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PSP Needs to Act Soon, or it's Game Over


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320w ago - The PlayStation Portable handheld gaming system was first released in the United States on March 24, 2005, after being released in Japan the previous December. More importantly, the PSP found its way into my hands on December 25, 2007, in its second form, the PSP Slim/Lite.

I quickly invested days into the Internet, scouring for the greatest homebrew software that would enhance my portable system without corrupting and reducing it to its useless "brick" form. Half a year later, my PSP now acts as my GPS, a tutor in three different languages (French, Italian, German), a soon-to-be cell phone replacement (the wonders of Skype are highly underrated), and a digital photo album; not to mention a port of PC's SCUMMVM, allowing me to relive all my Monkey Island fan service memories.

More surprising than the device's versatility, was the fact that I seemed to be the only one in my city to have one. Sure, on a rare occasion I would spot another user on the bus and be struck with an immediate sense of brotherhood, but for every PSP packed into a student's backpack or stuffed against a row of textbooks atop a dorm headboard, there were ten DS's of various color schemes floating around.

The idea of the Playstation Portable just doesn't seem to appeal to the core markets in which it is supposed to be competing, and it seems destined to be just the latest contender to fall beneath Nintendo's foot, despite its obvious advantages.

The Playstation Portable is, without argument, the technological superior of the two handheld competitors. The PSP's specialized CPU (System clock frequency 1~333MHz) and 32MB memory far outranks the DS's combined CPU of (roughly) 100MHz and 4MiB of main memory. And yet, even with the PSP's media versatility, it has sold less than half the units of its rival, 34 million to Nintendo's 70.6 million (according to recent numbers released by their parent companies.)

And it appears to be getting steadily worse for the Sony handheld, with not a lot of major name releases set for the near future and a lot of ground uncovered in the user-friendly market. At the rate of this current generation's portable comparative consumption, the Playstation Portable won't last nearly long enough to continue working with the PS3's proposed lifespan.

With all this in mind, it is time for Sony to step up its game in the handheld market, not just milking God of War: Chains of Olympus' months-old release. We at reelgamers.com present a list of five things the PSP needs to accomplish in order to pick up its sales, and five reasons why it won't do so.

5. Aesthetics

Every naysayer has one: exterior material prone to fingerprint smudging, messy shoulder triggers adding an uncomfortable feel to controls, finger cramps, a poorly situated screen that always seems to pick up glare and scratches; the PSP's lack of overall appeal can be traced to some minute degree back to these nit picks. Compared to the boxy, yet solid design of the DS, the Playstation handheld comes off as an attempt toward sleek design, without the foresight for the utmost pragmatism.

The most notorious of all aesthetic quibbles against the system is, of course, the battery life, and all of its longer sustaining peripherals adding a small bulge in the back of the system, making it awkward to carry. In order to counter-act such ground water issues, Sony has released various other peripherals to compensate for the system's slight defects, but they will have put a great deal more effort into these initiatives in order to quell the haughty word-of-mouth from the more practical system-holders.

Why it Won't: No one wants to pay for a screen cover peripheral at Gamestop cost, and to do any sort of fan-based revision release of the handheld (like Nintendo's transition from Gameboy Advance to Gameboy Advance SP) doesn't seem to be anywhere on Sony's mind at the moment, despite it being in their best interest.

4. The Analog Stick

Moving from double to a single analog stick made for an awkward transition for most home console users. Especially when keeping notable PSX and PS2 franchises on life support with updated releases or sequels, the absence of the now-natural second analog stick leaves a learning gap most gamers do not want to take the time to get used to.

Yes, the analog stick gets a little grimy underneath and the gritty pad top can get irritating if a lot of in-game movement is involved, but the major issue with this set up is how Sony's taking one of the few consistencies between all generations of good home consoles and fragmenting it has left a bad taste in gamers' mouths. Sony could save a lot of face by putting forth some hardware updates in that direction, or manufacturing both first- and third-party games towards a one-stick advantage.

Why it Won't: We have already talked about Sony and peripheral release logistics, but it may not be worth it to replace the familiarity of console-born franchise gameplay (and brand loyalty impulse purchases) with slightly more comfortable control schemes.

3. Advertising

Think quickly: how many commercials can you think of for the PSP, either for its games or the system in general? Well... we have the spots for Crisis Core and God of War, and that one with that annoying guy in the elevator bugging the other dude about his new PSP with Star Wars Battlefront... and... that seems to be it. When Nintendo has cordoned off entire television network's and their support, Sony's campaign, on both portable and console fronts, is sorely lacking by contrast.

