PSP Go!

There is not a single child in my 400-student high school who is even remotely interested in the PSP Go. If that’s not a condemnation of the platform, then I know not what is.

Many of these children already own a PSP model. Most of them use it as a glorified iPod. Some of the more clever kids have discovered the device’s capacity for emulation and delight in playing Marvel vs. Capcom during lunch. When either of these groups was asked what their last PSP game purchase was, a uniform look of existential blankness constituted their response. Experiences like that lead me to believe that the PSP was a success of name over utility.

Sony’s ineptitude during this hardware cycle is astounding, to the point where I’m almost convinced that their cell processor manufacturing plants are placed in some kind of unholy Lament Configuration over the major indigenous burial grounds of the world. But dismal as their failings may be, it takes a certain kind of craptitude to garner a near-universal panning of anticipated hardware revisions. It’s not just a major fumble; it points to a pathological inability for Sony to gauge the needs of its audience or to design a guiding philosophy for its portable.

But the most disappointing aspect about this whole mess isn’t the tarnished Sony brand or the inexplicable reinterpretation of the Mylo’s tainted shell. The real disappointment lies in the fact that the botched delivery hoopla is masking some very real, very immediate problems concerning the on-demand model of game delivery as a viable commercial alternative.

In The Year 2000!

Since the peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate mixing of hard drives and gaming consoles, forward-thinking enthusiasts and PC outcasts have posited that the future of gaming rests in a disc-less, cart-less, digital system of delivery. It’s not an altogether alien idea, nor is it an entirely apocalyptic disaster waiting to happen. The digital distribution model had its prophets singing praises way back in the pre-broadband wastelands of 1996, and it’s proven to be the de-facto method of distributing patches, updates and quick fixes for a number of systems. Even Microsoft’s dabbled, offering seminal Xbox games, and select Xbox 360 games, as non-corporeal, binary ghostforms, via their Live service. But keep in mind that it has taken quite a few years for the technological and social infrastructure to mature, which amounts to a gradual change on the tech-scale. It’s quite far from an overnight revolution of bits and tubes.

What these futurenauts didn’t count on was the growing pains that the move towards complete digital delivery would produce and, unfortunately for the Go, the resulting alienation of some of their most loyal base.

Tied exclusively to the Playstation Store, the culture surrounding the portable changes. The disappearance of very popular, proven methods of console interface and game execution leave the player at the mercy of Sony’s proprietary webstore–they are the only game in town. The Go’s theoretical access to a rich catalog of games suddenly renders the retail experience moot. Along with the hassle of carrying scores of discs or cartridges during a yawn-inducing trek, “browsing” the aisles of a GameStop or Best Buy is an impossibility in Go-land. In removing the physicality of the shopping experience for the comfort of buffet-style digital purchasing, the Go promotes impulse buying and immediate gratification (in theory, at least.) While this is adequate for something morsel-sized–as is the case for Apple’s AppStore–the psychological hurdle of hitting “PURCHASE NOW”, knowing that you are out $40 for a game, then waiting for it to download certainly limits the appeal of careless shopping sprees from the comfort of a living room.

Teach The Controversy

For me, the Go is an intriguing platform because it brings several oft-discussed scenarios and questions regarding digital distribution into the limelight. As far as I know, there is no mechanism (planned or in place) for a buddy to borrow a game. There is no friendly swapping to be seen. This also has the convenient outcome of destroying the second-hand market that retail chains like GameSTOP are so dependent on. Along those lines, the question of software migration remains to be answered: Does your purchase of game licenses apply exclusively to the one Go you have, or will it be possible to float your titles across other iterations of the Go? Will you be reimbursed if a Playstation Store title is pulled from the lineup? If a game is amended at a later date for content, will the Go automagically overwrite the previous version, or will the user get a say? Will price adjustments exist, or are games priced for life? And, most bizarrely, what will it be like to have a collection of games that has no physical counterpart, no capacity for nostalgic life or fiscal value?

