1, 2, 3, PSPgo!

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So, for better or worse, the PSPgo is here and with it are the new snack-sized PSP Minis games. But what prompted Sony to release a console with no boxed retail software? Ask anyone at Sony and you are likely to get a face full of “choice” double speak, alongside many a vehement denial that Apple’s iPhone had anything to do with it. It did – at least in part – but let’s forget that for now. This is the PSP’s big moment, after all, and we don’t want any young upstarts to storm the PSPgo stage, Kanye-style.

Questions about Sony’s motivations for creating the PSPgo are less important than questions about whether it will succeed. It’s obviously impossible to say at this early stage, but it’s already clear that the PSPgo’s digital-only approach has riled a clutch of disgruntled retailers into making a bit of a fuss. Not just that, but concerns about both the hardware and software pricing has kept Sony’s handheld fat with headlines, pretty much since its announcement at E3.

There’s no such thing as bad publicity.

People are talking about the PSP again and rather than readying itself to slip quietly into the night, Sony’s device is poised to once again become an important part of the discussion about handheld gaming’s future. Prices can be changed, after all, and retailers certainly don’t complain about the iPod touch’s lack of boxed retail software.

The PSPgo’s current bugbears are temporary, so what about its long-term prospects? Does it have the necessaries to fight the good fight on the portable front? Yes, is the short and overly simple answer. If the iPod touch is the Swiss Army knife of media players, then the PSP is the Swiss Army knife of portable games machines.

Much like the Xbox 360 successfully managed to transcend the flux of different demographics that characterized gaming’s evolution circa 2005 with a double pronged Xbox Live Arcade and boxed retail attack, Sony’s handheld offering may be about to pull a similar trick. With a launch line-up that encompasses both the dedicated with Gran Turismo and the casual with Kahoots and co, the PSP arguably has the most rounded environment for publishers looking to offer different types of games to different types of gamer, at drastically different price points.

Though consumers and retailers may be a bit miffed in the short term, publishers must, at long last, be happy with the options that the PSP now affords them. Happy publishers make for consistently full release schedules, which in turn lead to happy gamers.

It’s curious that Sony took so long to see the potential for its console to move in this direction, especially given the number of strong indications of where the industry has been going over the last three years through services like the Virtual Console, the aforementioned Xbox Live Arcade and its own PSN service.

The penny has finally dropped at Sony, then. The PSPgo, though not necessarily the be all and end all of Sony’s new strategy, marks a significant turning point for the company’s handheld ambitions, both for the current hardware and the inevitable PSP2. After three iterations of PSP, PSPgo is Sony’s line in the sand – and it’s about time.

Pocket Gamer is Europe’s leading source of news, opinion and reviews on mobile and handheld gaming.

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