PlayStation Post-script #6: Sony’s Next Generation Suites on the Go

February 3rd, 2011 Dan Hemsath

It’s been one week since Sony officially unveiled the next-generation PlayStation Portable, an announcement marked, on the one hand, by familiarity – given that most of the new handheld’s capabilities had been leaked, in true Sony style, across the past several months – and, on the other, by surprise: the NGP? Why not the PSP2? And with all that high-falutin’ technology, just how much is this thing going to cost, anyway?

Such questions, of course, bring up even more queries, such as whether the first PSP was a success or a failure and just how in the world Sony plans on bringing down the DS platform – if they even consider it a threat. The TPS staff has had a full seven days to debate, prod, and eviscerate one another; this is their messy result.

And be sure to check out our expert panel’s take on the Next Generation Portable here.

Dan Hemsath
Features Freelancer

NGP. (I really hope that name doesn’t stick.)

I mean, whatever happened to creative names like “Saturn” or “Genesis”? Oh, yeah… they went out of the hardware-making business.

But back to the NGP: it’s not what I expected, primarily because it seems less “revolutionary” – when compared with the upcoming Nintendo 3DS, with regards to its “we did it first” touch screen and 3D capabilities. Instead, it seems like a more “advanced” gaming device than anything so far.

I spoke with a PlayStation representative yesterday who gave me the down-low about the NGP, and the first thing that I thought of was that it reminded me of a fusion between a PSP and a SixAxis controller. Apparently, the system will be motion sensitive, using SixAxis technology likely in the same ways the PS3 does. Now, all of those old commercials for videogames where the dudes on the couch are moving around with their controllers (or portables) somehow seem eerily more realistic.

When I asked about what all the “squares” and “triangles” on the back were, my representative told me that it was a “touch panel.” Moving your fingers on it would simulate different effects in games, such as pulling an object, sifting through sand, anything. (Interestingly, the front screen was also described as being a touch screen, as well. Hmm…)

There are several other features the NGP will have, she told me, but by this point, the dual analog and 3D had me dreaming about finally playing the ultimate game of Katamari Damacy, rolling up the world around me, using the touch panel for precision “princeliness.”

I think what will make the NGP stand out is what made the PS3 so sought after (Blu-ray aside): it is the culmination of every desirable feature portable gaming has to offer. Here’s hoping Sony markets this well to Western audiences, so that they understand what it is – and why it’s cool – before scanning price points first, and doing so later.

Kyle Heimbigner
News Editor

The “NGP” thing is just its codename.

Marc N. Kleinhenz
Features Editor

Yeah, but what are the chances that it’ll stick…?

;)

Ryan Green
Reviews/Previews Editor

Well, did Project Natal stick? Project Dolphin?

Scott Rodgers
Sports Editor

Nintendo Revolution?

Nathan Tsui
Staff Writer

Katana?

Marc N. Kleinhenz
Features Editor

Of course the historical videogame landscape is filled with a litany of codenames, but, if memory serves right, this is the first time that Sony has done so. And the question then becomes, of course, why – especially when this is a continuation of a series of systems?

My only answer is a hunch: Sony is taking this thing very seriously, a guess which is only reinforced by the fact that it took its damn time in even announcing the new handheld. I think they’ve thought long and hard about what they want to do, about what they have to do, and about what will put them in the best position to not only try and get a leg up on Nintendo and its DS dynasty, but also on how to best position itself against the mobile phone manufacturers, as well.

And, in all honesty, my suspicion is that Sony is much more concerned about the latter than the former. There’s no conceivable way that a $300-plus ($350 seems like a number that Sony would delude itself into thinking is feasible) system can take on the 3DS, even if that portable is ridiculously (and stupidly) priced itself. The addition of the PlayStation Suite, for my money, drives this particular point home. If Sony can’t beat Nintendo head-on in the specific gaming sector of the much bigger mobile market, then go for the bigger market; there’s more money to (potentially) be made there, anyway.

My initial response to the NGP – and, granted, this is not after much contemplation upon the matter – is that it will fall flat while the PSS will thrive, to one degree or another.

Agree? Disagree?

Scott Rodgers
Sports Editor

You mean like how the Sony Gem never became the Move, right?

Marc N. Kleinhenz
Features Editor

Gem was never publicly announced by Sony, and it was only one of, literally, several codenames throughout its long lifespan (others include, apparently – because these were never publicly released – Sphere and Arc).

Which takes us back ’round to the question: why? Why give this an official codename? Was Sony’s hand forced before it felt ready? And why not, of course, just PSP2?

