PSPgo faces uncertain launch, uphill battle

Back at E3, after some early leaks, Sony officially unveiled the PSPgo to the public and announced all the details about the machine. At first glance, the handheld looks amazing with its pretty screen, compact design, and slider capability. It’s even been reported recently that the Go has a faster guts, though the validity on that remains fuzzy. On paper, this handheld looks like it could be a solid competitor in the handheld space and further muscle in on Nintendo’s share of the pie. Well, there are a few things that are starting to stack up against the PSPgo that range from complaints of form factor, to pricing, to software distribution. Let’s break down the major complaints consumers and retailers have with the PSPgo and see just how big of a deal they could be.

Hardware Price Point
With the removal of the UMD drive and a smaller screen, most everybody figured that the PSPgo would be pretty close to the same price as the current PSP model; with some people even expecting it to be a little cheaper. While I didn’t think the machine would necessarily cost less than the current PSP, I didn’t think that Sony would be essentially resetting the price point back to where the PSP launched at. Yeah, all new products carry a premium price tag, but it’s a pretty big jump over the PSP’s current going rate. While there might be a lot people interested in the PSPgo right now, I feel that many will wait until the price comes down on these things.

So why is the price so high? One word: Retail. This brings us to the next issue facing the PSPgo.

Retailers Don’t Like It
Right now if you want a PSP game you’re most likely heading over to Gamestop, Target, Best Buy, or hitting an online store like Yes, there are a few games only available online, but they’re few and far between. What happens is that retailers are urged by Sony to sell the PSPgo, but once the handheld is sold, that customer is never coming back in to buy software for that device. All PSPgo games will be available online, so the retailer gets cut out. Basically there’s no incentive for retailers to push the PSPgo, because they lose out on future revenue from software sales while the original PSP and the DS keep bringing people back in the door. To offset this a little, Sony is keeping the price of the PSPgo at a premium so that retailers can take a bigger cut of the sale price. Without that inflated cost, retailers would probably just flat out refuse to carry the handheld.

One posed solution to this issue is to allow retailers to sell download codes for the games. This might work to some degree, but the retailer is still losing out compared to the markup that they get for disc-based games. On top of that, there’s not going to be any such thing as a used game market for the PSPgo. How is that going to be received by Gamestop?! In the end, Sony has the muscle to basically force retailers to carry the handheld (either they carry it or they lose out on deals for PS3 games, for instance), but I can’t see many retailers too happy about being cut out of the majority of the software sales market.

Only 50% of Americans Have Broadband
Many of the games offered for the PSPgo are going to be over a gig in size. For people with high-speed connections it’s not going to be an issue, but effectively half of the population in Sony’s most important market is still connecting through dial-up. Downloading games, which is the only way to get them, is just not feasible for dial-up users yet. Broadband penetration is going to be a big obstacle for Sony.


The iPhone Effect
Everybody is probably tired of hearing about how the iPhone is going to be such a big deal in handheld gaming. Well yeah, people should stop talking about how big it’s going to be, because it’s a big deal right now. The iPhone is selling tons of software, and there’s actually quite a few solid gaming experiences to be had on the device. Sure, you don’t have the ability for complex control schemes on the iPhone, but when games are available for $.99 to $9.99, the iPhone is going to steal a lot of gaming time away from the PSPgo (and from the DS as well). That $.99 impulse buy from the iTunes app store might keep you occupied just long enough to pass up on the middle of the road release on the PSPgo store.

Sony isn’t going to want to drop the pricing of their games all the way down to the iPhone levels of pricing; and that’s actually understandable given the development budgets. The problem is that Sony is going to have to prove to buyers that their games are worth the premium. Many people keep their iPhone on them at all times; can the PSPgo become a staple in a gamer’s pocket as well? If it comes down to packing around a cell phone or a handheld, the vast majority of people are going to take the phone with them.

Backwards Compatibility Issues With it’s Own Library
The UMD slot is gone. Any games you currently have for your PSP are essentially coasters if you sell your current handheld to upgrade to the Go. Sony is saying that they’ll be supporting the entire–er, most of the–library via downloads, but does that mean that you’ll have to re-purchase your entire library in digital form? If Sony is offering some way to get them discounted if you’ve already purchased the game, how do they prevent people from scamming that service? The only way I could see this working is if Sony will allow you to mail your discs in for a free download code. That solution is unrealistic, however, as Sony doesn’t want to be handing used discs by the millions only to dish out codes that will net them nothing in regards to profit. That sort of program would be disastrous financially. However, for those of us with sizable collections, I think we’re going to be very reluctant to upgrade to the PSPgo and leave our collections behind. Also, will smaller run games, like Gradius Collection, be available from the get go?

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
One thing that needs to be said is that Sony is pushing the market forward. Maybe the PSPgo is a little ahead of its time, but it’s pretty awesome to see a way for gamers to bypass the retail market and get their games without the hassles of preorders or worrying whether or not an item will be in stock when they show up. Ship dates and release dates will never be confused again, and no longer will you need to pack around a carrying case for extra games. The whole idea of the PSPgo is awesome, but really it’s quite the uphill fight for Sony. I hope the machine does well. I really want one, but ultimately getting one will depend on how soon the price drops, how easy it is to replace my library with digital versions, and just how simple buying and installing games can be.

I have to respect Sony for pushing the digital download services. This really is a step forward for game distribution. I’m just hoping it’s not a case of being a little too early to the party.


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