That these problems will now be worked out in the mainstream, and won’t merely be topics of philosophizing, is more than a little fascinating. One wonders if Sony has a clear grasp on their answers for some of those questions. Already, we’ve seen scores of early adopters feeling the pain of the transition. One purchase and their entire UMD library is irrelevant. This is not the mark of a well thought-out transition, nor does it engender confidence in a future where games are provided at the behest of your preferred corporate overlord.

As things stand, it seems clear that the PSP Go was better suited as a third pillar that would, over time, grow to supplant the UMD-based PSP, much in the way that the DS matured into a replacement GameBoy Advance. Its current position as an almost-PSP without any of the support of the PSP’s backlog of games creates obvious legacy problems for established PSP owners. Its closed-system philosophy does it no favors, either, especially to a market and a base that is accustomed to having a glut of procurement choices. With time enough to grow, the distribution model’s crippling mysteries could have been mitigated. Instead, we are met with a high profile launch that marries the Kindle’s summer controversy with the usability of a Nokia N-Gage.

For the moment, the PSP Go has the dubious honor of being “that one system that was likened to a ‘campaign of aggression’ by a professional nerd.”

Comments

I think you're right in that DD is all about audience. The PC "outcasts", as you so graciously describe us, have embraced it almost wholeheartedly - but I don't think the portable audience is ready for it.

As an advocate for digital distribution as a primary game delivery method, it's disappointing to see Sony being the one to take a stab at full conversion. It's like having Glenn Beck agree with you.

However, I hesitate at the condemnation of DD based on Sony's launch of the PSP Go. Is there anyone who thinks that a full DD conversion should happen in a hardware revision for an existing platform that has been cartridge based for 6 years? It's stupid. It's indefensible.

Ideally a delivery method like this should happen at the start of a console or handheld cycle. Not as an afterthought.

A lower price point for a system that basically begins every owner's library at ground zero would have been wise place to begin for Sony. Why do they suddenly hate backward compatibility so much?

Elysium wrote:

As an advocate for digital distribution as a primary game delivery method, it's disappointing to see Sony being the one to take a stab at full conversion. It's like having Glenn Beck agree with you.

However, I hesitate at the condemnation of DD based on Sony's launch of the PSP Go. Is there anyone who thinks that a full DD conversion should happen in a hardware revision for an existing platform that has been cartridge based for 6 years? It's stupid. It's indefensible.

Ideally a delivery method like this should happen at the start of a console or handheld cycle. Not as an afterthought.

Having the PSP Go as a hardware revision was just plain stupid and how this got through the corporate chain I will never know. Had the PSP Go been say the PSP 2 with better hardware and other new features it would be a much more attractive device. But just being a PSP with the UMD ripped out with no ability to play my old games doesn't give me any reason to buy it. Sony needs to fire the entire Playstation division and start anew because the current crop has no idea what they are doing.

PSPGo strikes me as the kind of thing that was conceived by a couple of Execs, sitting in a room, looking at iPod Touch and the iPhone, saying, "WE WANTS IT BUT WE CAN'T HAVE IT PRECIOUS NO NO! WE MUST BUILD IT PRECIOUS WE MUST"

It's unfortunate that PSPGo may turn into the poster child used by retailers to claim that digital distribution is imperfect and years away. Apple with the App Store, Valve with Steam, Amazon with Kindle, and even Microsoft with Xbox Live and Games On Demand have proved the future is here. Now.

Sony, as they are want to do, just cocked up the PSP from the beginning and never fixed it.

As far as I'm concerned, the PSP Go was a shot across the bow of the homebrewers and custom firmware installers, in an attempt to reclaim the platform as a profitable source of income.

As Spaz quite succinctly summed up, everyone buys the PSP for the hardware and not for the software. I conjecture that Sony still uses the same hardware vs software loss to gain ratio they (and all other console manufacturers) used for their releases.

It's a profit-grab, plain and simple, and most people see that. There's all those other considerations to take into account, like the legacy library and being locked out, but I guess they consider it an acceptable loss.

I'd categorize this heavy-handed tactic as "Nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure."

Excellent article, Spaz. Digital distribution seems to be an inevitability, but no one can be sure if that inevitability sits five or fifty years in the future. There are still some major issues to overcome, but I think the financial benefit will push one publisher after another in that direction. I suspect it's still a ways off before DD becomes the standard, but I do think it's the right direction to move.