Sir Gordon Wheelmeier
Gaming Guru

I’m guessing NGP is a codename in as much as it’s the best thing that Sony could come up with at the moment, and they’re going to see how the reaction to the name is. I haven’t seen too many complaints, so maybe it’ll stick. Remember that Xbox was a codename, but it became so synonymous with the project that it stayed. The same could happen here. Or they’ll just call it the PS3 Portable.

Whatever. The bigger topic is that Marc is right – this thing is going to be so prohibitively expensive that it won’t sell. Period. Sony is going to pitch its price against the iPad and iPhone and similar tech, but that won’t fly. The iPad is, for many people, a notebook replacement, so that $500 is actually on the cheap end of what it’s replacing. And almost no one pays full price for an iPhone or Android device – they’re almost all subsidized at $200.

The other problem is that the mobile landscape moves so fast these days that the NGP’s tech will likely be met or, even, perhaps exceeded sometime in the next 18 months by Apple and Android partners. Keeping in mind that the NGP isn’t shipping for, let’s say, nine months, that closes the gap considerably. When the phone in your pocket, that you’ve already paid for, looks as good as a device that runs $300+ and only plays games, then it’s going to seem much less desirable.

Yes, the tech is undeniably awesome. But the price is really scary.

Marc N. Kleinhenz
Features Editor

Is this why, do you think, that Sony simultaneously unveiled the PS Suite – to leverage the gap between it and the rest of the mobile market as a back-door or otherwise back-up plan?

Parjanya Holtz
Senior Editor

The answer is simple: the name “PSP” reminds the general public of the disaster that was the PSP, which is why Sony is trying to shift the focus on the “next generation-ness” of the new device. It’ll be called PSP2 at some point, unless Sony starts thinking that NGP isn’t so bad, after all, but I honestly doubt that. The brand name “PlayStation” needs to be on a Sony Computer Entertainment product for it to be recognized by the most uninformed of consumers.

The other reason may be due to the rumors and leaks that were around for a while before the “NGP” was announced. It’s Sony trying to regain control over what gets out when. Coming up with a codename no one has heard before is quite the smart move in order to capitalize on that urgently needed attention that you get when you surprise people.

Ryan Green
Reviews/Previews Editor

While I agree with your point about “damage control” in regards to calling it the PSP2, I don’t understand why such a notion exists. Given that the PSP wasn’t as successful by any means when compared to the Nintendo DS, it still sold well for Sony and for a launch handheld. On top of that, it had a strong selection of exclusive titles, and much of that exclusivity remains today. I don’t expect to see Disgaea 2 on 3DS anytime soon, especially after how the first one sold (hint: I saw them flooded in bargain bins).

It will most likely be the PSP2, and a later revision will likely be the PSP2 go. Let’s not kid ourselves; this is the PlayStation Portable.

Personally, I won’t buy it until it has a few revisions. That system size is way bigger than my PSP go, and I’m really unsure of how long that battery life is. Like Gordon said, that price point is key. If you remember what Sony actually mentioned so far about the NGP, you’ll notice all of the crazy hardware and some of the franchises that will appear early on. What you didn’t see – which, to me, is even more important than the price – is the battery life. Sony doesn’t get battery life. Nintendo has sacrificed a lot in the name of it, and, to this day, I haven’t needed to charge my Game Boy Advance SP more than 10 times. In the mobile market, three hours of usage is downright pathetic. While the only time I needed more than that with a portable is during a cross-country flight, it needs to be better.

It feels like Sony is going to tech-bomb this platform in the hopes that it will still be valid in a few years, so the investment to the consumers won’t be that difficult to handle. But a unit that bulky, however expensive, and lacking in battery life isn’t going to cut it.

So, in part, that is where the Suite program comes into play. Sony acknowledges the growing mobile gaming market, one that was given new life, in no small part, because of Apple. Having developers jump on board with this new platform and revenue stream will help ensure a longer life for Sony devices and a newfound appreciation for their products. At the same time, it is a necessary means of dealing with those pirates (sorry, homebrewers) who think it is their inalienable right to hack the hardware they are basically licensing from Sony so they can license media to play on it. Now, if you want to develop for portable Sony devices, you have a new means of doing so, in a legally acceptable way.

Ultimately, this is all moot. We are getting more trophies, so everyone should pre-order ASAP! Let’s go, Paji!

Kyle Heimbigner
News Editor

The PSP wasn’t a disaster – it sold over 50 million units worldwide. That’s pretty successful.

Aram Lecis
Managing Editor

Kyle said what I wanted to say – I think it is perceived as a disaster. And as far as software sales go, it is a disaster, since piracy is so rampant. But hardware sales-wise, it was pretty damn successful, for sure.

Perception is important, though, one has to admit.

Sir Gordon Wheelmeier
Gaming Guru

Hardware sales aside, if the games didn’t sell (and they didn’t), then third-party publishers will be less likely to back the NGP with quality titles, and that’s a huge problem.

