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and web browsing are so much better with one, and for Sony to not include one would just make the PSP2 seem like old, out-of-date tech.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?