With the launch of Sony’s newest PlayStation Portable (PSPgo) on October 1st 2009, many people have had to weigh their options as the old PSP 3000 unit is still available. On the one hand, the new PSPgo is more expensive and doesn’t come bundled with any games. At $249 it’s nearly $50 more than the PSP 3000 bundle which includes a game, a 2GB flash memory card and features a larger screen. On the other hand, the PSPgo is much lighter, smaller and thus easier to fit into pockets. Many believe the button positioning is better suited for handheld gaming, the shoulder buttons are easier to use, and the battery life is longer (because the unit doesn’t have to spin an optical drive to load content). While system power, graphics and aesthetics have traditionally been the deciding factors for upgrading console hardware, future devices such as the PSPgo are competing on different dimensions. The PSPgo is not faster or more graphically adept than its predecessors, on the contrary its screen is actually smaller. The real improvements here are in efficiency and convenience which lean towards sustainable design.
The PSPgo can only play digital content and that is both a blessing and a curse. Much like it’s peers, the iPod Touch and iPhone, everything has to be downloaded from the web – in this case the Sony PlayStation Store. While it’s not quite the iTunes store in terms of ease of use and speed, the PlayStation Store isn’t bad and it’s going to get a whole lot better in the coming months… Unless you only own a Mac and are not dual booting, in this case you are just out of luck as Sony has opted for Windows only. Mac users will still be able to access games directly through wifi on the PSPgo but can’t upload existing music or movies as easily or back the system up using Media Go. One risk and challenge here, in addition to ostracizing the growing number of Mac users, is that gaming retail stores like GameStop are going to be cut out as more and more content goes digital… IGN touched on this point recently in a review of the system, pointing out that system sales are not very profitable or plentiful compared to software sales. This may just be a fact of life as more and more products go online, and for the environmentally conscious consumer this is a great thing because it means less driving to and from stores, less plastic disks cases and accessories, less boxes and papers, and less shipping.
While Sony has vowed to continue support for the PSP 3000 by stocking physical games for the life of the PSP, it has openly stated in interviews that digital distribution is the future and it is my guess that physical inventory for PSP games will decline as a percentage of software sales as PSPgo takes market share and game availability through the PlayStation Store increases. John Koller, director of hardware marketing at SCEA, said in a Q&A interview on 9/14/09 “we see digital and the importance of digital content really leading the way into the future . . . there is a significant trend towards digital”. Even today, the older PSP 1000, 2000, and 3000 can download games digitally and while system memory is simply more limited than the 16GB that comes stock on the PSPgo (and the ability to add 32GB more with Memory Stick Micro), it’s still possible on older PSP’s. PSP owners can currently purchase 16GB Memory Stick PRO Duo’s for roughly $60 online and hold between 9 and 15 games instantly… Run out of space? Just grab another $16GB flash card and you’re all set!
Older PSP’s relied primarily on Universal Mini Disks (UMD’s) which had movies and games printed on them. The trade off that the PSPgo creates here is that traditional PSP owners have no easy way to translate their old games to a digital format to load on their new PSPgo system (should they decide to upgrade to the new system)… Think about it, if Sony made it easy for them to rip and upload their old games, then everyone would be ripping and trading ala Napster and game developers would be cut out of the loop, thus divesting from the platform. I am sure Sony is working on some kind of solution here but truth be told, the real opportunity is to begin downloading on new and old systems, physical disks notwithstanding. If you buy a PSPgo, at least for the time being, you’ll have to re-purchase your old games, movies, etc. or play them on your old PSP seperately. The good news in all of this is that the PlayStation Store will be getting faster and stocking a lot more digital content, content that both old and new PSP owners can tap into. This saves plastic, shipping costs, and battery life as mentioned above. All things considered, a PSP 3000 with 16GB of memory would cost about the same as a new PSPgo, function in much the same way, include a free game, still use less battery life than a PSP 3000 spinning a game disk, and feature a larger screen. I don’t see a downside here? Check out this PSPgo Hardware Walkthrough by IGN.
All in all the PSPgo is a step in the right direction as far as the environment is concerned. Eventually this will lead to cheaper games, more downloadable content, more interactive social titles, and less waste (as disks can be lost, scratched, and stolen more easily). The PSPgo will probably also load games faster with its solid state memory, it won’t skip, and you can pause games and hibernate while browsing the XMB (cross media bar) to listen to a song or use some other feature of the PSPgo. With the new Bluetooth feature stock on the PSPgo you can even use Skype to make inexpensive phone calls using a Bluetooth headset! While I have never owned a PSP, I was there for the launch and have been holding out for a device just like this for many years. One that fits easily in my pocket, syncs with Skype and other digital applications, plays great games like God of War and Little Big Planet using traditional video game buttons and joysticks (vs. touch screen), and avoids excessive plastic and energy waste. I say great job Sony, we’re taking a load off the environment and taking one step closer to the Matrix… which I love.