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.”