PSP Gone: Has Sony doomed its new handheld?
By Christos Reid
I remember grinning when, at E3, Sony revealed the new version of their ever-popular handheld.
It was the worst-kept secret of the entire year, with images of the hardware arriving weeks before it made its official appearance. But even the media leaks couldn’t harm the fact that, post-conference, it looked like it was about to stomp the rest of the handheld market flat.
Then the problems started.
At first, it was minor details like its short battery life and the loss of a mini-USB port. But it got worse once Sony announced that those with UMD titles would no longer be able to trade them in for free downloads of the library they’d already spent considerable amounts of money acquiring. To tell the world you’ll be supporting loyal customers with backwards compatibility, only to let them down, with one console is extremely bad business practise. To do it with a second is bordering on financial suicide.
People buying the PS3 Slim seem pleased with their purchases, but there’s always going to be the constant complaint that, yes, for all the new features and slimmed-down loveliness of the thing, it’s a low blow not to include the PS2 compatibility the first version was blessed with. Now the PSP Go faces the same problem, with Sony customers everywhere confused as to why they can’t upgrade to the new hardware without re-purchasing all the software.
It’s the latest in a wave of bad business practise in the games industry. The Red Ring of Death is one of the biggest insult to gamers – and indeed, technology consumers in general – in the history of living room gaming. Legally speaking, a piece of hardware shouldn’t be sold in the UK if the known failure rate is more than 5 per cent. Certain reports have suggested that the Xbox 360 has a failure rate of 56 per cent. This is unacceptable – but there’s little grey area because it’s a legal issue, not a moral one.
//Follow the leader
With Sony, the problem becomes more complex because they’re not breaking any laws. It might have been underhanded of them to go back on their promise of UMD-to-Go transfers, but they were under no legal obligation to fulfil it. But are they about to cost themselves an entire new generation of PSP customers with the loss of the UMD?
Many shops are actively refusing to stock the PSP Go, for the simple reason that they can’t sell games for it. This is perfectly reasonable business practise, as the founding ideal of a games store is, well, to sell games. But there are no UMDs to sell, no Sony Points cards – just the console, and a few first- and third-party accessories. So with no shops stocking the PSP Go, and no existing Sony customers continuing to purchase titles, what happens when they reach the point the DSi is rapidly approaching? What happens when the PSP range becomes download-only?
I used to have a lot of faith in Nintendo. They’re not specialists in online multiplayer; the clunkiness of friend codes should make that clear enough. However, the introduction of the DSi was a shock to the core of a lot of Nintendo devotees, including myself. You didn’t need the internet to enjoy content from Nintendo; simply a local games store and some spare time. This is soon to be no longer the case, as digital downloads are rapidly becoming the favoured medium.
The difference between the two handhelds, however, is that the DSi retains backwards compatibility. Should the PSP 3000 eventually cease to be stocked in stores, what will happen to those who don’t buy online?
For a long time, handhelds have been an easy way for people to get into videogames. With a small screen, simpler gameplay and shorter campaign lengths, it was easier to show someone Super Mario than Crash Bandicoot. But now we’re expected to link everything together. PSN profiles linked to the web are being forced upon new customers more so than this time last year, simply because Sony are aiming for a world in which they no longer need to sell physical content.
The reasoning behind this seems logical enough. The PSP Go cuts a lot of costs, in terms of UMD manufacture and easier accessibility through an improved digital interface. Sony are cutting corners rather than taking steps, and all to balance out the piles of money they’ve lost selling a console that cost more than it sold for. When your revenue is sitting well below your costs, as a business, you’ve a right to panic. However, what you don’t have a right to do is renege on verbal contracts you have with your customers because you lack the time and the money.
//A small quandary
Sony are grasping at straws, and there is no stronger evidence for this than the announcement of the PSP Mini. When UMDs cost less than a fiver, and offering you content of Tekken and Wipeout standards, are you really going to spend a pound less to purchase a game that could have taken half an hour in Flash? Sony are taking the GameStop approach to sales and turning it on its head. “Out with the old and in with the new,” the Playstation gods dictate to the masses.
Ask yourself this, however: why are they offering PSP Minis? They have nothing to gain from them. Sony’s approval process is lax in comparison to the high standards new developers are pushed to by Apple. So are you receiving a genuinely original game, or simply a rejected iPhone title?
So many questions and so little time, it would seem. Why is Sony locking out fans of a PSP model that is, by technical standards, better? Why is Nintendo only now offering a high-quality source of motion control, and expecting customers to pay for the upgrade? Why is Microsoft selling a console that allegedly fails more than half the time?
The PSP Go is storming the online market, say many. But it will be a matter of time before, once again, Sony’s lack of sane business strategy in place of lower revenue becomes more of a problem than a solution.