I wonder if Sony actually the expects the PSP Go to sell, if they do there is something very wrong over there. In my opinion the PSP Go effect is not sales of the actual device but to give a boost to the platform and to layout the future for the PSP 2. This is done by convincing the third party to again develop for the platform,since the announcement of the device there was a surge of games announced, and to layout the foundation for a digital delivery platform. To take advantage of this you don't need the new PSP Go the old one does just fine in fact reports that the old PSP sales were up with the release of the Go seems to confirm that the Go is only marketing device for the platform. But the future of the platform probably depends on much of an effect the device has on the overall digital sales

Excellent and eloquent article. It's neat to know what the kids are doing/thinking these days, and hearing it from a teacher with similar interests is a non-creepy way of getting that perspective. Thanks!

I dream of a steam-like service for all games on all platforms. Not just games, but movies as well. The ability to purchase something then re-download it at will is a convenience I'm willing to pay for.

What worries me about DD is the current trend of locking the delivery services to particular stores, which eliminates all possibility of competition. Even Steam is guilty of this, as fantastic as it is currently.

If the future is going to be all DD, there needs to be competition amongst distributors, or we're in for a very bad time. Microsoft has dabbled with this, allowing XBLA codes to be bought from Amazon, and that's the road I see to success with this.

Trying to weave the story of the Go into a commentary on digital distribution is a little unfortunate, because the problems facing the Go have much less to do with DD as a distribution channel than they do with the Go's launch and feature set itself. This probably wouldn't even be worth bringing up if the PSP retained UMD support. That's Sony's big mistake. Digital distribution is a step in the right direction as far as I'm concerned, but they obviously did it all wrong here. They thought they could strongarm people into going 100% DD, when they should have eased people in.

The fact is that DD has become much more widely accepted in the past two years, particularly on the PC. It may not ever be as popular on the consoles, partly because many people don't connect their console to the internet, and partly because there is a more ingrained expectation of physical media for console users (this is the first generation to widely manufacture consoles with internal HDD). I'm certain it will continue to grow as a means of distribution on all platforms, though.

Awesome article. It's unfortunate that Sony took such a huge leap and didn't see the cliff with cacti at the bottom. Maybe they've learned their lesson?

In Sony's enthusiasm to advance into the digital age, it seems like they decided to take the worst features of digital distribution models and mash them together into a horrid amalgam. Worse, they still haven't learned a thing about proprietary hardware -- they ripped UMD out and replaced it with several more -- from a new type of memory card to usb transfer cables.

larrymadill wrote:

Apple with the App Store, Valve with Steam, Amazon with Kindle, and even Microsoft with Xbox Live and Games On Demand have proved the future is here. Now.

Wait wait wait. "Amazon with the Kindle"? Really? "One of these things is not like the others...." Amazon botched DD with the Kindle nearly as badly as Sony did with the Go. Anything you buy from Amazon's eBook store is locked to the Kindle and can't be used on competing devices: did they learn NOTHING from Apple finally letting go of DRM on the iPod/iTunes? And putting in hooks so that they can retroactively decide to revoke a purchase and remotely delete it from your system? Yeah, the future is here and Orwell is PISSED. Just because Amazon's gained some mindshare with a few celebs and technocrats with more money than sense doesn't make their little eReader experiment a shining example of how to handle DD, 'cause brother, it ain't.

But back on-topic, it might seem like an oversimplification to boil all of Sony's foibles with the Go down to a single number, but I honestly think that a lot of their problems could have been ameliorated if not eliminated by a cheaper price point. A significant number of PSP users were never going to move over to the Go at any price point: it's incompatibility with their existing library saw to that. But to a new buyer, when you look at the PSP-3000, which lets you play ALL PSP games and is just a little bigger, and the Go, which lets you play SOME PSP games and is more expensive, well, the choice is obvious. (That choice is a DS Lite, but that's another story.)