Remember that this thing will not be cheap to develop for. Outside of ports, it’s going to take a lot of manpower (read: cash loots) in order to develop quality titles for it. If publishers aren’t committed, those games aren’t going to come.

Ryan Green
Reviews/Previews Editor

Gordon is right. My joint venture with Sam, Greeshop Entertainment and Cleaning Service, dropped $20,000.00 to develop for the Mini Status, and we took several cycles to recoup that cost. And we didn’t factor in piracy at all, as it doesn’t exist in Game Dev Story.

It truly is the perfect gaming world. Too perfect.

I don’t think that piracy can be the primary source of blame here. Homebrew and old Nintendo ROMs ruled the roost. Piracy hurt, but, in the end, I put my money on people playing their favorite childhood games portably.

Again, this is where I think the Suite comes into play, as well as the 3G and trophy support. All of these are more diversions for people to not hack it and abuse the system. Give people more reasons to not hack your system, and the amount of piracy should drop. At least, that is what Sony is hoping for.

Aram Lecis
Managing Editor

Oh, I agree one hundred percent, Sir Gordon. But if the boys at Sony are telling the truth that it is a “one week” process to port a PS3 game to the NGP, that could be a huge boost. Or it could make gamers just go “meh.” But I think if Uncharted 3, Twisted Metal, and other AAA titles were released day-and-date on NGP and PS3, not to mention if they port past hits like LBP2, then people will have to take notice.

However, if the damn thing costs as much as my 3DO did on launch, then the whole system is DOA.

Marc N. Kleinhenz
Features Editor

For me, the most telling question is: has Sony learned from its past mistakes? Which leads to a bigger, much more systemic inquiry: can Sony learn from its missteps?

The PSP and PS3 both were literally crippled because of an unrestrained ego that said, “We can release whatever we want whenever we want at whatever cost we want, because we’re Sony – people will gladly pay for it and instantly beg for more.” And, obviously, this just wasn’t the case; finances (and software lineups, something which neither system had until well into their respective lifespans) trump brand loyalty, it turns out. That we went into the Great Recession almost immediately after the PS3’s release was just icing on a very bitter cake.

The simple truth is that we simply don’t know how Sony will respond to failure or other assorted forms of rejection, because the company didn’t start making mistakes of the egotistical kind until the PS2 days; almost literally every single thing the company did with the PSX was spot-on perfect in a way that was humbling to have witnessed and is depressing in its aftermath. Call it the Golden Age of Sony. What the latter half of the PS3’s lifecycle and the launch of the NGP will be called is very much up in the air. To whit:

If the answer to both questions is a resounding yes, then the NGP has, I think, a very good chance of not only imitating the PSP’s isolated, comparative success, but also expanding and expounding upon it, probably to a great degree. (There’s still no way in hell that it’ll best the 3DS, however, no matter what Sony throws at it.) But if the answer is no… then it’s going to be very, very interesting to see what form the PS4 will take next year.

Aram Lecis
Managing Editor

I was going to reply, but then when you said “to whit” instead of “to wit,” the whole thing lost all credence to me. :)

Sam Bishop
Editor-in-chief

Wait, what, Marc? Can they learn from their past mistakes? Uh, of course – what do you think the majority of this generation has been for Sony? It’s been a constant listening-and-response act from the company, adding nearly every single asked-for feature on the system save for cross-game voice chat and .mkv support.

It’s good to be critical where warranted, but the PSP launched at the exact same price as the 3DS did. Every Sony system, even ones from that Golden Age, takes about two years to really build up a head of steam on the software side, and I’ve little doubt it’ll be different for the PSP2.

If we’re going to sit here and reflect on the success (or supposed lack thereof) of the original PSP, we must take into account the situation on a global scale. Right now, in Japan, over five years after launch, the most successful game release so far this year was a PSP game that sold over three million copies when it hit, and has now sold over four million. There are hardware shortages of the PSP in Japan right now.
The situation might be bleak here for the system, but over there, it’s literally the best-selling hardware week after week – better than the Wii (which, incidentally, is also being outsold by the PS3), and better than even the DS. The PSP is not a failure; it was just never a good fit for Western audiences.

Here’s the thing, though: the PSP2 will be, and it’s because of just one little difference – the second analog stick. Mark my words, the PSP2/NGP/whatever-you-want-to-call-it will be a success – one that even the naysayers can’t try to paint as anything else.

Marc N. Kleinhenz
Features Editor

This is just for Aram.

=)

Aram Lecis
Managing Editor

I thought for sure that link was going to tell me that I was the one who had it wrong, and I was scared to click on it… thank God I didn’t have to deal with that sort of thing – it shatters my giant ego!

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