The PSP: Then-Now-Tomorrow

January 27th, 2011 -

I’m sure you already know by now that Sony is planning to release a successor to their first entry into the hand-held market. If not, catch yourself up to speed HERE. Come with me as I take your through a trip of the PSP’s past, present and future.

Then:

When the PSP originally launched it was leaps and bounds ahead of anything we had seen to date in the portable market. Offering higher resolution graphics, the ability to connect to a WiFi hot spot and play games online. As the system grew, it added new features that expanded the experience even further. Added features like Skype made the device a secondary phone for some. Even though the PSP impact in the portable gaming world was strong, it still suffered from a severe case of identity crisis. Who was this built for? What kind of games was it built for? Was it for kids? Well, it looked too mature for kids and it costed too much ($249 USD original launch price). Was it for adults? It looked the part, but what would they use it for? Skype? Undoubtedly, you already have a cell phone if you’re considering buying a PSP, so clearly not that. Mature rated games? Maybe, but what games?

Lets look at some of the games on the PSP. Immediately when you pick up a PSP and inspect it, the first thing that comes to mind is a list of genres you can’t actually play with this device. First one is pretty obvious, FPS (or first person shooter). It’s universally known that in order to play an FPS game you need either a mouse and keyboard or 2 analog sticks, something the PSP does not have. So FPS is out, Action? Adventure? Any kind of shooter? Let me make this simple, think back at the last 10 games you played on your home console (not including the Wii). How many times did you use the analog stick on the right? Hopefully you answered a lot, if not you probably play a lot of Uno in which case you’re probably satisfied with the current PSP. Proven by sales though, this Uno player makes up about 5% Sony or Microsoft’s target demographic.

So you say the DS doesn’t have any analog sticks and it sells great, why is that then? Good question, the simple answer is it knows what it is. Nintendo has always been very good about knowing its market and playing to it well. You may disagree if your an 80’s baby and want more remakes, but honestly buddy you are not Nintendo’s target demographic anymore, sorry. The DS offered experiences that you couldn’t have on the Gamecube or the Wii. It offered blockbuster selling games that you could only get on the Nintendo’s Portable, franchisees built on the DS, for the DS, that only worked on the DS.

What was the marketing strategy for the PSP? It’s like a home console in your hands… only it’s missing crucial control elements. A few rare gems made their way on to the PSP like Loco Roco and Patapon that really displayed good reasons to own the system. These games were over shadowed in the market by terrible attempts at making a shooter work on a system with half of an analog stick (more like analog nub). Had the PSP been driven in a different direction creatively, it would have had a larger success. Unfortunately, the PSP can be summed up into a single mantra: “Ambitious but Rubbish” (credit: Top Gear).

Now:

Thanks to a giant hacking community, lack of software support and high prices, the PSP has fallen well short of sales for its own goals and not even in the same solar system as the DS. I think this… well I don’t want to call it a failure, it’s more of a “this didn’t go as well as planned, but it didn’t suck at least”. It really proved to Microsoft that they don’t need to even bother with this market (something the Zune showed them as well). The PSP is suffering, and a large number of its sales go to people buying it to hack it and play old Mario games, which is terribly ironic since they could buy a DS, hack it and play old Mario games as well as… new Mario games?

If you ask around what people think of the PSP, you may get response’s like “I think I have one of those in my room somewhere…” or “Oh yeah, I forgot about that thing years ago”. The general reception for the PSP is rather cold. Even as a firm believer in the potential of the PSP and someone who actually plays their PSPgo (yes that’s right I was 1 of 4 people who bought a PSPgo), I must admit that even I feel somewhat cold to this device. For me it’s bittersweet; I love the concept, I just don’t love playing it. Every time I pick it up I tell myself “wouldn’t it be cool if I could play this, or that on here…” but in reality, previous entries into that genre has proven that its not profitable because… well… it just doesn’t work.

Tomorrow:

So what does the future hold for this console? Is it doomed to walk the lonely road of shame to its death? Well, thanks to Sony finally squashing all the rumors about a new PSP, the future is actually looking kind of bright for Sony’s portable console.

The NGP (or New Generation Portable) is going to be the next portable gaming machine from Sony. Thankfully the system is more creative than the name. I’ll spare you the details of the system since they were in the link at the beginning of this post. So what’s different about the NGP? Everything, and nothing … that sounds like a crappy bond movie… sorry… The marketing strategy is the same as last time: take your home console with you. The difference this time is, this device can actually reproduce the home console experience in the palm of your hands. No, I’m not talking about graphics, I’m talking about the functionality of the machine itself.

If you own a PS3 you have grown accustom to a few things. Trophies are now the norm;
playing a game and not hearing that iconic sound would just be strange to you. The ability to see your friends list, send messages, comment on trophies and invite to come play with you. And last but not least, control. The Dual Shock 3 is a very well rounded controller offering everything you could possibly want it to do (without debating the quality of the triggers). The NGP does all of this, in the palm of your hand. Something the original PSP failed to deliver on. This means games like Call of Duty, Uncharted, Resistance, even Hot Shots Golf will play exactly the same as they do at home, on the go.

Why is this important?

Without sounding too philosophical or like a fanboy rant (however you want to perceive it), we are on a turning point for portable games in the same regard as we were when we moved from the Super NES era to the PlayStation 1. In that time, games that were only possible on a PC became a reality on video game consoles, it was a revolution that opened up the window to genres like FPS and paved the way for games like Call of Duty, which is one of the best selling game franchises of all time. This may seem like I’m making a bigger deal out of this then it really needs to be, but you honestly need to think outside the box here.

There hasn’t been a single portable platformed that has offered the ability to play the FPS genre the same as you would on a home console. Even the 3DS, which has 1 stick, is still stuck in the past. Think about it, if Activision makes Call of Duty for the 3DS, how would you play it? Exactly the same way you did on the DS, left hand movement on the d-pad or stick, right hand look on touch screen. Mobile gaming on smart phones offers some aspects of playing FPS but who wants to throw out there sticks for a touch screen or mini keyboard?

The possibilities are mind blowing with this device, and the line up of software developers on board is staggering. It’s clear that this is what a lot of developers of home consoles have wanted out of a portable and I cant wait to see how they show it. If Sony markets this well and gets the point across on how important this is to portable gaming (although I’m sure they wont stop telling us), this could be very successful. And if you are one of the many gamers who has turned there back on the PSP? Welcome back, because as soon as you wrap your head around this idea, you will be amazed.

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