It's not advanced calculus here, Sony: if you take away features, you have to drop the price, too, or there's no incentive to buy. Anyone who wants a PSP at the $250 price point bought the original at or near launch. There's just plain no target market for a system that costs more to do less.

hbi2k wrote:
larrymadill wrote:

Apple with the App Store, Valve with Steam, Amazon with Kindle, and even Microsoft with Xbox Live and Games On Demand have proved the future is here. Now.

... Anything you buy from Amazon's eBook store is locked to the Kindle and can't be used on competing devices: did they learn NOTHING from Apple finally letting go of DRM on the iPod/iTunes?

Doesn't mean they're not selling.

The only beef I have with the GO is the price of the content.

Lower the content pricing to reflect the DD savings and the fact we can't resell or share the games and it's a win-win.

Portables are ripe to take advantage of downloading because of smaller file sizes although perhaps parents (assuming their kids own the devices) aren't ready to go that route.

I don't think the market will readily accept 'single digital distributor only' for something that it previously had the ability to acquire from multiple vendors, at least not when the choice is as obvious as Sony has made it with the PSP Go. Steam, for example, is marvelous, but I don't buy *all* my games on Steam - not only are there alternate digital download services, but sometimes B&M retailers and online snail mail vendors can still undercut their prices. People now expect that level of competition to keep all the distribution channels honest.

If I had to choose between "Steam" and "everybody else," I'd still choose "everybody else." Same, then, with Sony.

I think it's a different story for emerging technologies, which can sell themselves *despite* their channel lockin. I'm thinking here of the Kindle and the iPhone, two very compelling products that are locked in from inception. People accept it as a limitation of the new class of devices; but even here, at some point, there will be competing products that are more open. You may not ever buy an e-book or a mobile phone app at a physical store, but you will be able to shop around from a variety of online vendors (or, perhaps, directly from the content creator himself, as is the case with many existing smartphone platforms).

I can't fathom what lunacy gripped the management at Sony and prompted them to remove backward compatibility on the Go. It's as if they see the iPhone's success and they simply want to replicate the experience to the greatest extent possible, and it just never occurs to them that the iPhone may be succeeding *despite* such restrictions instead of *because* of them.

trip1eX wrote:

The only beef I have with the GO is the price of the content.

Lower the content pricing to reflect the DD savings and the fact we can't resell or share the games and it's a win-win.

This would indeed be the smart move - undercut the retail channels by enough that they can't even compete. Kill them dead. Make digital distribution into the only sane option based on price alone.

Just as console manufacturers are said to lose money on new platforms as they try to entrench the technology, Sony would lose money early on to establish the preeminence of their digital storefront. Then, in a year or two, they could discontinue physical media entirely, and start raising prices. By then, people will have forgotten how good things were in the days of competition and resale.

The thing should have been $50 cheaper than the 3000. Well it probably will be soon since it isn't selling that well.

The PSP Go was never an option for me because my UMD library is too big. After reading about the most recent controversy, I don't see how it's an option for anyone. Forcing PSP Go owners to wait for games after the official UMD release is not a good start. Sony not requiring publishers to sell games on the PSN is crazy.

wordsmythe wrote:
hbi2k wrote:
larrymadill wrote:

Apple with the App Store, Valve with Steam, Amazon with Kindle, and even Microsoft with Xbox Live and Games On Demand have proved the future is here. Now.

... Anything you buy from Amazon's eBook store is locked to the Kindle and can't be used on competing devices: did they learn NOTHING from Apple finally letting go of DRM on the iPod/iTunes?

Doesn't mean they're not selling.

Perhaps Amazon should have learned from Apple and removed the DRM. But at least they got the pricing and selection right...unlike Sony.

wordsmythe wrote:
hbi2k wrote:
larrymadill wrote:

Apple with the App Store, Valve with Steam, Amazon with Kindle, and even Microsoft with Xbox Live and Games On Demand have proved the future is here. Now.

... Anything you buy from Amazon's eBook store is locked to the Kindle and can't be used on competing devices: did they learn NOTHING from Apple finally letting go of DRM on the iPod/iTunes?

Doesn't mean they're not selling.

Barnes & Noble, more or less, just copied Kindle for Nook so someone must've made the determination that it was selling to more than "celebs and technocrats".

