Despite its success in Japan, the PSP was an interesting failure here – even though it was the single biggest threat Nintendo ever faced in the handheld arena (until the rise of the iPhone). But, like the Game Gear before it, it was undone by over-reaching and focusing on areas that were not best suited for a handheld system.
That said, the PSP2 is forthcoming and Sony has a lot to prove… as well as a lot to gain. The gaming world has changed substantially since the Playstation Portable launched in 2004 (2005 in the US), and the PSP2 has to find its niche alongside the 3DS and whatever new iOS- or Android-powered smart phones lurk on the horizon. So let’s break this down, take a look at what Sony accomplished with the PSP, and ask, “What should the PSP2 do differently?”
The PSP screen:
Was large and gorgeous, but it was a MASSIVE target for thumb prints and scratches. Other mobile devices, like smart phones and the DS, have evolved to incorporate sturdier displays, clamshell designs or slide-out screens. The PSPGo was a step…sideways in that regard, since it added in the slide out functionality, but the screen was still facing outwards, making it vulnerable to the contents of your backpack or pocket anyway. What’s up with that, Sony? The screen should’ve slid in behind the controls, protecting it – not the other way around.
The PSP2 screen needs to:
Be sturdier than the one in the PSP, as well as a higher resolution – that’s a given – but also refine what Sony did with the Go and provide a clamshell or slide-out design to protect the screen when not in use. A touch screen wouldn’t hurt, either. Sony will push the Uncharted-quality gaming experience for the PSP2, but denying appropriate input devices for the Fruit Ninjas and Angry Birds of the handheld world is stupid in the current market, plain and simple.
The PSP button config:
The PSP buttons are fine for a handheld, but Sony wanted developers to focus on how closely the PSP could mimic the PS2 console experience rather than make it a user-friendly handheld. Since it was a system that had intense third- and first-person action games, gamers needed a second analog stick, a touch screen, tilt control – SOME way to control the character and the camera at the same time… and the “Monster Hunter Camera Claw” was not that solution.
The PSP2 button config needs to:
If our friend the internet is to believed, the PSP2 not only features two analog thumbsticks, but a touch pad on the back of the device – which sounds odd but makes sense. Your fingers are already resting there: might as well use the space to control a camera or double up on shoulder buttons/triggers. Sony has been hearing this complaint for a long time, so the PSP2 is sure to have some sort of fix.
The PSP Battery:
Is garbage. It doesn’t last long enough, and even if you charge it it’ll be dead the next time you turn it on. Add the incessant firmware updates – which require the PSP to have a fully charged battery AND be plugged into an outlet – and the PSP is outmatched by smart phones and the DS in this arena.
The PSP2 Battery needs to:
NOT. SUCK. It has to hold its charge when you’re not playing, and last at least 7-8 hours when you are. The 3DS is supposed to have a battery lasting between 5-8 hours, so Sony will have to match that. Still, the PSP2 shouldn’t have a problem having a better battery, because it will lack…
The PSP UMD drive:
Sony acted like this was some breakthrough for their handheld (the space of a disc for a game – on the go!), but in practice, it sucked: performance-wise, games suffered from excessive load times. For a handheld, where pick-up-and-play ability is a must, that was a no-no. It also filled your audio experience with an obnoxious whirring noise during gaming sessions, so it dropped the ball there, too.
The PSP2 format needs to:
Build on the successful aspects of the PSPGo, and be a mostly digital system. You’ll download games to internal memory and SD cards, and Sony will push the importance of the PSN along the same lines that Apple pushes the App Store for their iPhone. After all, current PSPs have access to not just games but video content, comics, and Qriocity music service. The all-digital format also means it’ll keep piracy to a minimum – a massive problem with current PSPs.
However, fearing lashback from brick-n’-mortar powerhouses like Gamestop and WalMart, there’s no way the PSP2 can go completely digital. It’s shocking how many gamers ignore digital storefronts, and since many not-so-savvy gamers rely on Gamestop ads to stay in the know, Sony will do something to keep retail partners happy. Maybe you can bring SD cards into Gamestop and have them load whatever games you want for a small fee? Digital storage is the way to go here – speaking of which…
The PSP Playstation Network storefront:
Considering the PSP was designed before the PSN, it’s astounding how much mileage Sony has gotten out of it. With the latest firmware, you have access to loads of previously UMD-only games, as well as PSN exclusives, video content, and comics. That doesn’t mean it can’t be better: the amount of PSN exclusives is small (developers’ focus is on supporting the PS3 and XBLA), prices are high compared to the App Store and Steam (games take forever to get discounted too, if at all), and it’s badly designed (being better than the DSIware shop is no victory worth writing home about).
