Sony’s R&D department must have a giant banner hanging on every wall proclaiming the division’s slogan: “Wouldn’t it be crazy if…?” Some nights an engineer looks up from the dull glow of his CAD program and meekly asks if anyone would actually want or use what they’re creating. The supervisor walks sternly to the wall and points at the banner. Any further questioning just results in more insistent pointing. The engineer, reminded of the futility of his questioning, continues work on the PSP Go. Sony’s new handheld seems to exist for the most obstinate of reasons – just ‘cause. Now SCEA’s marketing team gets to launch a promotion campaign that will somehow not focus on the fact that the new system:
- Annoys retailers
- Confuses consumers
- Doesn’t offer any functionality meriting a purchase
How about this: "For the consumer with too much money…"
I almost understand the push behind the system’s development. Piracy has dragged the PSP down to impracticality from a developer standpoint. After all, why go to the trouble of making a game for a system (especially a game that can’t be easily ported to anything else) if the nation’s nerds are going to steal it as soon as they can? Switching over to an all-digital medium will, at least in the short term, preclude piracy for digital-only releases, since PSP piracy relies on exploits through a UMD game. Only fools and marketing executives believe that that’s a permanent solution though. Pirates will find a way to steal digitally distributed content, but that’s not the point. Merely making the content more convenient to purchase increases profitability – services like Steam and iTunes prove that.
I respect Sony’s attempt to turn the PSP platform into a profitable one for developers. What’s more, I’m glad someone finally made a dedicated gaming device that doesn’t rely on physical media – it’s been a while coming. That said, it confounds me that Sony had to sacrifice so much functionality to accomplish this. The PSP Go sends out a horrible message, one that almost nobody will buy: I cost a whole lot more and can’t do nearly as much. Yes, all future PSP titles will be downloadable, and even most old titles will be added, but neither the returning customer or the new will find either of these things welcoming. Current PSP owners won’t want to buy a more expensive system and digital copies of all the games they already own, and new customers won’t want to pay more for a system with an artificially limited library just because it’s a bit smaller.
Since Sony’s essentially restarting a game library from scratch with the PSP Go, why not go for broke? Sony should’ve bumped the hardware spec on the PSP Go, added a second analogue stick and set of shoulder buttons, and launched it as the PSP 2. The new system could be the portable PlayStation 2, just as the PSP was a portable PlayStation 1 – launching alongside the release of a handful of PlayStation 2 titles in the PlayStation Store. The message here to consumers is now very powerful: Buy a PSP 2 and play Kingdom Hearts / Final Fantasy X on the go. Now, instead of less functionality to justify a higher price, you have more.
Could you imagine? God of War on the PSP. Crazy, I know.
Granted, saying “bump the hardware spec” is a lot easier than actually doing it given how custom-tailored the PS2’s architecture is. The PSP’s CPU would have to exceed the original PS2’s speed of 299 MHz by a healthy amount to emulate the system’s hardware. This would necessitate a bigger battery, which would change the form factor of the system. Exchanging the real estate used by the UMD bay and associated mechanics with beefier hardware and a larger battery should be an even trade.
Sony may have just released the PSP Go as a digital distribution acid test, simultaneously testing the market and a signaling good intentions to developers. Once developers are accustomed to the digital release process and market perception shifts adequately, the real actual PSP might come out. Until then, the PSP Go will be the awkward system that fills no one’s needs, and thus find itself on no one’s shelves.