How Can Sony Make The PSP2 A Success?

Despite its continued success in Japan, PSP sales elsewhere have fallen off a cliff. Software sales are still woefully low – and it’s best we just not talk about how badly the PSP Go bombed.

But if rumors are to believed, there’s a chance we may see the PSP2 announced at E3 this year. And with Nintendo continuing to dominate the handheld space – with a new 3D model on the way – and Apple having quickly become an imposing force among casual gamers, Sony has to be feeling the pressure.

So regardless of when the PSP2 does come – whether this year or next – what does Sony have to do make sure it’s a success?

A Second Analog Stick

Come. On. Does this even need to be said? I don’t care if only one game on the system uses it. Just put it there so we can all stop griping about how stupid it was not to have one there in the first place.

A Touch Screen For Media, Buttons for Games

The iPhone really has changed the portable landscape – a touch screen is now a necessity. Media functions and web browsing are so much better with one, and for Sony to not include one would just make the PSP2 seem like old, out-of-date tech. It also seems that, with some small tweaking, it’d be a great fit for the ‘Xross Media Bar’ interface.

At the same time, hardcore games need buttons. Heck, even casual games need them – just look at the mound of incredibly crappy games on the App Store with ‘innovative touch screen interfaces’. Sony needs to combine both of these technologies in order to present the best of both worlds.

Unique and Uniquely Portable Games

When the rumor of the first PSP first floated about, the idea of having a handheld that could reproduce full console games seemed incredible. Now, many years on, the idea is a lot less exciting.

Why? As it turns out, big console games are actually better played on, well, consoles and big TVs. Who wants to slog your way through a massive open world on the subway? While it’s true that games like God of War and Grand Theft Auto sold well on the PSP, it’s also true they never really captured anywhere near the mindshare of some Nintendo DS games. They were just new ports of existing franchises.

If the successor to the PSP is to thrive, Sony will have to work extra hard with their own studios and third parties to make games that are specifically about the portable platform: small, addictive, bite-size chunks of gameplay designed for play on the go, not sitting at home, ten feet from your TV and console. And sure, catering the casual crowd is a necessity – but remember: hardcore gamers still spend way more money on games.

Digital Distribution Only

Yes it’s true that the digital-only PSP Go was a disaster. But I’d argue that wasn’t the fault of it being a download-only system. No, it was because Sony released a unit with little software backing at a price that was almost a $100 more than a model that… did all of the same things. Not Sony’s finest hour.

But digital distribution is definitely the future, especially in the mobile space. Yes, like the PSP Go, it would kill backward compatibility with UMD games. But it’s a necessary evil if Sony want to stay competitive.

Also a key issue will be price. Like it or not, people aren’t willing to spend $40 for a game they can’t hold. Simple as that. Look at $30 as the top bar for your marquee titles – but everything else should be significantly less.

The stunning success of games on the iPhone shows that people want to be able to download small, cheap, bite-sized games and play them almost immediately, and Sony must continue to work on and emphasize their ‘minis’ collection. In 2010, carrying around a bunch of discs just isn’t an option and digital is the only way to go. Which brings us to…

The Phone Question

Now, this is a tricky one. I mean, the Nintendo DS has no phone and barely any media functions and I hear that they’ve sold at least a couple of them… At the same time, one of the reasons for the iPhone’s success as a gaming platform is because it’s the device people have with them all the time.

So you might say that Sony, who initially called the PSP an all-in-one device, have to incorporate a phone, right?

Nope. See, the big problem is the phone OS. Sony only really have two options: Android and inventing their own. Go with Android and you dilute the Playstation brand and hand off control of your platform to another company. But developing your own operating system is a huge investment – and let’s be honest, Sony are not the people who are going to beat Apple and Google at software.

No, if the PSP2 is going to have an always-on internet connection, it would have to be like the iPad’s data plans – a small additional fee you pay with your existing service provider. It would provide a huge leg-up on Nintendo and make the PSP2 fully competitive with the iPhone as a gaming platform.

The X-Factor: Innovation

In this generation of gaming, Nintendo have demonstrated one thing: it’s innovation in how people interact with devices rather than fancier tech that wins the day. Sony have never excelled at this; their mantra has always been make it the best and most powerful – a strategy that might pay off with the PS3, but is unlikely.

But perhaps maybe Sony have learned their lesson, and have something radical up their sleeve and new that no-one has thought of. Or, they could use an established video game tactic and ‘borrow and modify’ someone else’s idea: a Natal-style camera interface? Motion control a la racing games on the iPad? Something to do with 3D?

What might it be?

And what else might the PSP2 have to have to connect with gamers? Hit the comments and let us know: what do you think Sony needs to do to make the PSP2 a success?

