Welcome to the one hundred and seventh edition of RPGamer's Currents Column!
The column is back after a short Post-E3 hiatus. All of the impressions and interviews are up, the show is long done, and I can finally get back to a normal schedule. In case you haven't heard me go on about E3 on the RPGCast, I really enjoyed my time covering the show. I spent a lot of time helping with interviews, checking out the latest hardware, and getting a general feel for the pulse of the industry.
I spent a lot of time with the PSP Go on the show floor and behind closed doors, so I figured I'd get some of my lingering thoughts about the device out of the way and include the latest PSP news that has come out since the show. Now that a few weeks have passed, Sony and other retailers have finally started doling out some real facts. Just this past couple of weeks alone, quite a few PSP Go stories popped up in the news.
This issue is a PSP Go special, simply because it ended up being much longer than I had originally planned for it to be. So enjoy this special issue.
Is it Worth Looking Past the Price of the PSP Go?
I see why Sony calls it a "premium" product...
Since Microsoft's Project Natal or Sony's new PSEye motion wand weren't on the E3 show floor, the only new hardware I got to play with at E3 was the PSP Go. I got some hands-on time with the device on both the show floor and behind closed doors. In fact, I probably spent too much time playing the PSP Go and trying out the new PSP software line-up for 2009. I tried out everything from Persona to SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny. So, because I had so much time with the device, I thought I'd share some impressions of the Go. I also thought that I would tackle the latest PSP Go news and address several issues people seem to have with the device itself. Who would have thought such a little gadget would be so controversial.
So How Does It Feel?
I spent a lot of time laying out the basics of this system in Issue #106, so I'll just get straight to my hands-on impressions of the device. I got to check out the black PSP Go on the show floor. I couldn't get a sense of its weight because it was mounted to a stand, but it goes without saying that this thing is small. It is about the size of an iPhone when closed and about as thick as the current PSP. The buttons felt really good, especially the analog nub. When I first saw pictures of the PSP Go, I thought the nub was in an awkward position, but I actually found it more comfortable to use than the PSP-2000's analog nub. My hand had more room to rest on the Go, and the nub itself felt tighter and more responsive. Some people were wondering about the shoulder buttons. They where actually pretty easy to reach and were easier to click than the large plastic buttons of previous PSP models. Overall, I was impressed and the black color looks good.
I also tried out the white PSP Go behind closed doors. Since it was in private, I was able to play with the sliding mechanism and got a real feel for the weight of the handheld. I have to say that it felt even better to use without a huge metal brace attached to it to prevent theft. It was incredibly light, and the slider felt very smooth and automatic. Oh, and if you were wondering, the white PSP is actually the sexy one. The color is so vibrant that it really makes the Go stand out. I should also probably mention that during all of my hands-on time, I never noticed once that the screen is slightly smaller than the current PSP. I guess I was too busy actually having fun using the PSP to notice. That's amazing, especially when you consider that I haven't used my PSP in over 6 months.
The battery life on the Go is a bit of a disappointment. Many people, including myself, thought that with the exclusion of the UMD drive, the battery life on the Go would be much longer than the current PSP's 3-6 hours for games and 3-5 hours for video playback. Unfortunately, the PSP Go has nearly the exact same battery life as previous PSP models. This is a concession to the Go's smaller form factor. It uses a smaller battery at 960mAH while the previous PSP-3000 used a 1200mAH battery. Technically, the PSP Go is far more energy efficient because even though it has a smaller battery it can achieve the same battery life as previous models. To be honest, that is a very small concession since functionally, nothing has changed.
The PSP Go has 16GB of internal Flash Memory and a Memory Stick Micro (M2) Slot. With no UMD drive, the amount of on-board memory is vital to the success of a platform like this, so the question has to be asked: Just how many games can you fit onto a PSP Go? According to Sony Rep. Al de Leon, most PSP titles will average around 600-800MB in size. That means you can have around 17-18 games inside the Go's internal memory. The PSP Go can also handle an additional 16GB of Memory Stick Micro storage, which effectively doubles the number of games you can carry with you at any one time.
It should also be noted that while most games will average between 600-800MBs, they may also be significantly smaller like Patapon 2, which averages around 400MBs, and PSOne classic Suikoden, which is even smaller than Patapon 2. The reverse is also true with some large games like PSOne Classic Final Fantasy VII, which takes up over 1 GB of space. It is nice to know that Sony isn't putting a limit on how big or how small a game can be.
Another valid question concerning storage is what happens when I run out of room on my PSP Go? Fortunately, Sony has provided several options for those with large game and media libraries. Every box of the PSP Go has a copy of Media Go software for PC. It functions as a sort of digital locker for all of your PSN content where you can buy new content and move files between your PSP and PC, so you don't have to be constantly re-downloading games. PSP users that also own a PS3 can peform the same functions on their console and use that as a locker and download hub. Unfortunately, Mac users like me are out of luck in terms of using the Media Go software. Thankfully, you can purchase content directly from the PSP, and you can re-download purchased content as many times as you need to on up to 5 PSP authorizations on your account. As long as PSN is around, you'll always be able to re-download your games.
