After the fireworks of the PS3 Slim launch, the PSPgo is a disappointment

After a disappointingly anti-climactic reveal at E3, Sony's PSPgo finally arrives on retail shelves this week - or at least, on the shelves of the majority of retailers who are supporting the device, while a fringe of refuseniks continue to decline to sell a console they'll never be able to sell games for.

This unseemly spat with a small group of retailers is far from the biggest pothole on the PSPgo's rough road to launch. The console, its functionality and its price point have been confusing, annoying and disappointing a broad cross-section of consumers, market commentators and industry professionals since the system first took a bow in Los Angeles.

The most obvious and oft-repeated criticism of the platform is the most simple - it offers no upgrade path for existing PSP owners. If you've bought a PSP previously, and own some UMDs for the machine, forget about the PSPgo. Lacking a UMD drive, it won't be able to play your discs - and after hinting at a service which would swap UMD copies for digital downloads, Sony has now announced that it'll do nothing of the sort. An offer of a few free games from a limited list for previous PSP owners is fairly weak compensation (and so far available only in Europe).

Of course, having to re-purchase content in a new format isn't an entirely new experience for consumers - although we've had it easy in recent years, since our CDs could be ripped to create MP3s, and our DVDs play perfectly happily on our Blu-Ray players. One could compare the move from UMD to digital download as being similar to moving from a tape Walkman to a CD Walkman - same content, slightly improved user experience, but you had to buy all your albums again.

That's not a defence which is likely to calm any of the consumers annoyed at Sony's back-pedalling on the whole UMD conversion issue, though. The affair stings all the more because it carries such a heavy burden of "I told you so" for many consumers and professionals alike. UMD has been utterly despised since the outset, marked out as a doomed format since the day it first crawled, ill-conceived and unloved, onto store shelves.

The reality has always been that UMD sucks battery life, contributes to massive load delays and makes the console ridiculously noisy for a handheld. Sony argued its corner for years, and even now protests that it will continue to support UMD-toting PSP owners with the PSP-3000 hardware. For now, that's fair - but it's still obvious that PSPgo is a major step down the road to obsolescence for the format, and it doesn't change the fact that if you want Sony's new console, you'd better be prepared to pay for your games and movies again.

This isn't necessarily an unsurmountable problem for the PSPgo. After all, if the hardware is attractive enough, consumers will, ultimately, suck down their pride, open their wallets and buy into the new system. Good hardware design and compelling features can overcome almost any level of consumer antipathy, in the long run.

It remains to be seen whether the market judges the PSPgo to be worthy on those grounds. The machine is certainly attractive enough, handily ticking the boxes marked slim, light and sleek. Personally, I remain totally disappointed by Sony's lack of foresight regarding additional functions for the system - including things like a camera, microphone or GPS module as part of the hardware would have seriously set this apart from its predecessor. Like much else with the device, this feels like a missed opportunity.

Again, I can see the counter-argument to that point - that including those devices (tiny, inexpensive hardware, to the extent that even Apple's low-priced and diminutive iPod Nano now sports a camera) would have pushed the cost of the system up. Perhaps that's the case - it certainly brings us neatly to the question of cost, at least.

The PSPgo is too expensive. Vastly too expensive, for what the system is - nothing more than an existing PSP in a nice case, with the UMD drive removed and a bit of cheap flash memory slapped on in its place. There's precious little extra functionality, no new headline feature to shout about - no camera, no touchscreen, no GPS, no 3G connectivity. It's just a PSP with a big memory card and a nice bit of industrial design. In itself, that's not a terrible thing - but what I've just described should be positioned at the same price point as the previous PSP models, which should then receive a price drop to open up a new market segment. Instead, PSPgo is being positioned in a "premium" segment of the handheld market - a segment of which, to be blunt, I'm not convinced of the existence, at least not in any great scale.

The irony is that the question marks and uncertainty around PSPgo contrast most strongly with another recent Sony hardware release - the universally acclaimed PS3 Slim. This was exactly how hardware redesigns and relaunches should be handled. Announced only weeks before hitting retail, the PS3 Slim created huge excitement in a short space of time. Recognising that it brought with it a smaller form factor and minor benefits rather than revolutionary change, Sony positioned it alongside a price drop for the whole console range - and reaped the reward in the form of vast, vast sales. Along with fantastic software like Uncharted 2, it has set the PS3 up for a fantastic winter season - probably its healthiest quarter in the market so far.

The PS3 Slim launch showed Sony firing on all cylinders, understanding its market and its competencies and creating a product, business model and marketing drive that drove the PlayStation - temporarily, at least - right back to the top spot in this business. The fire and intelligence that drove Sony through the PS1 and PS2 eras is still there - but on PSPgo, it seems to be utterly lacking.

