Going, Going, Gone
PSP Go is laid to rest. Weeping is unlikely at this funeral.
18 months on the market isn't exactly an impressive tally for a games console - especially for one carrying the powerful PlayStation brand. However, just a couple of weeks over that year and a half mark, Sony has confirmed that the PSPgo is to be put to rest, with manufacturing and shipments already ceased. From now on, only those units already in the sales channel will be available.
Sony Japan's statement on the matter, as reported by Japanese site Impress Watch, was rather less equivocal than the one which came from Sony UK shortly earlier - in which the company pledged to "continue to meet... demand" for PSP products. Yet Sony UK's statement cuts to the core of the matter - there simply isn't any demand for the PSPgo, and it's questionable whether there ever really was.
If you want to see evidence for the PSPgo's complete belly-flop, take a look around the market in which the PSP has had by far the largest success. In Japan, Monster Hunter Portable has provided the platform with a killer app late in its lifespan which has turned it into a must-carry item for a huge proportion of young males - yet you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone sporting a PSPgo.
In six months living here, I've seen countless PSP-3000s of all hues and designs - usually clutched by groups of high school or university students ardently tucking into Capcom's monster slaying feast on subway trains, in fast food restaurants or in cafes. Along with the younger groups equally eagerly engaged in their DS' Pokemon titles, this everyday image is one of the most obvious outward signs of Japan's enduring videogames culture.
Yet even in the land of ubiquitous handheld consoles, among people whose lust for the latest must-have gadget is second to none, the PSPgo never found a foothold. Nobody wanted it here. What hope did it ever have elsewhere?
Instantly, PSPgo was much less interesting than we'd all hoped; the criticisms of it being more money for less functionality (given its lack of a UMD slot) rang true from the word go.
It's hard to believe now, but when the first shots of the PSPgo were leaked ahead of its official announcement, there was actually quite a bit of excitement around the device. UMD had never been a popular format - it's fairly bulky, noisy in operation, drains battery life and generally doesn't do the PSP any favours. Moreover, the PSP had gradually sprouted a variety of interesting but unwieldy accessories, including a camera, a microphone and a GPS receiver.
The prospect of a console with solid-state storage, all of those accessories built in and perhaps even a touch-screen interface - hinted at by the almost buttonless facia of the device when closed - was an enticing one. It wouldn't be PSP2, of course, but it could be a significant enough revision to comprise an extremely strong re-launch for the existing platform.
In reality, what we got is a device that's been botched from the outset. There was no touch-screen, of course, relegating it to the realms of an offshoot of PSP rather than a relaunch of the platform, and none of the accessories were built into the new hardware either. Instantly, PSPgo was much less interesting than we'd all hoped; the criticisms of it being more money for less functionality (given its lack of a UMD slot) rang true from the word go.
Yet the distinctly unimpressive hardware wasn't the real reason for the PSPgo's failure. No, the true problem with this platform lay not in hardware, nor even in software, but in services - in Sony's utter failure to provide a content platform for a version of the PSP that lacked a UMD drive and therefore couldn't use retail-bought software.
In fact, if PSPgo and its failure are to be remembered as anything, it should be as a masterclass in how not to manage a digital content platform. Underpopulated and overpriced, the PSP's digital content delivery systems - much like the PSPgo itself - manage the impressive feat of charging customers significantly more money for less functionality (and a smaller selection) than their retail equivalents, wiping out any possible advantage of digital distribution in the process.
The first major problem, and one from which PSPgo never truly recovered, was the failure to recognise that the system's early adopters would most likely be existing PSP owners - people with a library of UMD software they'd already paid for. The decision not to provide these users with any way to import that software onto the PSPgo was arguably fatal for the platform. It was also, however, entirely predictable.
Sony, and third-party publishers, don't like the idea of importing games because it's difficult to implement, probably open to abuse, and moreover, robs them of the ability to make money twice by reselling the same game to the same consumer. The latter point may seem unscrupulous, but it's easy to see where the idea comes from - the music business, in particular, has been sustained for years by re-selling the back catalogues of hit artists in a succession of new formats.
Consumers, however, were never going to accept that. The biggest problem faced by media businesses in the past decade arguably isn't piracy at all - it's the fact that consumers in general have become increasingly savvy about media ownership. Consumers re-purchased their albums on vinyl, then on cassette and then on CD, and their movies on VHS and then on DVD. When they bought iPods, however, something new happened - they didn't buy albums again, they just copied their existing CDs onto the new device.
That simple change has had a profound impact on the music business, and has caused a subtle but extremely important change in consumer attitudes. People no longer feel like they've bought a piece of plastic with media on it - they feel like they've bought that media, and the experience of ripping albums and DVDs has led them to believe that unless there's a damned good reason, they shouldn't have to pay for the same content twice. It's hard to dispute who has the moral high ground here, and media companies - already regularly tarred as villains by the public at large - would be wise not to try.
So when the PSPgo turned up, lacking any way to copy your UMD games to the system - which would not have been technologically or practically impossible, it should be noted - consumers snorted with derision and decided to ignore the system. From there on, Sony's fresh blunders only compounded the original disaster, but they're worth looking at anyway.
Price control is a factor which publishers see as an advantage of digital distribution, but which consumers see as little more than gouging.
There was pricing, for one. PSPgo owners paid above the odds for their console - at launch, it wasn't much cheaper than a PS3 in many territories - and then they were expected to pay above the odds for their software as well. Games which had fallen dramatically in price in retail stores held on to their RRPs on the PlayStation Store, effectively ripping off a captive audience who couldn't break out of the ecosystem due to the lack of a UMD drive. Price control is a factor which publishers see as an advantage of digital distribution, but which consumers see as little more than gouging.
The final nail in the coffin, though? Selection. Sony never managed to get a decent amount of the PSP's back catalogue onto the PSPgo - and then it started to slip up on the new release catalogue, too. There's a very straightforward reason why I've never, ever seen a PSPgo in the hands of any of Japan's countless Monster Hunter players - the most recent best-selling title in the series, Monster Hunter Portable 3rd, was never made available on anything except a UMD.
Expensive, lacking in ambition, hated by consumers, ill-supported by third parties and ultimately abandoned by Sony itself, the PSPgo was the unloved runt of the PSP family - and now becomes the most high-profile console hardware failure of recent years. Sony says it's discontinuing the system in order to focus its attention on the upcoming NGP platform, the true successor to the PSP. We can only hope that when it comes to designing, implementing and supporting the NGPs digital retail systems, the disastrous mistakes of the PSPgo will serve as a stern lesson.