Ask 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.