When was the last time you heard anything about the PSP Go? Introduced last year, Sony’s digital only experiment has been conspicuously absent from monthly sales reports and the mainstream media’s attention pretty much ever since. Even Sony themselves have kept quiet, barely mustering the courage to dare show the doomed device amongst its promotional materials at this year’s game shows. Not even bundling it with 10 – yes TEN free games in the UK seems to have ignited the platform’s future.
It’s probably no coincidence that the first mention of the PSP Go I’d heard in a long time came from a rather damning but thought provoking article from Ars Technica. What went wrong?
There’s no point mincing our words about this; the PSP Go has bombed in a pretty huge way. As pointed out by Ars, the only hard sales figures available for the PSP Go make pretty grim reading, and that’s in Sony’s “home” territory; a territory that typically buys more handheld consoles than it surely has hands to hold them. Sony themselves have been quiet on the individual sales of the Go, which says it all in an industry where one -upmanship over the competition is key and where even modest figures can be and often are twisted to sound deceptively impressive. You can’t shout from the roof tops when your only voice is a whimper.
The Go itself is a mixed bag. As a device, it piqued my interest at launch. I personally think that its form factor is the best that Sony have managed to come up with in the 5 years since the original PSP launched. With the screen slid down, the Go becomes no bigger than an iPod Touch. In terms of portability, the PSP has never been easier to carry around with you, and as someone who ditched their original launch PSP because of its unfriendly attitude to my jeans’ pockets, that was almost the sell in itself. What the hardware did right however was totally undermined by Sony’s ridiculous pricing strategy. Retailing at almost £100 more than the standard PSP-3000 model, the Go asked users to pay a premium price of entry for a system that lacked features and offered no way for existing owners with large libraries of UMD games to play their back catalogues. Sony’s attempts to ratify this with free game download initiatives were, perhaps rightly so, met with disapproval by those who still felt they were being short changed.
The PSP Go also demonstrated a pretty clear lack of understanding of the digital markets and how they should be approached by Sony. They’re not alone – Microsoft charge extortionate prices for their Games on Demand service too – but the PlayStation Network was a glaring example of a missed opportunity. Erratic game prices hampered the store from Day One. Why pay (often significantly) more for a digital copy of a game when the boxed UMD is so much cheaper in your local brick and mortar? Does a “sale” – rare in themselves – really constitute as a “sale” when the reduced prices are still several pounds more expensive than the high street? Even the “Mini’s” range, Sony’s effort to try and rival Apple’s 59p, bite size, accessible gaming culture for iPhone and iPod Touch, showed a glaring misunderstanding of the overall point. As my iTunes billing history attests to, I’m willing to take a risk on a lot of content at less than the price of a can of Coke, but when Sony ask upwards of £4 for similarly low budget wares the ballpark changes. Oh, and I’m not paying a fiver for Tetris.
It wasn’t like Sony even showed any control over the PlayStation Network. Third party publishers were left with the decision on whether to sell content through PSN or not themselves, which meant that some games never even made it to the store front. For those that did, several day waiting times between the boxed and digital release, even for big hitters and possible system sellers like LittleBigPlanet, became the norm. To put it in its most blunt terms, PSP Go owners were often paying more for games to arrive later.
The PSP Go could have been compelling. There is room out there for a digital only portable system to work. Given the ability to carry around multiple games within the same system, inside an attractive and for once truly portable design, under different circumstances the Go could have been it. For me, however, this whole episode has and will continue to be incredibly frustrating. Sony will inevitably see this in black and white. According to them, the PSP Go’s epic failure will be hard evidence that gamers are neither ready nor want a digital only, portable system of this nature. I can see the press release now. You know what, maybe they’re right. You can bet your bottom dollar however that when the time comes to officially kill off the Go, nothing from Sony will make reference to the shambolic handling of the online store, the ludicrous decision to charge so much for the system or the fact that stripping away compatibility with huge libraries of games half way through a consoles life cycle was always going to be a disaster.
That is where the blame rests. Not with the gamers wants or not wants. Until Sony learn from and recognise that, then whatever they wished to gain from the PSP Go experiment will have been a complete waste of time.
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