Sony are in a tough position. We know it, they know it. So when they decided to rip out the disc drive and stick £100 on the price of the Playstation Portable, we were more than a little confused.
When they decided to announce ‘PSP Minis,’ a range of downloadable games for the format (which they insist are not apps), we were downright perplexed.
Apps work on the iPhone, and mobiles in general. The PSP is quite literally not a mobile phone and leave us fearful for the fate of both this new direction, and the format in general. We think it may not be the success they hope for many reasons, a few of which we have decided to mention here:
The iPhone has a lot of bad games, but the community rating systems mean the best things rise to the top, and word of mouth means the decent titles always get some visibility above the detritus. The PSP will soon see some of the best iPhone apps ported over, but a lot of them will be identical, and in many cases come off worse than the original.
Controlling Fieldrunners with an analogue nub over a grid is faster and less laborious than pinching and pulling on the iPhone 3GS? Even Pocket Gamer admitted it might not be the case.
“Subatomic has decided to leave the watertight gameplay alone in favour of slapping some extra layers of polish onto the game’s presentation,” seems to translate to “there is nothing new that the PSP can bring, so updates are largely cosmetic”.
2. PSP Go is a bad idea.
A PSP Go is £225. £225. £30 less than a Sony Playstation 3, the most technically advanced games console currently available. It is, in terms of technical prowess and button layout, identical to the original PSP. People who buy this will only be able to play downloadable games from the Playstation Network, as it no longer has a disc drive to support the hundreds of games currently available for the PSP. This is the platform which Minis will be launched on, lauded about, and hopefully downloaded in their millions.
Stop me when this is starting to sound like a good idea.
3. No Apps Allowed.
The best apps that people show each other down the pub aren’t the shooters or desktop defence games, as fun as they are. They are the apps that can split a bill seven ways with a 13% tip, show you the closest toilet, or name the tune that’s playing on the jukebox in seconds. To limit the ‘Minis’ to only games is understandable in terms of keeping the PSP focused on gaming, but narrowing the scope of what can be made is limiting to developers and is much to the device’s detriment.
At the time of writing, six of the top 25 paid titles on the App Store are actual applications, including the top-selling one. Would apps equally highlight the shortcomings of the PSP rather than provide an entertaining non-gaming distraction? With no internal camera or connectivity beyond Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, some of the most fun and functional apps wouldn’t be able to make the leap intact…
4. Dev kits are too expensive.
€1,200. That’s how much it costs for the PSP development kit, suggesting that this is far more targeted at the small indie developer upwards, rather than the lone guy in a back room with some programming skills. The sign-up process requests all sorts of data including tax codes and company IP addresses, so Sony knows that they are limiting the potential gems that can be created to smaller dev houses belonging to big publishers. iPhone success stories like Trism and iShoot have turned one man dev teams into millionaires, those people may be immediately turned off by the initial barrier to entry posed by a pricey development toolset.
The great thing about the App Store is that those homegrown titles could stand shoulder to shoulder with the high profile, well-publicised efforts from behemoths like EA and Gameloft, and still sell on their own merits. Without that, the PSP Minis could be devoid of these smaller, more innovative arthouse titles, as publishers look to recoup on their portable gaming investment above all else.
5. Already got a PSP? Tough.
This move to a download-only bitesize experience is totally at odds with what the Playstation Portable was about only a couple of years back, when the Nintendo DS Lite began to appeal to the mainstream. "We’re about bringing full length, hardcore gaming top the PSP," was the clarion call, an antidote to those quick-fix puzzle games and time killers the DS touted.
Well, the DS sold like a Katie Price book, as did iPhone apps, and now Sony are abandoning all that hardcore gamer cash with €1 downloadable mahjong and ports of mobile games. An interesting problem is the issue of whether they will stop selling games in the traditional UMD disc format, thereby forcing all those PSP1 owners to go digital and missing the point at the same time.
People that enjoy the DS or mobile phone gaming want a brief distration for five minutes, whilst PSP gamers want the full-fat experience. PSP Minis are filling a gap that may not have been there in the first place, except in Sony’s own balance sheets.
6. 100MB Minis limit is constricting.
These 100MB file size limits for Minis are as restrictive as they are arbitrary. With the ample 16GB of internal memory the PSP Go has at its disposal, a 100MB limit is an unnecessary headache for the already stressed developer. iPhone apps sail into the hundreds of megabytes, with the beautiful vistas of Myst and side-splitting Monkey Island dialogue resulting in 533 and 351MB monsters respectively. XBox Live Arcade had an equally strict size limit which quickly rose from 50 to 350MB, and Shadow Complex released last week weighed in at 833MB. Either this restriction won’t last long, on the PSP Mini…
7. Approval Process as strict as ever.
In an effort to maintain quality over quantity, Sony is said to have strict policies on content and Minis output, meaning that great idea that might have been turned down by the taste and decency board at Apple is no more likely to see the light of day on the PSP. Whilst Sony claim to be more transparent and clear than Apple, only checking for titles being structurally sound rather than for objectionable content, the official sign up page for prospective developers tells a different story….
With baby-shaking, stabbing and shooting people in the face amongst the previously approved titles on the App Store (albeit briefly), the fact that even titles which “reflect[s] adversely on the name, reputation or goodwill of Sony” will be denied PSP immortality doesn’t bode well for my profanity-filled tentacles vs. schoolgirl RPG…
8. Lack of impulse purchasing.
The App Store is one icon away, a world of 59p impulse purchases can be bought whenever the feeling takes. The lack of data connectivity for the PSP combined with the fact that credit cards were the only way to purchase games on the Playstation Network, means that gamers wanting a PSP Minis hit will need a Wi-fi connection to connect and download. Without that always-on connectivity, impulsive feelings soon turn into premeditation and all of a sudden spending €4 on a video poker game feels like a bad idea.
9. Lack of an innovative way to play.
As integral ot the iPhone gaming experience is the introduction of an interface that you didn’t need a PhD in Street Firghter 2 studies to play. No buttons to remember, no finger-crippling combinations, just swiping or poking at a screen to make things happen. Rolando was arguably an improvement on the impressive Loco Roco, with the intuitive tilting of the device replacing the shoulder button presses to great effect.
Porting the game in the other direction would be a step back, as all those barriers to players that the iPhone got rid of get put straight back up again with the PSP.
10. They stole the name!
Okay, maybe they didn’t but our Omio Mini is cooler! It is currently residing on sites as awesome and varied as CNet and Review Centre, and allows for a complete and robust mobile deal comparison in numerous unique ways. On the other hand, we can’t provide you with fun bite-sized morsels of gaming pleasure, but we’re working on it…