Yesterday Engadget and Joystiq reported on the possibility that Sony would reveal a PSP App Store at the upcoming GamesCon in Cologne in August. The thought is that in conjunction with the upcoming ‘download-only’ PSP Go, they would take advantage of owners being locked into the PSN Store by introducing small and cheap apps and games similar to what Apple has in the iTunes App Store.
But why do we care? On the one hand, we have already seen some possibilities in the form of small and inexpensive games such as Echochrome and Everyday Shooter. These all fit into the rumored guidelines of <100MB size, though on the high end of the price range. Of course, the majority of the ‘PSOne Classic’ game catalog could be seen as falling into this category as well, with sizes and prices not far out of line with the rumors. However, all of those are fairly minor releases or made for enthusiasts – and some things like the recently released classicPSx game Final Fantasy VII weighed in at $10 and 1.3GB! If the rumors are true, Sony clearly plans a larger push to take advantage of the move to digital downloads.
So aside adding a few new game categories, the possibilities start to open up for ‘non-game’ experiences on the PSP. So far, in terms of releases sanctioned by Sony, there have been … none of these, well, aside from Sony’s own web browser and Skype utility. Anything on the PSP that is non-game related comes from what is called the ‘homebrew scene’. This is a community of developers who have created small programs to execute on the PSP , mostly emulators of old consoles, ports of public domain games, and so on, but also some utilities like Instant Messenger clients and calculators. However, ‘homebrew’ also requires the PSP owner to hack the firmware, something Sony opposes and considers voiding the warranty – and something that if done improperly can ‘brick’ your PSP (i.e. make it non-functional). Sadly, the primary use for hacked firmware is not to support these creative developers, but to play pirated copies of games, a situation that has sorely hurt th ePSP and its’ developers over the years.
If the rumors are true, and Sony is going to open up their store to smaller developers and a variety of apps, that is a wonderful development. Of course, anyone who has used the iTunes App store knows that they will have their work cut out for them in terms of keeping things under control … and anyone who has used thePSN Store knows that it is cumbersome to navigate with even the few items there now.
Of course the other issue is that of utility – if anyone has ever done more than single-site web browsing on the PSP you know that it is a poor choice for text entry. The PSP-3000 introduced the possibility of a full layout keyboard, but as yet few games use it. Even still it is the worst sort of hunt and peck – nothing like just tapping the screen with a stylus or finger on the Nintendo DS or iPod Touch.
All those things aside, the possibility of an open PSN store that hosts a variety of app types from all sorts of small developers is a wonderful possibility – and I hope it comes true. Not only for the benefit of the developers themselves, but also as a means of bringing them legitimacy with Sony, and making all of the pirates even more pariahs than they are now, and removing the crutch excuse of ‘I use custom firmware forhomebrew’ that has accompanied dismal software sales for the past four years.