As far as software goes, gamers will have access to a wide range of PSP games, PSOne Classics, and maybe even a few applications. During E3 Sony announced that they dropped the price of PSP Dev Kits by 80% in order to reach a larger community of development studios and individuals. This opens the door to smaller, bite-sized games and applications like on Apple's iPhone App Store. In an interview with CNET, SCEA's Al De Leon stated that content "will mostly be games, but there's an opportunity to look at non-gaming applications." A few great applications could make the prospect of carrying a PSP Go with you at all times that much more enticing.
Of course the PSP Go is not an iPhone, so the primary focus is games. In that regard, the PSP Go launch on October 1st will have a majority of the PSP's backlog ready to download. From that point on, all first party games will be available on UMD and digitally. It is also expected that third-party publishers will follow suit. Oh, and in case you have a backlog of UMD games, Sony has announced that it is working on a goodwill program for consumers with large UMD collections who decide to upgrade. Sony's John Koller stated:
We're in the midst of putting together a good will program. We'll be unveiling that soon [because] we actually think there's a significant group that will be upgrading from the 1000...In the past, we've seen a 20-25% trade-up factor, and I assume that's going to be the case here. We've modeled that. So we're looking at a good-will program- a short term good-will program that would continue for years afterward.
No specific details have been released, but consumers should be able to get digital copies for much of their UMD library, which means there actually might be a decent incentive to be an early adopter. As the launch of the Go approaches, more details on the program will be revealed very soon.
Price is, without a doubt, the biggest point of contention concerning this device and with good reason too. The PSP Go is essentially a PSP-3000 in a new form factor and with 16GBs of flash memory instead of a UMD drive. So why then, does it cost $80 more then the current PSP? Since the hardware is essentially the same and 16GB of flash memory is cheaper to produce than a UMD drive, this can't be the culprit. Maybe it's because Sony needs to recoup Research and Development costs or help out retailers since they won't be profiting by selling physical media with the Go. Unfortunately, that's not the case here. In a recent interview with MCV, SCEE President Andrew House said:
"When you introduce a new piece of hardware, you have the opportunity to say there is a certain premium that is associated with it, and we took that into account."
It's amazing how honest he is about overcharging for a product simply because it's new. Then again, to be fair, Sony has been losing money on the PS3 for awhile. They might see this as a chance to boost their profit margins. It should also be noted that it is being purposely priced and positioned in the same market as the iPod Touch and the Zune HD. Still, I seriously wonder how many people will put down $250 dollars for a device that has essentially been on the market since 2005.
Even retailers hate the price of the device. A few British retailers have spoken publicly that they have no incentive to carry the device. It's easy to understand when they are doing all that they can to move their current stock of much cheaper PSP-2000's. Indie Game Retailer Chris Harwood, of Grainger Games said:
"It seems really high, especially the way PSP's going at the moment. The models they've got out now are struggling at basically 129 Pounds, pretty much [the] cost price, which we're putting them out at, and they're not selling through at that. We're trying to do some bundles just to push them through and the PSP just seems to have died as a format really... Nothing sells at the minute on PSP."
So after all of that talk and analysis, am I going get a PSP Go? Well, I'll be upfront right now and say that I pre-ordered one already. I have a banged up 2000 model that I have been wanting to upgrade for awhile, but I have to be honest, the main reason why I decided to preorder a PSP Go is simply because Amazon.com gave me a certificate for $50 dollars off a new console. If it wasn't for that Amazon deal, I'd probably wait for a price drop or the next iteration of the hardware. It goes without saying that a PSP Go at $200 is a much easier pill to swallow.
The thing is, even though I'm getting one, I'm not sure if I'd recommend getting a PSP Go. At its current price point, it would be a lot easier to recommend if it had an OLED screen, significantly improved battery life, or anything impressive and new that would justify the $250 price tag. If it were less than $250 dollars, I would definitely recommend it to consumers who, like me, really value portability and tighter controls. Unfortunately, Sony seems to be their own worst enemy in this case. Not only did they price it too high, but their PSP-3000 bundles are far more enticing and significantly cheaper. The PSP Dissidia Pack, for example, is a great deal for Final Fantasy fans. For $200 you get a PSP-3000, a UMD copy of Dissidia, a UMD of the FFVII movie Advent Children, and a 2GB stick. The best part of the bundle is that you can still play all of your old UMDs and still download games to Memory Stick Duo cards. If anything, current PSP owners are better off skipping this iteration and just buying a 16GB memory stick for less than half the price.
Wherever you stand on the PSP Go, the one good thing we can all agree on is that the platform is finally getting some great new games to go along with the launch of the GO. Not only that, but the entire PSP backlog of games and large number of PSOne Classics will be easier to play than ever before. Overpriced or not, I'm glad the Go actually has me wanting to dive into what the PSP has to offer both new and old.
Wow, that was a long one. I really had no intention of making this whole issue about the PSP Go. I just had a bunch of stories about the Go to report on and a bunch of lingering thoughts on the device. All the same, I'm glad I talked about it since I missed my chance to share my impressions of it on the past E3 RPGcast. Well, regardless of how you feel about any of the PSP models, at least be aware that some really great games are coming out for it soon and that's what really matters. The next column will return back to the usual format so look forward to that. Oh, and thanks to Green_Nu for helping me edit this mess.
Ok then, See you all next week, and I hope you enjoyed the special!
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