Image courtesy of Geeky Gadgets
OK, we are approaching the one-year anniversary of the release of the PSP Go. Can we all PLEASE just admit now that the PSP Go is a unmitigated failure? I mean, personally it is my all-time favorite handheld gaming system due to the small size, solid build, short load-times, and so on. Yet I consider it one of the great failures in all of gaming history. Why? It has nothing to do with the hardware – and everything to do with Sony.
Here are a couple of quotes from the MCV interview that every other site is pulling from:
On the overall positioning and the … um … rather obvious need to make sure games are available to download:
It is the first time we have done that with any of our devices, and we did get a lot of feedback, both good and bad. I think we need to make sure we have as many titles available to download as possible, to make the experience as easy as possible.
On the pricing – the PSP Go launched at $80 more than the basic PSP-3000 and $50 more than the ‘value pack’ bundle:
But also pricing is perhaps an issue. Because of the cost reductions we’ve been able to do over the years, the traditional PSP has benefited. But the PSPgo is a completely different design, so the cost trend is different.
While I know that Sony can’t just come out and say ‘wow, we really screwed up with THAT one!’ … I CAN, and will! Sony? You REALLY screwed up with the PSP Go – you took a great piece of hardware and turned it into something that changed your shrinking market share into PLUMMETING market share. And it is ALL YOUR OWN FAULT!
Here is why I say that:
- UMD Confusion: A year ago we were asking: will we get a trade-in deal or not? Will we get free games like the EU or not? Sony North America waited WAY too long to answer these, leaving the hope dangling out there to the point that when they made the clarification it felt like getting stuff taken away.
- Pricing (system): As mentioned above, the PSP Go launched at $250, while the base PSP-3000 was $170 and the ‘value pack’ was $200. Given the dearth of PSN games (see ‘availability’), high prices for what was there, and no ‘trade-in’ program … it was a hard sell, one only the hardcore faithful (such as yours truly) would buy.
- Pricing (games): If two major factors keeping costs up for developers are piracy and physical assets, then shouldn’t a platform with built-in piracy prevention and no physical units to sell be cheaper to make product for? Shouldn’t that lead to lower prices? And even if new game prices are the same, shouldn’t the digital platform be priced to compete with prices at brick & mortar stores over time? Gamers look at the PSN pricing model and realize that a non-physical product will always cost them at least as much as buying at a store.
- Availability (games): When the PSP Go launched, you couldn’t get most of the top PSP games for it. Not Dissidia, not Crisis Core, not just about any of the biggest titles from the history of the platform. Right now – a year after the PSP Go launch, I am playing one of the biggest releases of the year – Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep – on a PSP 3000 because it isn’t available for PSP Go and may never be. I can accept that they had contract issues a year ago converting UMD to digital, but by now they should be able to MANDATE new releases be available for the PSP Go.
- UMD Confusion 2: as late as *ONE WEEK* before the PSP Go launch we still weren’t clear if the NA launch would see 3 free games for UMD owners. That sort of thing definitely had a negative impact on first day sales by tech enthusiasts.
- Pricing (game sales): Maybe I am spoiled because of the Steam, GamersGate and Direct2Drive sales, but the sales on PSN this spring and summer were just pathetic. It once more reminded us that Sony completely controls PSN pricing and also that third party developers don’t care enough to offer sales or price competitively on PSN. That bodes very badly for the future of the platform. Why? People love sales – just look at the PC sites I mentioned or the iTunes App Store.
- Abuse Your Customers: Think about it – who was Sony’s best audience for PSP Go sales? Existing customers! Wasn’t it due to complaints and feedback from users that they removed the UMD drive? Wouldn’t that make them a captive audience – but also one with an investment in games for the platform? Is Sony so arrogant and out of touch that they would simply think – let them buy the games again? That seems to be the case.
- PSP Minis: Just think about this: half of the PSP Minis releases initially were ports of App Store games, where they cost on average 3 – 4x LESS than on the PSP!
Does that mean it is all bad? NO! The PSN store works great – I can buy a game on the PSP or the PC and transfer them back and forth. I have a 16GB memory stick in addition to the built-in memory and the Media Go software works great at coordinating everything.
In the interview a remark is made that actually makes some sense:
“We are doing business not just in the developed nations of the world, but also in regions where network infrastructure just isn’t as robust as one would expect or hope for,” he explains.
“There will always be requirement for a business with the size and scope of our magnitude to have a physical medium.
But at the same time, imagine if THIS comment came out last summer – that would have KILLED the PSP Go before launch … I mean even worse than it already was …
“So to say we are going to put all our eggs into a network-only device basket? I think that is taking that a little too far. In general, to think everything will be downloaded in two to three years or even ten years from now is taking it a little bit to the extreme.”
So … since I seem to be so quick to bash Sony all the time, what SHOULD they have done?
- PSN Starter Pack: The PSP Go came with NOTHING! It should have had one new game to start, with 3 ‘classics’ as ‘loyalty’ freebies for existing owners.
- System Price: Add in the one game and 3 loyalty freebies, and I would be fine with the $250 ‘premium product’ price. I know folks will hate me for this, but it isn’t the $250 that annoys me, it is the long term value.
- UMD Amnesty: Allow a trade-in program through major retailers that would give 50% off any PSN game in trade for a working UMD of the game.
- PSN Mandate: Starting on October 1st, 2009 (PSP Go launch day) every PSP game launches on PSN day-and-date with the UMD release. No exceptions.
- PSP Minis: They should have matched the App Store $ for $ with games like Fieldrunners. No excuses.
So as we have hit the end of the first year, where are we at? We have a ‘premium’ product that should be the handheld platform of choice but is instead a second class citizen within Sony! We have over-priced games, delayed PSN releases, overpriced PSP Minis, and a price decay schedule on PSN that makes no sense.
What has Sony learned? Seemingly nothing! They have called the PSP Go an ‘experiment’, have distanced themselves from digital downloads as a primary delivery system, and have allowed major releases to completely sidestep the device.
And while Sony has learned nothing, Nintendo has suddenly become a fast-mover (they have had more DS versions in its 5 year history than all the previous 15 years of handhelds combined!) and will be in the world of glassless 3D gaming in 2011 … and of course Apple has had major success with the iPod Touch. Apple has said that they no longer even view the PSP as a competitor … and I can understand why.
Sure, there are 60 million PSPs out there, more than there are iPod Touches, but when you look at the trend it is clear that the iPod Touch will surpass the PSP install base soon. And the software sales figures are completely disproportionate – the sales of PSP games have always lagged, but they are just abysmal now. And since the iPod Touch now has a high resolution screen, online gaming setup, and more and more competitive hardcore games – not to mention being a far superior media player, internet browser, email reader, and on and on … the choice of a PSP seems more foolish than ever for a new buyer.
And while the PSP does well enough to support developers and keep gamers happy, the prospects for a PSP2 success unless Sony learns some major things very quickly are dim indeed.
So Happy Birthday to my favorite handheld gaming system, the PSP Go. Too bad there is hardly anyone left around to help you celebrate.