Written by Navneet Alang

Navneet Alang is a technology-culture writer based in Toronto. You can find him on Twitter at @navalang
SEE MORE ARTICLES BY "Navneet Alang"

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Comments
  • http://www.neo-networks.de neo

    They should build a real good MMO-RPG, that is so addictive that you have to play it everywhere. Now put good HSDPA Interface and a unlimited dataplan in it. And this thing will sell!

  • Josh

    “write-to” discs, so I can save anything I want to disc.

    A Jack so I can add an attachment for using the PSP2 as a radio controller & a video cam, if I attach a cam to my radio controlled model airplane, then the PSP2 is how I pilot it.

    VOIP phone/walkie-talkie. So where ever I go, I can get or give help.

    A really easy way through their portal to transfer Youtube videos to the PSP, so my friends and I can make and share our indie movies, our in-game movies.

    Either by disc or cloud, be able to organize playlists for custom music while in a game.

    “Voice activated” recording when plugging in a microphone.

    “Rough” version or armour, so it can be dropped and dropped into a puddle, safely.

    Be able to play second life wherever, whenever.

  • athlwulf

    Try this Sony: Don’t cripple the hardware, make the price the games reasonable, open it to hobbiest developers, and then allow it to sync wirelessly with the PS3.

  • http://www.japaninmotion.com japaninmoiton

    Load time is what did it for me. I have a ds psp and an iphone. I like the psp games i ove the sims games but i had to stop playing because the load time lasted longer then the playing time..

  • snake

    make it play ps1 games you own on disk.
    problem solved

  • Heath

    i highly doubt that sony will release a new PSP model at e3.. but rather a attachment for the 2000-3000 model that adds a controller/rumble … to try and push god of war / peace walker / some new game in the western market.

    Fact is PSP is doing way to well in Japan to update it. and sony would never release a console outside of japan first… however they would release a addon that plugs into the 2000-3000 usb slot and raps around that adds analogs for nicer game play.

    if this addon forces the use of offical firmware 6.20 or higher they also solve the piracy issue

  • Heath

    also we are talking as if the 3DS is going to make the PSP totaly worthless..

    if the 3DS has the power to run PSP level gfx in sterioscopic 3d.. then we could start talking about a PSP2 right away.. but thats ALOT of mobile power.. i can see this being the situation post e3

    3DS- power 70 control 100

    PSP-power 100 control 50 + another 20 with new duel stick addon

    the 3DS is going to be great i can tell.. and nintendo do mention it will try and target the hardcore portable market in japan however the PSP has Peace Walker / Monster Hunter Portable 3 / Yakuza / Kingdome hearts…. all this year in 2010 … sure if over Xmas the PSP stops selling and people stop getting games on it and they all flood towards the 3DS then sony would mabye start talking about a PSP2 at next E3… but i just cant see sony releasing a new handheld (even model) at this E3… they are frankly putting too much into the psp 3000 line up.

    my prediction is attachments for the PSP… maybe a NEW wifi / 3G / Bluetooth attachment and the controller duel analog attachment that they patented at the start of the month.

  • cmoney

    Lesson 1: dont try and screw people
    Lesson 2: go back to lesson 1

  • Jimminy C

    Dear Sony:
    Remove head from @$$,
    Read this article and others like it,
    Listen to fans of your software, and design hardware that allows them to enjoy it in new ways!
    Until then,

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    /::::| ; | |:::::::::`.
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    /–.`’–:_:::::`-::::::::::::\
    /,-_.’ _`-:_::::`:::::::::::\
    / /o\| ,-_`-.`–:::`::::::::::)
    || \_/| / /o\\ `:,”’-:’
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    `-..___..–”

  • Midnitte

    It needs a phone. Nobody wants to carry around more then one device anymore. Its the reason new phones have cameras (with flash…. my phone has flash and a 5mp lens. Thats pretty impressive imo), mobile tv, and games. You mentioned only Android and them building their own OS. Your forgetting WebOS (palm, or rather HP now) have been quite open about licensing WebOS. Theres also ALS, Windows Mobile, and just using Linux as a base to building their own instead of starting from scratch.
    + In addition, Why not use Android? Sony Ericsson is getting ready to use Android in its phones.

    Another thing is buttons. If its going to have a phone, it needs a QWERTY keyboard. But it also needs to be good for gaming. I think something similar to the Motorola Droid would work, with the addition of 2 Analog Sticks and shoulder buttons, Sony would have a real killer device.

  • Techni

    “When the rumor of the first PSP first floated about, the idea of having a handheld that could reproduce full console games seemed incredible. Now, many years on, the idea is a lot less exciting”

    No it’s not.

    “Digital Distribution Only”

    FSCK NO! Go failed because of that. Because Sony made a new PSP that gave existing PSP owners no reason to buy one. UMD is a must. Backwards compatibility is a must.

    And quit comparing it to the crapfest iphone, known for shovelware. It’s not comparable. Iphone games are a lot smaller. PSP2 games are going to start getting upwards of 10 GB. That’s not convenient to download