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Sony admits it "under-supported" PSP

But 2009 is set to be handheld's year, says Maguire, with a renewed focus on platform

2009 is set to be a strong year for the PlayStation Portable as Sony brings its focus to bear on the powerful handheld console, which has now passed the 3 million unit sales mark in the UK and the 50 million mark worldwide.

The company is talking up the platform now, with key software releases announced for this year including PSP versions of MotorStorm, LittleBigPlanet, Resistance and Buzz! from first party, as well as Assassin's Creed, Final Fantasy and Rock Band games from third party publishers.

However, as Sony's senior VP and MD for UK, Ireland and the Nordic region Ray Maguire admitted, the corporation has been guilty of letting the PSP drift in the past year.

"It was slightly under-supported, mainly because a lot of the energy was going into stuff we're doing for PlayStation 3," he explained to GamesIndustry.biz. "There was an added complication in that the UMD model wasn't brilliant for third parties, either.

"But I think as the installed base has grown - we're now at 50 million globally - the PSP has become one of the best-selling formats ever, and I think people are seeing that they need to get back into it. I think we had a bit of a barren year last year, and this year we seem to have a bumper crop.

"I think it's one of those formats which has just, almost silently, grown and grown and grown. Now people are looking at 3 million installed base in the UK, and seeing it's a healthy number - that they can sell product against that.

"Retailers are looking at it as well, realising that they haven't supported it as much as maybe they might have done, and they're also thinking about how we almost reintroduce the PlayStation Portable into the market place, with the confidence that we should have had last year, but didn't.

"We do have that confidence this year - many things are happening with the PSP. The online side of it is developing nicely, and there are clearly lots of great games for it this year, but also we're introducing new colours - so it starts to become much more desirable for a wider range of consumers."

The newest iteration of the console, the PSP-3000, features a brighter screen than its predecessors, although Maguire doesn't expect this to be the key factor in the purchasing decisions of new customers.

"I think the hardware specs are probably the lower part of the decision-making process now," he said. "The hardware does what it says, so that's great, but people don't buy hardware for hardware, they buy it to get to content. The content was where we were weak last year, but it's where we're strong this year, and the services around it are getting better as well.

"I think people will buy into it because of the overall package, rather than just because it's got a brighter screen than it had before."

And while the UMD format is still something that the PSP hardware utilises, Maguire expects to see a greater prevalence of downloadable content becoming available on the platform.

"My gut feeling though is that people are looking for more snack-type content, and the downloads side of it will increasingly become a bigger part of its future," he said.

"It's also something that development can get into at a much, much lower entry cost, and I think we can see this everywhere, whether it be iPhone applications, whether it be mobile phones - there is an appetite for smaller, snack-type games."

The second part of the interview with Ray Maguire, from which these quotes are taken, is available now.