How Sony Can Make Their Next Gen Portable A Must Buy

Today, Sony is on the handheld gaming campaign trail, preparing for us to vote with our dollars later this year. Should you buy an NGP - the successor to the PSP - in late 2011?

It depends on whether Sony finally gets its PSP line right, if Sony's prose matches its poetry.

The Promise

This past week, we've seen the new PSP, the NGP, in action. We've seen the specs. We've even been able to imagine the invisible checklist of problems with the original PSP that Sony people must have had handy as they ticked them off and made the NGP:

__ Add Second Analogue Stick __ Get Rid Of Noisy Disc Drive __ Add Touchscreen To Keep Up With Times __ Make Sure It Is Smaller Than A Loaf of (French) Bread __ Improve Wireless Connectivity __ Add Cameras __ Throw In At Least One Motion Sensor __ Oh, And Make Sure It's More Powerful Than Whatever Weird Thing Nintendo Is Making

It's all so wonderful. They even added things like we didn't know we needed, like a built-in compass and extra touch panels on the device's backside.

Sony's unveiling of their next big machine was as impressive as… their last one. Their last one happened in 2005, when they showed the world the PlayStation 3, a machine that had a boomerang-shaped controller, output graphics onto two HDTVs at the same time and ran, as those of us who attended the Electronics Entertainment Expo Sony briefing in May of that your saw, the best-looking video games we've ever seen.

Sony's unveiling of their next big machine was as impressive as… their last one.

I still recall a reporter who was sitting next to me at the event, during this pre-Wii era when the Xbox 360 had just been impressively revealed. Sony's presentation was thunderous. The reporter later cackled: "Daddy's home." Sony's poetic pitch for the PS3 was wonderful. A year later, they dropped some features from the PS3, changed course in order to offer a more sensibly-shaped controller and finally, oh yeah, revealed the PS3's price: $US500-$600. That was Sony's prose, unpleasant as some of it was to read.

Sony's last dream machine struggled for a while. Sony struggled to shave price, Sony struggled to not drop more features, Sony struggled to deliver video games in 2006, 2007 and even in 2008 that matched that 2005 promise. Only recently, has the PS3 proven to be the wonderful machine it had the potential to be, a $US300-$400 box that runs the likes of Uncharted 2, Metal Gear Solid 4 and the increasingly stunning Killzone series.

We don't know the prose of Sony's new dream machine yet. We don't know when it's really coming out (already there is some hedging about whether it'll be out for all major markets in 2011). We don't know which games will be out on it. We don't know what it will cost, nor what its games will cost or even how we'll buy them.

We'll get those facts, maybe at E3 in June and PSP gamers ought to hope that Sony's 2011 version of 2005 isn't followed by a Sony recreation of 2006.

The Player's Needs

The NGP won't cost $US1000. That's nonsense.

The NGP price will "make sense", or Sony executive Shuehei Yoshida told Kotaku, frightening some of our readers that they are being set up for some harsh news.

We hope gamers will be spending under $US400 for the NGP. We think Sony's going to have problems all over again if they can't get down to $US300. Yes, their NGP feels like a machine plucked from the future. So did their PSP and so, strictly in terms of its display does the glasses-free 3D Nintendo 3DS.

If Sony has a checklist of PSP flaws and features, surely they also have this list of current prices for the things that will compete with the NGP for gamers' attention:

$US170-$US190 - DS $US170-$US250 - PSP $US200 - Wii $US200-$US400 - Xbox 360 $US200-$US300 iPhone 4 (not including phone contract) $US250 - Nintendo 3DS $US300-$US400 - PlayStation 3 $US500-$US700 - iPad with Wi-Fi $US630-$US830 - iPad with Wi-Fi and 3G (not including service plan)

Maybe the rate at which iPads had flown off store shelves would give Sony confidence to sell the NGP for a full $US500, but it's hard to see a new portable gaming machine - even one that runs a beautiful version of Uncharted - costing more than any home console.

Even at $US300, the NGP would be a tough call for some people, considering the gaming alternatives. At $US250, that's when things would get interesting and potentially tough for Nintendo (probably tough for Sony too considering all the expensive technology they're stuffing into the machine.)

