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The Shady Future of PSP - It's Always Darkest Just Before Dawn


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329w ago - Takeru Kobayashi is no giant. According to Wikipedia, he's just another day at the office for the average measuring tape, coming in at only 5 ft. 8 in. tall. Neither does the scale fear his presence, as he weighs a fairly muscular 191 lbs.

If you saw this man out for a stroll among the hustle and bustle of the streets, would you believe he could wolf down 63 hot dogs in 12 minutes? Would you believe he won Nathan's (no relation) Hot Dog Eating Contest six years in a row? Of course not. You'd never expect him to be the Jaws of hotdog lore.

Well guess what: the PSP is exactly like Takeru Kobayashi. It's no sales behemoth. Only marquee titles from its library make it onto the NPD's vaunted top-ten software sales list. You'd never guess that it's doing great, but in spite of your doubts, it is.

See, even though we wrote about the PSP's sudden drought of top-selling titles, it hasn't rained in years. That is to say, the PSP has never been one for chart-busting game sales, but that hasn't stopped it yet. And Sony understands this. They've noted its change in primary audience and are ready to embrace it.

Unlike the Xbox 360 and PS3, which both frequently tout their multimedia capabilities, the PSP really is becoming a multimedia platform first and a gaming machine second. Thus, Sony is releasing peripherals like GPS and a keyboard - and even a TV Tuner in Japan.

Nowhere are the successes of this change in direction more obvious than in the PSP's sales. As I mentioned earlier, PSP games hardly ever climb the gold-plated staircase to the top of the charts, but the PSP is still selling quite briskly, all things considered.

Why, just last month, it kept pace with the Xbox 360. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the 360 was in second place in the console wars. What's Sony's "failure" of a handheld doing hanging neck-and-neck with Microsoft's attach-rate monster?

But what about across the pond? Well, let's just say that if the Japanese could see into the future, Godzilla would be out of a job. In his stead, a giant PSP would level buildings and prompt badly-timed lip syncing. Or maybe the PSP's more like King Kong, because no matter how many games from other consoles buzz around its, well, diminutive form, it just won't climb down from the lofty peak of the console sales charts. Even the Wii has no answer for the PSPs thunderous roar. And the 360? Haha, you're a funny one.

Overall, the PSP has sold more than 35 million units. To put that into perspective, the original Xbox - counting its lifetime sales - trails the PSP by 10 million units, and Sony's little console that could is nowhere near finished.

Now, what about the games? I will admit that the PSP can't match the DS for sheer voluminousness of library, but it's not doing too shabby when taken on its own. Titles like Flow and Echocrome are far more innovative than 99% of games on the market, and a big-name title finds its way onto shelves every couple of months. But retail, while currently home to many PSP games, is not where I expect the PSP to reach its full potential.

No, the Playstation Store holds the PSP's sparkly, jewel-encrusted key to success. The ability to download fully-fledged games as well as blasts from the past from Sony's online shop is chock full of potential. As the industry moves from dependence on brick-and-mortar to a more download-oriented business model, Sony's going to find that the PSP is a great testing ground for new ideas.

It costs less to develop for and doesn't tear up the retail charts, so why not? Plus, as the Playstation Store expands into the sprawling plains of other media, the PSP will be able to fulfill its role as a multimedia device even more proficiently.

Last but not least, the other elephant in this Sistine Chapel of a room, piracy, is hardly exclusive to the PSP. According to the ELSPA, a whopping 90% of DS users in North America make use of the R4 cartridge which, of course, allows for piracy. So sure, the PSP takes a hit from piracy, but so does its nearest competition, as do the other consoles. Right now, piracy is a big issue in the gaming industry - draining profits from those who deserve them, but hardly killing any consoles.

Ultimately, the PSP is in no danger. Sure, it's not dominating the market, but neither is it dying a painful death. And thanks to a newfound audience of mediaphiles, a fairly strong game lineup, and a wealth of potential, the PSP isn't going to shrivel up and disappear any time soon.

As for the near future, I imagine we'll be seeing some great things from Sony's first handheld at E3, and maybe even a few surprises. Ready at Dawn may be gone, but soon, we'll see why the PSP doesn't need them anyway.



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