While Sony Computer Entertainment’s head of worldwide studios Shuhei Yoshida declined to tell Kotaku the official price for the NGP, something we suspect may be unveiled at E3 next week, he did talk about the reasoning behind how they set that price, how their new gaming device learned from some of the missteps of the Playstation Portable and what the executive makes of rival Nintendo’s lacklustre 3DS sales.
Back when Sony initially starting development on their Next Generation Portable they set an internal target price they wanted to hit for the launch of the system, Yoshida said in an interview last month.
“I feel very comfortably that we are going to be hitting it,” he said. “We definitely consider this is the price that it has to be for people to even consider purchasing it.”
The target price was set knowing that “at the end of the day gaming portable devices may not be something people feel like they need,” he added.
Sony also looked at many other things, like the cost of the goods needed to create the device and the pricing of other similar devices. They also considered what they may be bundling with the final hardware, Yoshida said, raising the possibility that the device may come with pre-loaded games or other software or accessories.
Yoshida said the team is still looking at different bundle possibilities. Sony has already determined that there will be both a 3G version and Wifi only version. They also suspect there will be different bundles for different regions of the world.
The notion of setting a price based on what competitors charge raises the question of what Sony believes is a direct competitor to a device that is so thoroughly about gaming on the go.
What separates the NGP from the rest, Yoshida said, is its “unique gaming capabilities”. Things like having dual analogue sticks, something he called a huge differentiator. Something, I can’t help but agree with after having spent hours playing games on the device.
“You feel how natural it is to navigate through 3D space,”he said. “That is one big feature that separates it from other things. As we show more from the social activity features I hope people will see that the NGP is new and different.”
The NGP also has motion-sensing, front and back touch sensitivity and cameras.
Surprisingly, Yoshida tells me that Sony wasn’t convinced the device should have that second touch pad on the back of the device initially. It wasn’t until he experiences what it could add to a game that he became a believer.
“We were evaluating whether to put a touch panel in the NGP,” he said. “We weren’t sure we wanted it. But when I had a chance to play Little Deviants I was like ‘This is why we need to include it.'”
That’s why Little Deviants remains one of Yoshida’s favourite games on the device, he said.
“I’d like everyone to try Little Deviants,” he said.
Typically Sony doesn’t like to talk directly about their competitors, Yoshida tells me when I ask him about Nintendo’s 3DS. But I press him. Why do you think the 3DS isn’t doing as well as some, including Nintendo apparently, expected. Could it be that the iPhone and devices like it have cannibalised the portable gaming market so significantly that it can’t support gaming-only devices?
Yoshida capitulates then, but only to discuss the broader issue I raise.
“We are not directly competing with these systems,” he says. “We have to really create the reason for people to look at the NGP and say, ‘This is what I want.’
“There are more and more options people have now for devices to play games on.”
Yoshida said that while Sony doesn’t often talk about the competition, they certainly watch them.
“We talked about that a lot in our office,” he said of the 3DS’ launch. “We have been watching closely the reaction of other people to the 3DS.”
But Yoshida said he came to a different conclusion than the one I suggested, that maybe people don’t want stand-alone portable gaming devices anymore.
“I think there are a combination of things,” he said about the 3DS’ launch. “It could have been the line-up of titles. It could have been about the 3D stereoscopic capabilities. It could be about many other things.”
“I was a bit surprised about how (the 3DS) is doing,” he added before saying he didn’t want to discuss the competitor anymore.
The Next Generation Portable won’t use Sony’s funky, flawed UMD to play games. It was the persnickety UMD drive that some point to as the PSP’s chief issue. It also won’t be a device that can only download games like the PSPgo. But we don’t know exactly yet how game sales will work for the NGP.
Sony has said it will use a new proprietary memory card for game storage, but that doesn’t preclude the NGP using other ways for gamers to purchase games.
One idea floated that bubbled as a rumour was that Sony would install kiosks in retail stores that would allow gamers to bring in their NGP or its memory card, purchase a game and install it directly on the device. In theory, the system wouldn’t cut retailers out of the formula, would remove the need for physical boxes and would cut down on the excessive download times that PSPgo owners faced with big-game purchases online.
I asked Yoshida about the rumour and their relationship with retailers like GameStop in light of the PSPgo, which did essentially cut them out of game sales.
He assured me that games like Uncharted Golden Abyss for the NGP will be sold both in a physical packages and in an online store. That way people have a choice, he said.
He also pointed out that retailers are becoming increasingly comfortable with selling voucher cards for Sony’s online store. But what about those kiosks?
“I don’t know if we’ve publicly talked about that yet,” he said. “There has been some speculation from the media and we discussed something like that as an option.”
It wouldn’t be the first time such a system existed, Yoshida pointed out.
When he was a kid, he said, he would bring a disc card from his family’s Nintendo Family Computer Disc System to a store to load it up with new games.
“That is an interesting scheme,” he said.