Fixing the PSP in six easy steps

The PSP has had a long history, one that hasn’t always been entirely pretty. While the system has been quite successful in Japan and sold decently well enough in the West, it’s still a machine with a lot of problems, and that’s evidenced by the amount of PSP owners who feel that they didn’t quite get their money’s worth or simply traded the thing back. 

I actually love the PlayStation Portable, but I’m not happy with the way Sony has handled it. The annoying thing is that the PSP really could be a fantastic handheld device, but for the past half a decade, it’s been nothing but unrealized potential. Sadly, the PSP is not being viewed as a viable way of making money. The iPhone currently generates more revenue from its library then the PSP does. Third parties are failing to support the system, with only Capcom and Square Enix managing to find the system worthwhile. It’s not a good situation by any standard, least of all for the consumer.

The worst part is that it really wouldn’t take too much to make the PSP everything it deserves to be. Perhaps a little unique thinking and hefty dose of rationality, but is that really too much to ask? Apparently so. 

In any case, read on as I arrogantly act like I know more about Sony’s business than Sony does. 

Stop releasing a new SKU every year:


I ranted more generally about the state of the handheld market in a previous editorial, but it’s a belief that bears repeating. There are too many PSP models on the market right now, and if rumors are correct, we’re not done with the deluge yet. It’s gotten to the point where Sony is releasing a brand new PSP every year. From the PSP-2000 to the PSP-3000 to the PSPgo and the rumors of a 4000, it’s simply too much. 

This late into its lifecycle, Sony is having a hard enough time convincing people they need any version of the PlayStation Portable, let alone a brand new one that’s released at a premium “early adopter” cost that manages to rival the Wii’s price tag. At the very least, Sony manages to alienate and confuse its market. Regular mainstream consumers aren’t the brightest of the bunch at the best of times, and when they are faced with four different models of PSP, one of which doesn’t have a disc tray, how are they expected to make sense of it all? 

Decide whether UMDs are in or out:


As far as I’m concerned, the whole PSPgo phase was a joke. An unnecessary, over-expensive, clumsy waste of time that served only to make short-term cash and generate long-term resentment. At its very worst, the system can be considered a screw job. To buy a PSPgo, only to be locked into Sony’s digital market where games are more expensive than they need to be is pretty shitty, if we’re being honest.

Sony was pimping the lack of a disc-drive as if this was a good thing, then later did a U-turn and told everybody that UMD wasn’t going away anytime soon. This is typical of Sony’s two-faced marketing techniques, where it says one thing only to say something completely different at a later date. The lack of a consistent vision for the PSP has been one of its biggest problems, and this is something Sony has only made worse by releasing a system without a UMD drive. 

If indeed the rumors of a new PSP with a reinstated UMD drive are true, then what has that told us about the PSPgo? That it wasn’t worth supporting? That removing UMD support was a mistake? Those are certainly messages that Sony risks sending. Either that or it simply paints an image of the company as a barnyard full of indecisive fools. 

Make digital games worth buying:


Right now, Persona PSP costs a full forty bucks on the PlayStation Network. On Amazon right now, the UMD versions costs $15.63. Back when the PSP first launched, Amazon was also offering the special edition version of Persona for a little over thirty dollars. So, not only would you be getting the game for cheaper, but you’d get a soundtrack and a neat box as well. The lesson? PSN offers you less content for more money. 

How on Earth was a UMD-less PSP supposed to represent a good deal to anybody with that fucking business model?

UMD drive or not, any PSP with the ability to log onto a store and conveniently download full games is a great idea in theory. Inherently, the PSP is fantastic for this very reason. However, the prices are so counter-productive that it’s just not worth using the service. Why would I buy Persona from Sony when I can get it at a fraction of the cost elsewhere? Why would it be a good idea to tie myself to a format that means I miss out on special editions and bundles in the future? And if I have a PSP-3000, why would anything on the PSN appeal to me? 

As much as it likes to think it does, Sony does not have a monopoly. Not in the handheld market, and not even with its own games library. It can’t keep acting like it does.

Stop fighting homebrew:


Handheld gaming is about convenience. It’s about eliminating boredom wherever you are and providing quick gaming experiences on a player’s whim. Firmware updates run contrary to that concept so thoroughly and completely that I cannot believe they still release so many. Granted, a handful of Firmware updates are rather useful, but the sheer volume of them is too much, and most of them exist simply to curb piracy. 

The fact is, however, that if you want to pirate Sony’s games, Firmware isn’t going to mean a damn thing to you. That stuff gets broken and discarded by hackers within moments of their release. The only people affected, as is always the case with anti-piracy measures, are the paying consumers. And if you’ve bought a new game and feel like playing it on a train journey, only to have to sit through a Firmware update first — one that might not even work if you battery isn’t charged all the way — I think you can be forgiven for wondering why the fuck you bothered bringing the thing with you at all. 

Never mind the fact that one of the PSP’s biggest selling points has been its potential as a homebrew device. Some people will purchase the system just to break it and use it for another purpose. Okay, that means Sony relinquishes control of it, but a sale is a sale, and with such a large community of homebrew fans, surely finding a way to accept them is preferable to perpetuating a futile fight against them. 

Directly compete with Apps and make Minis a worthwhile endeavor:


When Sony revealed the PSP Minis program, I was genuinely excited by the prospect of cheap, small, portable games that could conceivably compete with iTunes and provide terrific experiences for a few dollars a shot. Of course, I must have forgotten that this was a Sony idea, because it wasn’t long before the whole thing got fucked up. 

As usual, it’s a case of Sony completely failing when compared to other, better deals. On the iPhone, you can buy lengthy, deep, engrossing Diablo-style RPGs for under three bucks. On the PSP, you can guy EA’s Tetris for ten. Bear in mind that the very same Tetris game is only five dollars on iTunes. Most Minis games will cost between five and ten dollars, while the going rate for many Apps is under five. It’s absolutely ridiculous, especially with many cross-platform offerings costing more on the PSP. 

Sony has blamed the developers for this, saying that it’s up to them, not Sony, to be competitive. However, this leads me to my final and most important point …

Take some fucking responsibility:


It’s not Sony’s fault that PSP Minis are priced so high, it’s all thanks to the developers. It’s not Sony’s fault that PSN versions of games can arrive ages after the UMD version launched, it’s all thanks to the publishers. When is Sony going to actually take charge of its own platform and start laying down some consistent guidelines? When is Sony going to work with developers instead of throwing up these new services and gimmicks without any semblance of a game plan whatsoever?

Sony has a grim habit of simply letting the wolves decide what happens with the PSP’s features. Rather than exert even a little control, Sony washes its hands of the PSP and blames other people. Minis developers often charge more because they have to pay the ESRB to rate their games. Why isn’t Sony offering incentives to help bring down those costs and encourage PSP developers to make Minis that are priced competitively? Why isn’t Sony requesting that UMD games and digital games are released simultaneously? It’s not hard to do. You own the PSP platform, guys, so start acting like you do!

The PSP still have plenty of untapped potential. It’s a beautiful little system at its core, but it’s surrounded by poor decisions and gross mismanagement. It’s no wonder that it’s getting its arse kicked by nearly every other handheld device on the market, and yet it really, really shouldn’t have gotten to be that way.

I’d like to think that one day, Sony will get its act together and find a way to make the PSP as exciting and worthwhile as it deserves to be, but let’s face it, it’s been over five years. It’s just not going to happen.

Jim Sterling