Tag Archives | Sony PSP

What Does the PSP Want to Be?

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.


Downloadable Games, With the Inconvenience of the Store

pspslimA solution for the digital download squeamish: Go to your local video game store, buy a boxed version of a digital download voucher, go home and use the Internet to install the same product that’s being sold cheaper to those who don’t want to leave the house.

Ars Technica’s Ben Kuchera has word from a “reliable” insider — with a proven track record of breaking stories — that this will happen for the upcoming PSP game Patapon 2. Kuchera suggests that Sony is testing this retail download model to gauge whether it will work for other games, maybe even setting the stage for a UMD-less PSP.

Why would Sony hang on to retail at all with this release? Because as much as video game publishers would love to kill the middleman, they need that shelf space. Digital distribution doesn’t share equal footing with hard copy sales. Besides, cutting out Gamestop and other retailers could potentially force them to drop the PSP in retribution. Despite the strained relationship between publisher and retailer, no one wants to rock the boat.

As a result, we might have this bizarre solution in which consumers can pay $20 plus a trip to the store for a $15 game that they can download at home. You pay more for the luxury of an empty box.

Whether the rumor is true or not, I can’t imagine retailers lovingly embracing the idea in the long run because they’d be digging their own graves. Once enough retail shoppers realize they’re getting duped at retail, they’ll abandon the store. GameStop also loves the used game market, and won’t give it up without a fight.

Retail downloads might work in the present simply because of shelf appeal, but Sony and other game publishers can’t have it both ways forever. Eventually, they’ll have to commit to a download-only future — brick-and-mortar be damned, consoles can be distributed other ways — or commit to physical media and all the retail baggage that comes with it.


Silly Sony, PSPs Are for Kids!

pspslimThough I try to abstain from fanboyism, I’m addicted to the console wars. And I’m not talking about insults flung around by loyal customers; only official company statements from Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony will do. The more ridiculous, the better.

Spin factor is always high, but the latest remarks on the Nintendo DSi by SCEA director of hardware marketing John Koller are even more satisfying, because they’re false.

Here’s his statement, in part:

“If Nintendo is really committed to reaching a broader, more diverse audience of gamers beyond the “kids” market that they’ve always engaged, there isn’t much new with the DSi to support that. Significant gamer demographic groups are being ignored … Compare that with the PSP platform, where we have many blockbuster franchises from our publishing partners launching this year, representing a wide variety of genres and targeting diverse demographics.”

I want to focus on the idea that the DS is for “kids,” while the PSP is apparently for everyone. Let’s put aside anecdotal evidence, such as the recent release of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for the DS, because then you’ve got to subjectively compare entire game libraries.

Instead, let’s look at what Sony’s Koller said to Edge magazine last September as he explained why the PSP was losing support from third-party publishers. Koller himself said the PSP’s demographics had shifted younger since launch, and publishers weren’t grasping that fact because they kept putting out mature games that sold poorly. To wit:

“When we launched the PSP it launched at a 28-year old, heavily male, New York subway [demographic], and that slowly trended down. Now we’re in the mid-teens with a lot of tracking even younger than that. Our research shows that in the next 12 months young moms actually are set to have the highest propensity to purchase the hardware and software for their young children.”

Isn’t this the “kids” demographic Koller was alluding to this weekend, or was he trying to say that Nintendo DS owners are primarily young goats?

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iPhone Games? Sony's Not Worried

livefire1Oh, Peter Dille. The Sony Senior VP of Marketing has a great acid tongue (he recently said game publishers want to “sell razor blades” while Sony shoulders the net loss on console sales), but his latest attempt to bolster the Playstation Portable in the face of the iPhone is off the mark.

Dille said Sony’s not worried about the iPhone’s potential as a gaming device, calling Apple’s game support a “seperate business.”

“The iPhone games and apps are largely diversionary, whereas we’re a gaming company and we make games for people who want to carry a gaming device and play a game that offers a satisfying 20+ hours of gameplay,” he said in an interview with GameDaily.

It’s not clear whether the interview happened before or after Apple unveiled iPhone’s 3.0 operating system, complete with micro-transaction support to the delight of publishers, but I wonder if Dille is singing a different tune now. Downloadable content isn’t necessarily the key to 20-hour gaming — us hardcore players used to get along fine without it — but it’s an indicator of where the iPhone is headed as a games machine.

See, for example, LiveFire, a first-person shooter in development for the iPhone that will offer additional weapons for purchase. If an online shoot-em-up with voice chat isn’t an example of complex, non-“diversionary” gaming, I don’t know what is.

And besides, what’s the harm in supporting simpler games as well? Sony and Microsoft were quick to regard the Wii as a non-competitor, and look where that got them. If I were Sony, I’d be coming up with a strategy to beat the iPhone — and perhaps the company is doing so, and Dille’s comments are just posturing — instead of ignoring it.


5Words for February 26th, 2009

5wordsGood morning–news is served:

Lots of Windows 7 tweaks.

Nokia might make Symbian laptops.

Google Street View’s user photos.

Google News gets ads. Finally.

Find iPhone vulnerability, get money.

The president isn’t Tweeting nowadays.

LG phone sports detachable keyboard.

Jeepers, more Microsoft-Yahoo speculation.

Rumors about PSP successor persist.

Is Windows Mobile 6.5 obsolete?

Vista SP2 release candidate imminent.

Dell’s 10-inch netbook arrives.

Intel: Psion doesn’t own “netbook.”

No feeware for unlocked G1s.

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