It is now all but certain that Sony will announce their next handheld video game system, the successor to the Playstation Portable, later this week at the ‘Playstation Meeting’. Regardless of what they say on Thursday, Sony will have an uphill battle.
When the first PSP was released, the world was a different place. Sony, riding high on the massive success of the PS1, hoped the PSP would become the Walkman of the new generation. That of course did not happen. Not only did the innovative, accessible controls of the Nintendo DS outshine the PSP, the subsequent rise of the smartphone made the bulky, Wi-Fi only PSP seem less compelling.
But regardless of the pre-announcement chatter, we can assert this: though the PSP was not a failure, it also didn’t light up the sales chart like Sony wanted, particularly in terms of software. So what must Sony do if they are to make a portable gaming device succeed in an age of ubiquitous wireless, mutliplayer gaming and smartphones that can produce graphics like this?
Dual Analog Sticks, Sure – But Touch Too
The biggest complaint about the PSP was of course its lack of two analog sticks, because it meant all those fancy ‘home console quality’ games had awkward, crappy controls. So of course the PSP2 must have two better-designed sticks.
But the Nintendo DS and iPhone have showed that touch screens can allow for innovative ways of doing things.
Sony need to make the PSP2 a jack of all trades with not only analog sticks, but a touchscreen and a touchpad on the rear. The aim here is to present game developers with as many ways as reaching consumers as possible, from big blockbuster titles to small indie ones to, yes, even Angry Birds. The point is not to appeal to just hardcore gamers or casual gamers, but everyone.
Under $300 is Good, $250 is Better
The times of handhelds being $150 are long over. Sad, but true. Not only has technology evolved, smartphones have changed people’s expectations of what is possible on a handheld device. When Nintendo launches a device at $250, you know things have changed.
Everything we know about Sony suggests they will create a monster of a product. But even with all that tech, the initial price must remain under $300. Sony have learned the hard way with the PS3 that pricing a device too high makes recovering extremely difficult. Particularly given the PSP’s key 18-24 demographic, keeping the price within the range of an iPod Touch is crucial.
Games Designed for the Handheld Experience
Games that really succeed on a handheld platform are crafted so that they work well on the go. Sony must get its own studios and third-party ones to focus on this core concept.
Sometimes, portable games must offer ‘bite-size moments’ i.e. short 5 or 10 minute segments that can easily be finished while on the subway, during a lunch break or waiting for a bus.At the same time, the PSP iterations of Grand Theft Auto and God of War sold really well, games which are huge overall but can be broken down into easily digestible smaller parts.
So what’s clear is that it isn’t overall length that’s key – is how you build experiences that are unique to a handheld system and leverage its strengths. That could also include innovative mutliplayer, location based gaming and augmented reality.
But at least in North America, Sony need one killer app: Call of Duty multiplayer that works over Wi-Fi. We know there’s a huge market for that, and it’s basically untapped in the mobile space.
Apps & a Web Browser? Sure. But Why Not Android?
This one I know will be controversial.
Because of security and performance concerns, the PSP2 will obviously have its own operating system. But if those touch-screen rumors are true, then there’s no reason it couldn’t also run Android, particularly given the minor fact that they will be releasing a more casual-oriented Playstation Phone soon.
Why on earth would Sony want to do that? At the end of the day, having Android OS would mean the PSP2 would not only be a gaming system unto itself, it would also be a viable competitor to the iPod Touch: a multifunction, multimedia device that also had access to thousands and thousands of apps. It would vastly increase the appeal of the device to the early adopter crowd because it would do everything: games, video, music, the web, apps.
At the very least, Sony should ensure the PSP2 has some key apps – Netflix in North America, Lovefilm in Europe etc. – and most crucially, a good, efficient web browser. A mobile device without a web browser in 2011 just doesn’t make sense. But overall, given that the PSP2 will likely run on ARM chips similar to those found in smartphones, Android would make much more sense.
Mutliplayer /PSN on the Go
If you want to differentiate yourself from Nintendo and compete with the iPod Touch and iPad, you put in 3G. But rather than contracts and carrier subsidies, Sony need simple to negotiate simple plans, much like the iPad.
But the aim of 3G wouldn’t be fragging on the bus. It’s unlikely that Sony will want something like multiplayer Call of Duty over 3G because latency is too high to make it playable. But multiplayer gaming that doesn’t rely on twitch responses – to make no mention of over the air music and movie downloads – could work fine over 3G and give Sony a real competitive edge.
Sony are in a tough spot with the PSP2. Smartphones offer a robust multimedia experience, and Nintendo’s 3DS will undoubtedly sell millions. Sony have a few options: either do something radically innovative, or build out a technical monster and try and keep costs down. Our money is on the latter. But in addition to fancy graphics, the new PSP must also offer something compelling – namely, real multiplayer on a handheld and an Apple-quality media experience.
But more than anything, Sony will have to position this as a device meant to create deep gaming experiences first and foremost, but that also does media well. It’s seems to be their only option. What’s certain is that it will be fascinating to watch this all play out.
What else will Sony need to do to make the PSP2 a success? Hit the comments and let us know.