings — the ones created by its own studios — are finding the most success. Titles like God of War: Chains of Olympus and Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters perform well, but that’s no consolation to the third-party game makers.

To be fair, this is a crisis that all handheld game makers are facing. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for the Nintendo DS, widely regarded as a monumental stretch on the console’s resources, only sold 89,000 copies in its first month. While there are lots of potential explanations — poor marketing, piracy, GTA overload — there’s always the possibility that a lot of people aren’t interested in “hardcore” handheld gaming.

The difference is, Nintendo and Apple aren’t talking about 20-hour games as a major selling point, while Sony remains fixated on it. As the most powerful handheld with the most straightforward design, the PSP has no choice but to play to those strengths. Ironically, that muscle is dragging the PSP down.

 
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5 Comments For This Post

  1. L1A Says:

    I own the PSP and i wouldn’t want iPhone games for it. I’m actually tired of iPhone games, they might be addicting and whatnot but they lack the “game”. But what can you expect for $5. I want the story driven 10+ hour game.

    Chinatown Wars was released on wrong handheld, GTA games sold almost 4 million copies on PSP. I own both PSP and DS and i like PSP experience so much more. I can’t stand DS’s tiny screen.

  2. thisnewguy Says:

    You say that there’s an identity crisis with the PSP, but you clearly stated the identity of the PSP: PSP provides deep, immersive video games. The problem is that it cost too much to do this, and there aren’t enough potential buyers to make it worth it. But I don’t think that’s Sony’s fault. I think that’s partly consumer’s fault, and partly developer’s fault. This is because Sony provided an excellent platform, the PSP, a true handheld for the true gamers. However, developers are unwilling to shell out the cash and the effort to make a hardcore game, and since there aren’t any good hard core games, gamers stop buying them, and the cycle continues.

    Is it Sony’s fault for releasing a true gamer’s hand held platform? No. Sony tried its best to bring console gaming to hand helds. Developers failed to continue Sony’s effort.

    Also, even if there is an identity crisis (a media device vs gaming device), I fail to see how this is a bad thing. Instead of calling it an “identity crisis,” I think this should be called “great new features.” Seriously, when is having more features a bad thing? When is allowing users to listen to music on the same device as games a bad thing? That’d be like saying “a computer that does both word processing AND internet is TERRIBLE AND IS IN AN IDENTITY CRISIS.” Give me a break. This is just another mindless troll against Sony for doing some good. Tools like you are what’s wrong with the gaming industry today.

  3. thisnewguy Says:

    Also, people on call sony devices in “identity crisis.” Nobody said jack when DSi rolled out with a camera. Nobody said jack when Netflix went on Xbox Live.

    This is ridiculous.

  4. Jared Newman Says:

    To be fair, I’ve previously said the Wii is suffering an identity crisis as well:

    http://technologizer.com/2009/03/13/the-wiis-identity-crisis/

    I also never said the PSP is “terrible.” Actually, it seems you and I see eye-to-eye, from what you wrote here:

    “However, developers are unwilling to shell out the cash and the effort to make a hardcore game, and since there aren’t any good hard core games, gamers stop buying them, and the cycle continues.”

    That’s the conflict, but it started with the fact that hardcore games weren’t selling well to begin with. If you read the article I linked to, you’ll see that publishers initially did work on bigger, more hardcore games, but in the market they weren’t worth the effort. So now Sony faces a dilemma.

    I’m sorry you feel that I’m a troll. Take care.

  5. thisnewguy Says:

    I agree with your article. But it’s the title that I don’t agree with because it has almost nothing to do with your article.

    And that’s exactly the point. Developers made a lot of half-assed hardcore games for the PSP that aren’t really for the PSP because they were almost all just ports of the PS2 counterparts. And since gamers already have a PS2 with those games, they don’t want or need a PSP. So they don’t buy the games. And then devs just gave up.

    Yes, Sony faces the dilema, but it’s caused by the problem with the developers.