Even if we knew the hardware price, we'd still not be able to judge the reality of the NGP without knowing its cost. Nintendo signaled early that its 3DS would be based on the old-school handheld gaming model. As soon as we knew it was running cartridge games, we could imagine people having to spend $US30, $US40, or $US50 per game. On iPhone and iPad, games fan be free, cost a buck or even go for as much as $US10 for the very kinds of games that the typical Sony gaming crowd loves. (Like this one and this one.)

Should you buy an NGP if it costs $500? If the games cost $10, that's not the worst option

An NGP where Sony sells games for no more than $US10 or $US15 as downloads is a very different potential purchase than one in which games could cost $US50 or so. Sony is sending mixed signals about this. It's promoting a new flash medium that could very well contain store-bought $US50 games that you'd buy at Wal-Mart or Best Buy. But they're also already rattling off a list of NGP developers that includes Firemint (makers of Flight Control, Real Racing) and Gameloft (makers of games that look like games you love), two of the kings of the cheaper iPhone/iPad gaming market. When Epic Games, creators of Gears of War took the stage at Sony's event, they didn't show the newest home video games running their graphics tech on the NGP; they showed a version of the newest game that runs their tech on the iPad. These are the signs of a Sony that is prepared to sell iPad-style games on the NGP, perhaps at iPad-style prices.

Should you buy an NGP if it costs $US500? If the games cost $US10, that's not the worst option. Should you buy the NGP if it costs $US300? If the games cost $US50, that's not that different than the first option.

Another wildcard is 3G. Sony's machine will support it, but we don't yet know how we'll pay for it. Those huge iPad prices in the list above don't even include the cost of a 3G service plan, which adds another $US15-$US30 a month.

There are numerous variables to Sony's NGP price formula. Hopefully it adds up to something sane. In retrospect, however, price was never the biggest problem for the original PSP. The machine's weakness was the same as the competing DS' strength: the need for games that could become phenomenons. The DS had Brain Age and Nintendogs, New Super Mario Bros. and Mario Kart DS. The PSP had plenty of wonderful games, but it never had a crossover blockbuster in the United States, nothing like it had with Monster Hunter in Japan. Some frustrated fans tied the PSP's game problem to its hardware. Developers were awkwardly cramming two-stick console game designs onto a one-stick portable, fumbling in the process.

And then there was piracy, which helped sour game creators had from making games for the PSP.

Sony's NGP hardware seems much better this time. The machine appears equipped to run iPhone-style games, PS3-style games and anything in between, as well as new kinds of games. The machine's potential for piracy is as unknown as its price.

Altogether, we're back at E3 2005 again. Daddy is home. The NGP seems amazing. We need E3 2006 to arrive quickly, bearing better news this time around. We need an NGP that makes sense. It would be nice to see Sony finally get PSP right.


Comments

    Er just to correct your iphone 4 pricing, it says 199 - 299, but on the apple website you require a 2 year at&t contract, so yeah its not that cheap XD

      That's how much it costs to buy into the contract haha! Sell a new Apple iPhone 4 and one'll get not less than $1000 (paid over time by the rip-off contract).

    I'm excited but still on the fence about this tbh.

    On one side I'm glad it looks the way it does, it looks more comfortable than the PSP even though the PSP is perfect for portable gaming.

    BUT it's like they pulled a Nintendo. 'This is the next gen for us in portable gaming.... AND it looks like our last gen of gaming'
    The 3DS is a DS with 3D. The NGP is the PSP with touch screen and cameras. It's good cause it looks like a PSP and that worked when playing it, but for a revamp, next-gen attacking the market its not the greatest IMO.

    Camera's - do we NEED cameras? Every PHONE has a camera. Every person probably a digital camera. I know if i buy this I won't be taking pictures with it unless its FOR a game it interacts with.

    THEN theres competing with the iPhone if they really NEED too. The thing about the iPhone is the simplicity. Core gamers aren't fond of it too much but other people are. The iPhone can playing vertically and horizontally. Its all touch or motion control. The apps are cheap and some short. This PSP cant be playing vertically, at least comfortably anyway. Its much bigger than the iPhone, it isn't a phone. Small apps may work, but they work so well on an iPhone cause its on the go.Play it to kill some time.

