Ask me what the best videogame console of all time is. Go ahead. Just ask.
It’s the PlayStation 2 – hands down. I suppose a solid argument could be made for the Super Nintendo, NES, or the classic Atari 2600, but for a variety of reasons, I think Sony’s absolutely superior console topped them all with room to spare. There’s a good reason that after almost nine years on the market, major publishers are still releasing key franchise games on the system. It’s a monster, a high watermark in home videogames.
For the life of me, I don’t understand how they could have screw it all up so badly in such a short time.
I don’t offer my PS2 love as some kind of evidence that the following opinion is objective and unbiased. It’s not. It’s chock full o’ bias, a seething frustration at Sony Computer Entertainment that, to my mind, has engaged in a scorched earth retail strategy of endless error that has been matched only by their absolute arrogance. And, with the recent announcement of the PSP Go I can only conclude that they’ve learned nothing.
I’m a big fan of digitally provided gaming, so my beef with the new PSP is not a fundamental one. I know that for some people there is a genuine concern about the growing shift away from physical media, and there is no question that Sony has an eye toward marginalizing the continued growth of the used games market. I don’t blame them in the least for making a compelling business decision like that.
But, in a return to form that harkens back to the PS3 launch, Sony seems completely oblivious to the fact that humans have an aversion to giving up one thing without getting another. You would imagine that a hemorrhaging loss of market share would have finally convinced the bullheaded company that there is a correlation between price point and sales, but the reveal of the PSP Go is a study in 1999 mentality applied to a 2009 market.
I realize the natural enemy for the PSP in the wild is considered to be the Nintendo DS, but I think that has become a gross short sightedness. Aside from the fact that I don’t think the new PSP has equipped a proper strategy to make any kind of dent in Nintendo’s historic dominance of portable devices, nor has it made a compelling case to build a new market, the real threat is actually the growing dominance of Apple in the market. Between the iPhone and iPod Touch, remaining market share to be had is being gobbled up by a far more savvy competitor.
What’s interesting here is that both the PSP Go and the iPhone suffer from a massive price point barrier to entry, yet where Apple succeeds I suggest Sony is poised to fail. Again.
While everyone is legitimately up in arms about Sony’s announced $250 cost ($350 in Europe) for the PSP Go, it is in reality a roughly equivalent price to the iTouch and iPhone without the additional headache of a cell phone plan or 2 year contract. So, what’s the difference? Both are advanced media players. Both provide a purely digital and on-the-go experience. Both provide compact convenience with a nice aesthetic. Why shouldn’t people be expected to cough up fewer than a trio of Benjamins for a better game player when the iPhone is so popular in a tough economic climate?
Here’s why: $.99 games.
You can walk into the iTunes app store right now with $5.00 in your account and walk out with hundreds of free apps, Peggle and a handful of other pay games. With the PSP Go, $5.00 gets you a quarter of the way to one of the less expensive games, like Patapon 2. The flaw, my friends, is not with the system price, it’s with the lack of an average price drop on the actual content.
I don’t necessarily disagree with Michael Pachter’s analysis that the PSP Go hardware price is a rip-off. After all, the new system has no new functionality that can’t essentially be plugged into an existing system at a fraction of the cost, leaving even the most Sony-friendly analyst wondering if people are really expected to pay a premium price just to have a flip-open design. It does feel like a slap in the face, because from the outside it seems that Sony has trimmed its cost and squarely translated that into a $70 price increase for its customers.
But the truth is that I would consider paying that much if, and only if, I knew my long term investment would pay off in lots of cool digital-only toys. If the PlayStation store was ready to go with lots of cool applications for the PSP, a system that screams for just such products, I wouldn’t even mind paying a little more for the really premium content. But, from Sony, nothing. It’s like putting a Porsche body on a Chrysler LeBaron and selling trying to sell it for $200,000.
To be blunt,if I’m on a budget I go with Nintendo’s continued DS juggernaut and if I’m looking for a technology novelty or vanity piece of hardware, I get an iPhone or iPod touch with access to an absolutely obscene amount of applications.
Setting aesthetics and some fictional coolness factor aside, try as I might, I just can’t think of a single reason I’d buy a PSP Go. If I really want access to the continued inadequacy that is the PSP library, and if being totally digital was a critical factor, I’d just buy myself a used PSP, a hefty memory card and keep the $100 I saved to buy two or three games and a really nice lunch.
Sony’s response to the backlash is, well let’s just say it leaves little room for ironic parody. With claims that Europeans aren’t price driven – which I assume means they think people in Europe will just buy whatever no matter the cost and are therefore superior and right-thinking humans – and a healthy dose of whining about press leaks, Sony execs are using nonsense phrases like “value proposition” to convince us that as MBAs trained in the art of buzzspeak, they know damn well how to price a handheld console. Or, more succinctly, if you think the PSP Go is any kind of folly or “rip-off,” it’s because American bloggers are filling your head with lies and basically ruining everything for everybody.
As one of these iconoclasts of evil, let me just assure you that Sony is exactly right. I am trying to rain on their parade and convince those who will listen that this is, from start to finish, a total rip-off.
Sean Sands is an American blogger, a professional writer, co-founder of the gaming website gamerswithjobs.com and rarely invited to Sony events these days.