The PlayStation Portable isn’t a dead console yet, but it’s days are certainly numbered. In December, it’ll be six years since it’s initial Japanese release, making it comparatively aged compared to Nintendo’s various models in the DS range. Vultures are already circling, with developers claiming they already have PSP2 development kits and photos of an Android-powered PSP Phone being leaked to Engadget.
Before the media completely consign the PSP to the electronic cupboard of history, I’d like to pay tribute to it for it is: an underrated system which has been plagued by bad management decisions and short-sightedness.
The PSP is a quality piece of hardware. Back in 2004, when the PSP was first revealed the screen was stunning compared to other media devices at the $200 price point. The screen was several times the size and resolution of the screen on the Game Boy Advance and DS, and far sharper then either. In terms of hardware configuration, it’s processing capacity and graphical abilities were closer to the PS2 than to the original PlayStation. PSP models remain considerable more powerful then the Nintendo DS or the released specifications for the 3DS.
Standing at the forefront of gaming technology, the PSP should have been a massive success. It wasn’t. Instead, it has spent much of it’s lifecycle towards the bottom of hardware sales charts with dwindling support in game stores. UMD copies of many games are now quite hard to find, simply because they have been produced in small runs compared to games on other consoles.
So what factors left the PSP in this situation?
- Lack of a “Killer Game” – The success of the DS was almost ensured by the release of Mario Kart DS and Mario 64 DS. Established titles such as Pokemon and the Final Fantasy III remake helped to cement this. There was no killer title for the PSP. The launch line-up was devoid of highlights, with the established Metal Gear brand being turned into a not terribly popular a card-based-combat game.
- Short-Sighted Distribution System – The PSP was the first major handheld games console to feature a wi-fi connection and writable media. From day one, the potential existed for the PSP to be used to buy small, Xbox Live Arcade style games online and to access indie games. Sony effectively ignored this potential by allowing the PlayStation Network Store to stagnate for two to three years while Microsoft were forging ahead with digital distribution on consoles.
- Quashing Homebrew – The PSP is easy to code for and would have been a godsend for small developers. Except rather then supporting them with an online indie game store, Sony continually tried to block people from installing homebrew software on the PSP.
- Bonding To The PS3 – The PS3 was designed to work with the PSP. Nothing wrong with that. The problems started when Sony made PS1 games playable on the PSP but only available for download on the PS3, cutting out a large chunk of their market. This problem is now resolved, but support for PS1 games would have been something that should have been there from day one and independent of the PS3.
- Lack of Platform Titles – Platforming games are the bread and butter of handheld gaming. They are sadly lacking on the PSP, despite the potential existing for platformers from defunct consoles to be ported to the system in the same way they’ve been ported to the Wii, Xbox and DS. More homegrown intellectual properties, such as Ratchet and Clank would also have helped the system, although lack of good, first-party titles has been a problem which has plagued Sony.
The PSP is not a perfect system. The analogue ‘nub’ is a particular point of contention, while some have criticised it’s shoulder buttons and battery life. Still, it deserved a far better life then it ended up with. It had the potential to change the handheld market in the same way the PS1 changed the console market. It failed, almost entirely to make an impact however, allowing the Nintendo DS to completely dominate the handheld games market.
There were a lot of brave decisions in the design of the PSP, as there were with the PS3. The choice of a disk drive and the propriety UMD format was one while inclusion of a web browser and the recent release of a version without the UMD driver were others. Some of these worked out and some didn’t. I will continue to use my PSP, no matter what Sony release to succeed it and I am very glad that I bought what turned out to be a very good piece of hardware.