The PSP2 PSN needs to:
Use the same store as its big bro, the PS3: No more division between PSP and PS3 Network Exclusives. Since the PSP2 will supposedly be about as powerful as the PS3, and feature more input devices, the two systems can share the same store. While less taxing PS3 games should run easily on the PSP2 (titles like Joe Danger, Rocket Knight, Fat Princess, and Costume Quest), your progress and trophies in those games should transfer to your PS3 through the PSN.
PSP2’s PSN should be backwards compatible with all PSP titles and forward compatible with PS3 titles. By unifying the PSN this way,Sony can focus on the important things, like the upkeep and redesign of its storefront – including better organization of titles and regular discounts. It would be nice to see PS2 games emulated here, like the PSOne Classics section of the current PSN, but now I’m just getting greedy.
The PSP’s piracy problem:
Piracy is a MASSIVE problem for Sony with regards to its handheld. It’s because of pirated games, and lost sales due to pirating, that publisher support for a system plummets. That is why there are literally no new releases coming to the PSP, and it’s too late for them to do much about that now.
The PSP2′s Piracy solution:
Hard to say. The most likely solution is an all-digital delivery system for content: Making games easier to get via the PSN than off a torrenting site is key, and it’s worked very nicely for Steam with PC games. Should the PSP2 be always connected to the internet with a rumored 3G connection (like many of its smart phone competitors), then the handheld could run a check on a Sony server to make sure the device is running legit software on a non-jailbroken system. They could go too far in that direction and end up with a Ubi Soft-like DRM solution that requires you to always be connected to the internet to play your game – which honestly might not be that bad if it’s constantly connected, anyway – but that move might piss off legit gamers and drain battery life.
I see Sony focusing on digital as much as possible and incentivizing legit purchases in addition to offering them thru the PSN: Making soundtracks available, or themes and wallpapers, is something GOG.com routinely does, not to mention sales and discounts. Rewarding early adopters will encourage gamers to buy legit software early – before pirates put a stolen game on the torrent sites. We could see this in the form of offering beta keys with pre-orders, or charging people a small fee to access certain features if they buy a game late or secondhand (like EA’s Online Pass). The point is, there’ s a lot of ground to make up here. Sony needs to plan ahead.
The PSP games:
Were either Sony’s biggest failure or biggest success, depending on how you look at it. The PSP was designed to bring a console-like experience to the handheld world and, for a time, it did. God of War: Chains of Olympus and GTA: Liberty City Stories were far more advanced than any game on the DS, and they looked and played really closely to their PS2 cousins. However, they weren’t the friendliest games to play when outside: On the bus, in a restaurant, waiting for a movie to start, you want games where you can make progress quickly in short bursts. And the handy-in-theory suspend mode didn’t do any favors to the PSP’s battery; you needed to be able to put a game down and pick it back up without fear that your progress was undone by a dead battery. Even the best-designed PSP games couldn’t work their way around the UMD artificially lengthening the experience with its incessant load times. By the time Sony started leaning towards more-appropriate fare like Patapon, Locoroco, and Echochrome, the fanbase moved on.
The PSP2 games need to:
Accommodate more types of games, at launch. Being able to bring gamers Uncharted 2 on-the-go is clearly Sony’s goal here – it’s something that neither the iPhone nor the 3DS should be able to do (though if Resident Evil Revelations and MGS Snake Eater 3D play as good as the screenshots look, the 3DS will be stiff competition) –but they can’t bet on gamers flocking to $60 handheld games. The PSP2 needs to accommodate the smaller, cheaper, more addictive pick-up-and-play game as well as the huge, expensive, blockbuster 9-hour action game, with proper price points.
Sony should also try to avoid a lull in their release schedule, holding finished games if need be. Considering digital titles are bound to be a bigger part of the PSP2 than its predecessor, Sony should never have a lack of games for it.
Sony is, if nothing else, a company that learns from its mistakes, and the PSP2 is not just a chance for Sony to correct itself, but to drive handhelds forward in general. Any future handheld will need to have inputs and buttons that accommodate all sorts of games, not just blockbuster titles. The hardware will have to be smart enough to detect any foul play, such as jailbreaking and pirated software. The PSP2 will have to play nicely with the PSN and the PS3, as well as focus on attracting a range of portable-friendly games instead of larding up on said blockbuster titles. Games should be priced more competitively, too, with a larger price range in general.
As long as the PSP2 welcomes games of all types – from the biggest publishers to the smallest developers – Sony’s handheld should have a very bright future. All over the world, not just in countries where Monster Hunter releases bring the economy to a screeching halt.
Vince Vazquez is an illustrator, 3D modeler, and generally awesome guy. He’s also got pretty much every console you can name and has played almost any game you can think of – except Twisted Metal Black, ‘cause it sucks. Check out more of his awesomeness at thisisvinsanity.com.