Upstream consumers don't like it, because it offers them no upgrade path. It's too overpriced for downstream consumers. It desperately wants to compete with iPhone, yet balks at emulating any of the functionality that would allow it to do so. It feels like a solid concept that was tugged in every direction by competing needs and ideas within Sony, and has ended up unloved and directionless. The market may well judge otherwise - for Sony's sake, I hope it does - but from where I'm standing, PSPgo looks like an extremely weak launch. This was an opportunity to redefine the PSP and bring the fight to the doorstep of the firm's rivals in handheld gaming - but that opportunity, sadly, has sailed right past.

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Latest comments (7)

Imagine if the PS3 Slim would have launched at $100 *more* than the price of the current PS3. This is what Sony have done to the PSPGo.

The current pricing is a blatant attempt to sell to "Sony fans" who will buy the latest hardware, for any price - and rather than thank them for their patronage/early adopter status - they will find themselves annoyed when the price in cut in the coming months.

And because games are now tethered to the machine, their trick of releasing a new hardware iteration every year - and selling to the same consumers - no longer works.
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Phil Elliott Project Lead, Collective; Head of Community (London), Square Enix9 years ago
I think that Sony is putting PSPgo out there more as a device for the future than for the present. PSP 3000 is still new and Sony won't want to cannibalise sales of that hardware, but it does allow them to put a marker down for what most people agree is the future of games distribution.

In 12 months' time the price will come down and more developers will be releasing 'go-only games, and then we'll start seeing a greater uptake - but as with the PS3, Sony's playing the long game on this one... the price point might be high now, but strictly-speaking there's no direct competition in the handheld space.
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Alexander Cederholm Editor-in-Chief, GAMEcore.se9 years ago
But as Fahey says. Why is the product so expensive? There is little new in it. It actually seems to have less and flash memeory is not expansive. All people I talk to would rather now buy a PS3 Slim than a PSP Go because they are so close price wise.
I also don't get why Sony is trying to "lie" that they are premium content. By whoms terms? Their own? Because consumers does not seem to think that's the case and rather goes for the DS or even a iPhone/iPod Touch. In 12 monts the price may gone down but that seems awfully risky to me. Oh well... let the future decide.
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Antony Cain Lecturer in Computer Games Design, Sunderland College9 years ago
The marketing staff at Game must be having a little giggle to themselves, it's plastered around my local store with "only 225" on the posters.

Anyone who buys one needs their head checking - unless they already own every console available... and an iPhone...... and have money to burn

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Antony Cain on 4th October 2009 8:45am

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David Wicks Editor / Co-Founder, Gamers Heaven9 years ago
Little comfort to those who get it from next week onwards, but for early adopters like myself i got free copy of GT PSP worth about 40 and 3 games ranging in price from 20 to 30 so i'm looking at that as a discount of 100 - 130 off the price of the console...

What really swung it for me in the end was when i seen i could connect a PS3 controller, to me being able to play PS1 Titles as they were meant to be played while on the move is pretty cool, and now i can have the PSP in the windscreen of the car and use a controller to play PS1/PSP games when i'm sitting about waiting on people. Bluetooth modem is another feature i plan to use a lot, it'll be handy for downloading minis when out and about.

But all that said the price was too high and will turn many away, and the price of software on the PSN is far from in line with current retail pricing. it is for that reason my PSP1000 shall stay happily where it is for those UMD bargins and current collection.
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Mat Bettinson Business Development Manager, Tantalus Media9 years ago
Agree with most of Rob's comment but I would add something to the debate about the dropped UMD drive and the lack of an upgrade path for existing PSP owners etc. I really don't think that's a significant part of the market for the device.

The PSP has always had an extremely fast roll off of software demand. The vast bulk of the devices that were sold now live out their idle days in dusty drawers around the world. I would question, even if you were an existing PSP owner, why you would want to 'upgrade' to a device which isn't even the same screen size category.

I just think that stuff is a bit of a non issue, talked up by the crowd of commentators that surely enough already have a PSP. The PSP itself has always sold pretty well as a piece of hardware. I think the current device is more practical and more likely to result in some sort of sustained software market.

It is too expensive though. One suspects that Sony eyes the killing Ninty make off the DS and fancy a slice of that pie... You'd think they'd be some room in the middle ground?
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.9 years ago
I've speculated the high price is a means to offset the low PS3 price. If Sony sells half the units than their standard sell through rate but gain 500% more profit per unit (such as $50 instead of $10) it's a win for them.

Most consumer products need to balance the benefit of the producer with the desires of the consumer but the PSP Go seems to have leaned heavily in the favor of the producer. The PS3 has always leaned on the side of the consumer as Sony has always taken a loss on the hardware.

The PSP Go is a means to balance that across 2 hardware products which is usually the domain of software.
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