    The market they're going for with the apps and smaller casual games they obviously wanna get on the NGP is aimed at iPhone players - I don't imagine them buying this and taking it with them to kill time somewhere. The iPhone kills time cause they realise they have it on them as their PHONE.

    ONLINE 3G/WIFI - this nearby players thing is only going to work if heaps of people buy a PSP otherwise a failure I reckon. I also think this thing needs to interact with the PS3 a little easier than the PSP.

    Overall I like the idea - but I still think they've taken the same route with just some added things. I dont want SONY being Apple or Nintendo. The PSP has core games and does them well, this will do that too. We dont need another DS or we dont WANT another one either. If you dont attack something, that thing will win like the iphone and DS so I get the idea SONY are trying to take stuff away from them - but both are just so darn popular its hard to imagine either of them losing too much in the end.

    Easy, stick a new version of Monster Hunter on it. I would buy it in a flash (as well as millions of Japanese).

      Monster Hunter is already one of the confirmed release franchises, though probably only in Japan at this stage.

    :)

    Have some non-ps3 exclusive franchise games.

    seriously. If you had say an exclusive DoA5 or an exclusive Final Fantasy (that was full quality) then I might be interested.

    So far the 3d has an exclusive DoA, Sf4 with a novel control scheme, a range of awesome looking games AND the 3d gimmick.

    Sony just has a psp with better graphics.

    So far there is maybe 0.2% chance I'd buy a psp2, but there's a 70% chance I'll get a 3DS - especially if they get 3d movies working.

    Sony really needs to learn that its not simply a matter of: More powerful hardware = better console.

    IIRC, weren't the online only PsP games for the PsPGO horribly overpriced?

    The worst part about an online only store is that the developers control the price. You can't pick up a bargain if they ordered too many copies of a game, or grab a pre-owned title for half price.

    You also can't import games from overseas, making download-only a very unattractive option for Australians.

    The real problem with the PSP that i really hope Sony addresses with the PSP2 is that it had no (or at least, very few) HANDHELD games for it. What it had was ports of console games.

    A good Handheld game is something that is fantastic for both short bursts and extended play. Professor Layton, Phoenix Wright, Zelda: Spirit Tracks and Pokemon are just a few examples of this. Sony really needs to think outside of the box. People don't want a home console experience on a handheld, they want a HANDHELD experience. Especially if the PSP2 is going to cost as much as some people estimate (the price of a PS3), they're only going to end up hurting their own PS3 market.

    Add Second Analogue Stick = GOOD, as long as they can bring out some good fps'

    Get Rid Of Noisy Disc Drive = i actually didn't mind that on original psp. sitting on a bus, you cant hear it cause of headphones, but it annoys other people. he he he.

    Add Touchscreen To Keep Up With Times = why? copying ninteno like this wont work.

    Make Sure It Is Smaller Than A Loaf of (French) Bread = just make it fit into my dam pocket.

    Improve Wireless Connectivity = omg! might actually be able to play mp.

    Add Cameras = agian, why? there's no real use for it in gaming.

    Throw In At Least One Motion Sensor = on a portable? you serious? what are you goint to move, your tongue?

    Oh, And Make Sure It’s More Powerful Than Whatever Weird Thing Nintendo Is Making = i actually like this line. i hope like hell they can actually keep good on this one.

    all in all, throw in a bit of everything that everyones doing, most of which would be pointless to gaming, and you've got an excuse to raise the price tag. although it does mean it targets a larger audience, so maybe. as long a they keep in mind the travelling hardcore gamer.

    Anyone for ps2 emulation? Would it be possible on this hardware? Probably would have been anounced to help with all the buzz but that would be the killer feature for me. Would need a decent capacity mem card for that though!

      the ability to download and play PS1 and PS2 games has been reported in a number of places. The thing is powerful enough to run PS3 games.

    I dont want all these extras, I just wanna play games on the bus!

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