And it only happened once. I own about thirty or forty books on Kindle and I've never had a problem getting into my library. I think the issue is about as overblown as one can get. A great case study in Internet Nerd Rage.

Also, just like the original incarnation of iTunes Music Store and the current video store on iTunes, the DRM isn't there because Amazon loves DRM. It's there because the content providers demand it. Mostly because they are rightfully worried about people stealing it from a torrent site.

I'm kind of over DRM arguments. It would be great to go with out it but it would also be great if people could learn to pay for their music, movies, games and books instead of stealing their content while acting like the afflicted minority. Right now I'll deal with DRM as long as it isn't too intrusive.

If you want to sit in your basement and yell about how Information Should Be Free, and Anarchy, and How Everyone is Out to Screw You, Yay for You. Call me when you want to grow up and join the modern world.

larrymadill wrote:

I'm kind of over DRM arguments. It would be great to go with out it but it would also be great if people could learn to pay for their music, movies, games and books instead of stealing their content while acting like the afflicted minority. Right now I'll deal with DRM as long as it isn't too intrusive.

That's a mighty fine line, though. And just because you're perfectly fine with GameX's 2 install DRM scheme, it doesn't mean that the rest of the paying populace will be fine with someone else dictating the terms and limitations of their purchase.

When you get right down to it, the DRM argument is a reaction against being told what, how and when you can access the product you paid for.

Also, keep in mind that while the Nook copies the digital store model, B&N also made it possible for someone to share the book they're reading and use it on a variety of devices.

But case in point about the DRM on the Go (which is more a critique of the model than the platform, mind you): I have heard reports that the vouchers given for complementary movies are tied to a single device. Download it on the PS3, say, while you're waiting for something to install on the blasted portable, and it can't be migrated over to the Go.

Settle down you two.

larrymadill wrote:

Also, just like the original incarnation of iTunes Music Store and the current video store on iTunes, the DRM isn't there because Amazon loves DRM. It's there because the content providers demand it. Mostly because they are rightfully worried about people stealing it from a torrent site.

I'm kind of over DRM arguments. It would be great to go with out it but it would also be great if people could learn to pay for their music, movies, games and books instead of stealing their content while acting like the afflicted minority. Right now I'll deal with DRM as long as it isn't too intrusive.

If you want to sit in your basement and yell about how Information Should Be Free, and Anarchy, and How Everyone is Out to Screw You, Yay for You. Call me when you want to grow up and join the modern world.

Got all the strawman arguments out of your system? Good. If you've got so much money to burn that you can afford to spend it on data that can be unilaterally taken away from you for any reason or no reason, then good on you. Personally, I worked too hard for my money to spend it without certain assurances about what I'm buying, so I'll keep buying my books the old-fashioned way until and unless somebody gets ebooks right. The same way I sat out on iTunes until somebody got digitally distributed music right, which, ironically, was Amazon themselves.

DRM does not prevent piracy. This has been proven time and time again, and whether it's Amazon or the content providers, time and time again people choose to ignore this lesson. You say you'll deal with DRM as long as it isn't "too intrusive," but I have to ask, what do you consider "too intrusive"? What's more intrusive than something you paid for suddenly disappearing off your device? Or not being able to transfer it to another device? I'd consider that pretty intrusive.

A good book should last you for years, even decades if you treat it right. The half-life of an electronic device being what it is, I'm not confident in the ability of a Kindle to last that long, so I don't like the idea of my books being trapped on one and, if something happens to it, either having to drop a couple hundred bucks on another one or else buy all my books all over again.

Is Amazon out to screw me? Of course not: I'm sure they honestly think they're offering me a good deal. That doesn't make it any more true, though. I'm sure they're honest when they say that the Orwell incident was a one-time mistake that won't be repeated (by them), but I still refuse to support a system that includes such hooks with my dollars, because if we teach content distributors that we'll put up with that sort of thing, it won't be long before somebody out there-- probably not Amazon, but somebody-- DOES abuse them.

