Sony are wasting their time with the PSP

I was at E3 in 2004 when Sony launched the PSP. They were at the height of their PS2 pomp then, so there was close to mass hysteria for the new device, with multi-hour long queues just to see it. At the same show another manufacturer launched their new handheld gaming platform to far less hype and acclaim. I am of course talking about the Nintendo DS.

One evening, at the bar, after a long day at E3, I told some of the directors of Codemasters that I thought that the DS would be the more successful device. And they laughed at me. They went on to put several games on to the PSP, none of which sold very many copies.

So what did I see that was wrong with the PSP?:

  • It was just too big to be a true portable device. I have a number of portable technology toys. A Nokia 6300, a Canon Ixus 950 IS, a video iPod and a DS lite. None of these are anything like the size of the PSP because their designers know what portable means.
  • The Universal Media Disk (UMD). This was just Sony trying it on again. World domination through media standards. With precisely zero chance of it ever succeeding.
  • Battery life. The big screen and rotating disk on a portable device are just not compatible with being able to use it for long. In the real world it seems to average out at about 4 hours when used as a games machine, which is more than I expected but nowhere near enough.
  • The large unprotected screen. I thought that this would be fragile but it turned out not to be.
  • Non compatability with PS1 or PS2. What were they thinking of? They could have had a huge body of games from day one. But in their arrogance they expected the world’s development community to do all the work of writing afresh for yet another platform.

Now you might say that I was wrong. That Sony have sold 25 million (or whatever, real figures are avoided) in less than three years. But this ignores the fact that this industry is like the shaving industry. The profit is not in the razor, it is in the blades. And on the PSP games just don’t sell. It was also meant to be a movie player but movies on UMD disks don’t sell either.

So what are PSPs used for? Well, I suspect that a lot of them aren’t. Used that is, they were bought as part of the hype and then consigned to a draw once the failing were exposed. And a lot of them are used as media players for films downloaded (pirated) over the internet then put onto the Memory Stick. A 256 Mbyte stick will easily hold a 100 minute movie.

Of course there are other PSP problems that I didn’t see at the launch:

  • Over simple and limited web browser.
  • Very slow game loading from the UMD.
  • Old fashioned user interface (compared with DS). More on this in an article next tuesday.
  • Only one analogue nub (and that very badly positioned) which complicates adapting games from their other platforms.
  • A built in TV tuner would have been very nice.

So is the PSP doomed, dwindling away till Sony do the decent thing? Or will the new Slim and Lite mark a turning point and get this machine a lot of attention and success. Use the comments to let us know.

1 Comment

  1. I’m pretty much in agreement with you and I still remember a cocky Marketing guy at the GDC that year telling me that the PSP was definitely IT. The DS was a Hail Mary pass (which I had to get him to explain to me). That it may of been and perhaps it took desperation for Nintendo to remember their way again, but they haven’t looked back since.

    I bought the PSP near launch, and the DS. My reasons for buying the PSP could be put down to working the industry and being impressed by the sexiness of the screen. Unfortunately, when games didn’t show, the main cause of my interest on the PSP was the whole downgrading and playing movies buzz. But even that faded with time (too awkward converting movies, the patching thing by Sony puts a proper spanner in the works). So as of now, I still have my old PSP with only one game that I play, MGS Portable Ops, which isn’t bad. How long did that take! Another thing, why is it so badly ergonomically designed? My hands cramp after 20 minutes each time. As for TV out on the slim, that’s finally something worth having, but a bit late. What I don’t understand is the huge line up of additional peripherals like GPS, Camera etc. I think Sony are sometimes their own worst enemy. It’s trying to be both a dedicated games console and a pocket gadget device for everything, 007 James bond style. As you’ve mentioned, you’d need a BIG pocket and a big wallet to match. It those things are only even mildly sensible if you have a huge install base to sell to. It’s like they are sticking with their original world domination plans with no change for the reality of poor sales.

    Finally, I was in Japan for three weeks recently and just looking around me on the subways and trains it seems the PSP is doing pretty well over there. It may have been because Final Fantasy had just been released but in every carriage there’d be at least two people fiddling away with a PSP. Everyone else of course was fiddling away on their phones instead. So maybe this is where Sony gets it’s current confidence from, the Japanese market. Personally I think they’d be better off going back to the drawing board and making something properly functional.

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