In order to make the best of television why its still culturally relevant, Sony will need to either market the PSP for the hardcore gamer audience on late night shows like the Comedy Central or Adult Swim circuit, or go for the Nintendo approach and try to appeal for the "all ages" general audience. It has a huge ace up its sleeve, the multiple media capabilities are eons ahead of what Nintendo can currently claim, and to market it not only as a game system, but as the all-in-one media Mecca (or just the gaming iPhone,) would bring Sony's numbers up considerably.

Why it Won't: Nickelodeon and daytime Cartoon Network seem entirely devoted to the DS and Wii, with only a few bone throws to the popular Playstation releases. The rest of the networks still don't take gaming seriously enough unless its bound to make Grand Theft Auto-sized bank. Sony seems to have missed its opportunity to truly cash in on the Ratchet and Clank viewer range, and unless gaming gets some major respect in the next few years, TV will be gone before Sony can get any decent advertising coverage.

Even if television is not made irrelevant via internet downloads, Sony's main fault in its hardware is its inability to advertise the majority of its homebrew capabilities. Why? Because its like advertising illegal music downloading. All GPS manufacturers and Language Tutoring-software developers will want legal standing in any products made available on the handheld, and what was previously a Torrentor's utopia will become a game of interactive Monopoly.

2. Game Library

We all know it is the PSP's destiny to follow in big brother PS3's footsteps, but in terms of the overall release schedule for the handheld, this will do more harm than good. Porting over many of the franchises made famous on home units means sharing the production time and budget in order to convey a similarly grand feeling on the portable scale (a driving point of the PSP's sales pitch.)

While Nintendo pumps out game after game for their proudly weaker system, Sony's attempts to play the PSP off as a heartier, "full-on" console experience have driven the focus of its projects to making the absolute most of the hardware, which has dragged them far behind Nintendo, whose focus has always been on simplicity rather than good design.

An example of a high grossing PSP game would be the inter-related Grand Theft Auto title: Liberty City Stories, selling approximately 8 million copies. Compare that to the blatantly bare-bones DS game Nintendogs, which has sold over 18 million copies. Good production values appeals to the trained eye, but cute virtual puppies appeal to everyone.

Games like Tekken: Dark Resurrection may be a superior experience to most of the DS's library, but when the fighting game is the only worthwhile game coming out that month, users will gravitate toward the Mario-game-a-month schedule, choosing quantity of hours over comparatively brief moments of quality. Sony may need to focus on "more" rather than "big" to come out of this fight on top.

Why it Won't: The PSP was created for the hardcore designer, to take advantage of only the basic of its features would make the final product look terrible. That is the biggest drawback of making a game system built for any specific degree, anything beneath that looks lazy and poor quality by technical comparison.

In addition, there doesn't seem to be much motivation for developers to produce non-big-budget PSP titles, as those are the ones with the highest sales returns. If more people were to buy cheaper-produced titles on the system, it would merit incentive for reproduction on that level.

1. Beat Nintendo at its Own Game

Despite owning only 32.3% of the overall sales margin of the current handheld war, Sony's mini-Playstation is the highest grossing portable gaming system not manufactured by Nintendo. The Mario-lovers have dominated this part of the industry since they created it with the original Gameboy in the mid-1980s. They have done so with cross-pollination with its home consoles, name and character recognition, general audience appeal, and addictive gameplay.

Sony is leaps ahead of its predecessors on this front: establishing an unparalleled communication service with the PSP and PS3, and in terms of online connectivity they hold a slight lead over the DS, but it still lacks the overall appeal of Mario defying his fat plumber build and playing every damn sport known to man. Sure, Ratchet and Clank are successful, but other than that, how many marketable general audience games can you name for the system? The handheld market has always belonged to the kids, and unless Sony gets more E rated games out there, they will remain in far-behind second.

As much as I hate to say this, ever: simplicity in design will win this race. While the PS3 and its production values will be the tortoise of the 7th generation home console race, the PSP has to bite back the bile and cater to the kiddies for the big bucks.

Why it Won't: It's almost a laughable idea to assume any one company can do this. The domination Nintendo has over this market is so ingrained that it's like trying to get the Rocky Horror Picture Show fan base to dethrone the Vatican. Many have tried: one of the first nails in Sega's coffin was its Game Gear; the NGage and Gizmondo were jokes; and so many other prototypes didn't even get a chance on the field due to the hopelessness of this competition.

Unless Sony can pull off some genius franchise to compete with Mario, or stifle off Nintendo's "hardcore" audience to its popcorn games, the PSP will be left to college students wanting both a photo album and Monkey Island emulator.

God of War: Chains of Olympus is one of PSP's Biggest Titles screenshot below.



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