Hey, I'm not saying all DRM is horrible. You mentioned Steam, which sells DRM'd games, but it lets you play them on any PC with the specs to do it and redownload them as many times as you like. I can live with that: requiring an Internet connection to play is a drawback, but it's balanced out by the advantage of convenience and some seriously killer sales. Likewise, my downloaded Xbox games are tied to my Xbox Live account and can be played on any Xbox I sign in on-- it's true that DOES tie you to the Xbox platform, but that's because the games were specifically designed for the Xbox hardware and can't be played on anything else without changes to the code. It's a natural limitation of console games as a format, not an artificial limitation imposed by Microsoft.

It's possible to integrate DRM inobtrusively into a digital distribution scheme. It's been done in the past, and I'm confident that it will be done more and more in the future. I'm just saying that Amazon's ebook service isn't there yet, or at least not to the extent that I, personally, am willing to spend my money there. If you feel differently, hey, it's your dollar.

hbi2k wrote:

A good book should last you for years, even decades if you treat it right. The half-life of an electronic device being what it is, I'm not confident in the ability of a Kindle to last that long, so I don't like the idea of my books being trapped on one and, if something happens to it, either having to drop a couple hundred bucks on another one or else buy all my books all over again.

Orwellian arguments aside, they've already provided an app for the iPhone that can be used in place of the Kindle. The Kindle hardware may provide the better experience, but their primary motivation is to make more books available, specifically ones that they can then sell to you.

There are some things that puzzle me about the original article, specifically questions asked for which we already have answers. The PlayStation Store isn't new, neither is the fact that it provides games, and the device in question has been in the public's oversized hands for close to three weeks. Apart from the recent addition of video content specifically for the PSP, nothing has really changed in the platform's support for the digital distribution model apart from introducing a hardware revision that no longer supports UMDs. It does present a quandary for anyone who already owns an older model as to whether buying new releases on physical media is still a good idea.

Like the PS3 launch, I think it's a little too easy for people to jump onto a haterade bandwagon just now. The really interesting results won't be known until we enter the 2010 Christmas season, I think, a point in time that may include a price drop and more time for folks to generally get used to the idea of the Go (including third part publishers and retailers who can carry PSN vouchers).

Kurrelgyre wrote:

Orwellian arguments aside, they've already provided an app for the iPhone that can be used in place of the Kindle.

I'd forgotten about that. It's a start, I suppose, but there's still a long way between that tiny little doorway between one walled garden and another and the sort of openness that we currently enjoy with Amazon's digital music store, in which the mp3 files you download can be played (or burned to a CD and then played) on virtually any portable music device, PCs, Macs, video game consoles, car stereos, CD players, certain brands of toaster....

The PlayStation Store isn't new, neither is the fact that it provides games, and the device in question has been in the public's oversized hands for close to three weeks. Apart from the recent addition of video content specifically for the PSP, nothing has really changed in the platform's support for the digital distribution model apart from introducing a hardware revision that no longer supports UMDs. It does present a quandary for anyone who already owns an older model as to whether buying new releases on physical media is still a good idea.

While this is true, there aren't many people that used the Playstation store for the PSP. At this point, the best games on there are probably the PS1 games, and all of those can be played on the PS3 as well(and with the price cut, a $300 PS3 is just better overall than the Go). There aren't any PSP-only killer apps for it(unlike XBLA and the PS3 store), and basically everything PSP exclusive on it could be found cheaper in most bargain bins, if you want to spend the money on them. Also, all versions of the PSP(even the Go) use 802.11b wireless, which is slow as dirt. Keep in mind: the DSi handles 802.11g. The DS lite/phat is also 802.11b, but those versions don't have any sort of online store. Since it takes so long to download anything, you can't download anything in the background, and the system has an annoying tendency to reset the download if it gets interrupted by anything(I had to try downloading FFVII on 3 consecutive nights), it's not that great an experience for a handheld.

Plus, Sony hasn't really managed the store all that well in the US. There are two versions of Final Fantasy Tactics on the

I've had a PSP since year one, and I honestly didn't know I could use the a PSN store with it. I hate UMD, and I hate the selection of games even more. I also hate how it was tied to the Sony style memory stick, which cost 4x what others did at the time (such as SD). So the thing has just been collecting dust in my night stand.