A few years ago I started to learn German, partly to demonstrate to myself (unsuccessfully) that I was as clever as my girlfriend, and partly to prepare for a three month stay there. My German vocabulary now consists of roughly 60 words, and I can deploy them, without accuracy, with the inflated confidence of an Englishman who spent a great many nights drinking in German bars.
When I’m in Germany, I know that the people around me are mutually intelligible and share a common culture and values, but I can only communicate with them in the most inept and uncomprehending way. “Where town is the cheese exit?” “Her station is under.” “Please cutlery above the house.” Every so often an idea breaks through the fog and makes itself understood, but generally I’m adrift.
Sony’s experience in Germany this week has been, in some respects, the same as mine always is. Though Andrew House delivered Sony’s GamesCom press conference in English to an English speaking audience, his words about the PSPgo demonstrated only a passing familiarity with the values of the community he was addressing. Sony has done enough to order the order a beer and find the station, figuratively speaking, but it doesn’t appear to be a native.
The company’s central revelation for PSP and prospective PSPgo gamers was the forthcoming Minis range. We were already aware of such a range, of course, but Sony gave a name to it and revealed a few more of the games that we’ll be able to download. There will be 15 of these games available when the when the PSPgo launches at the beginning of October, and 50 by the end of the year.
The flagship Minis game seems at present to be Fieldrunners, which Sony is no doubt keen to flaunt in order to show that it can woo high profile developers away from iPhone, or at least stake an equal claim on their time. While some might question the choice of Fieldrunners, being as it is a tower defense game and therefore much better suited to mouse or touchscreen controls, initial impressions are fairly positive.
Sony seems to be doing a fairly good job of recruiting iPhone developers, and several high profile iPhone games have been announced for PSP Minis over the course of the week, Hero of Sparta and Car Jack Streets among them. Those developers who’ve chosen to get involved are vocal in their enthusiasm, saying things like, “Signing up with Sony to work on the PSPGo platform is immensely exciting for us.” (Paul Croft, mediatonic.)
Developers looking to get involved in PSP Minis have a major incentive to choose that platform over the iPhone: there’s far less competition. Moreover, Sony is engaging developers far more actively than Apple, and that probably extends to concrete incentives. Subatomic Studios, developer of Fieldrunners, is creating content that will be exclusive to PSP for a while, which almost certainly came at a price that Apple, under its current model, would be unlikely to pay.
Both developers and Sony are likely to profit from the Minis initiative, and it’s a great idea. It’s Apple’s great idea, admittedly, and you could argue that Sony should have cottoned on to it before the App Store was allowed to rampage unchallenged through the handheld gaming industry for a full year, but Sony at least deserves to be commended for approaching the matter much more sensibly than Nintendo.
Pocket Gamer recently published a list of games it would like to see on the PSP Minis service, and the article raises a significant point: for all that Fieldrunners is probably always going to work better on iPhone, there are hundreds of titles on iPhone that would work better on PSP, including pretty much all platformers and racing games. If you own a PSP or PSPgo, you may get to play a lot of iPhone games as they were meant to be played.
So why was I so scathing about Sony in my opening paragraphs? To wheel out a cliché, it’s the economy, stupid. Sony failed to do the single thing it needed to do most: reduce the cost of the PSPgo.
Since the £229.99 price was first leaked gamers have been unanimous in their dissent. During GamesCom Sony revealed that the device will actually retail for £224.99, but this nugatory £5 undercutting of expectations didn’t impress anybody. On Pocket Gamer, reader comments were universally negative.
“It’s still too expensive.”
“Maybe the screen is made from fairy dust and produces the best looking picture of all consoles but the markup here is ridiculous.”
“Sony says fuk the consumer!”
“I’m starting to think that Sony actually wants the PSP Go to fail in the UK.”
“I have bought upgraded hardware in the past when there has been no or only a slight price increase, but there is no way in hell I’m paying more than £150 for the go.”
“The only sensible price for the PSP Go in the UK is £199.99, anything more is crazy and will leave Sony crushed by the new iPod Touch.”
Much of the criticism Sony has faced during these last few years has related to the cost of its hardware. In a market that plainly responds to competitive pricing, Sony’s blind faith in premium offerings is incomprehensible. It might make sense to somebody, somewhere, but it makes no sense to today’s gamers.
Pocket Gamer is Europe’s leading source of news, opinion and reviews on mobile and handheld gaming.