Welcome to the hundred and tenth edition of RPGamer's Currents Column!
Things sure have been interesting at RPGamer recently. A lot of us on the site have been busy with big events and trying a few new things. For example, I recently got the chance to play host on RPGCast #99. It was fun, and I hope I get the chance to do it again some time. Chris, the regular host, was off enjoying a vacation in Tokyo that should be coming to an end soon. He was lucky to get to see Tokyo Game Show first-hand. While I might not have had the chance to fly to Tokyo last week, I do have plenty of stuff to talk about from the show.
Sony had a rather boring keynote event at Tokyo Game Show, but it did have a few new things to reveal. Actually, Sony is going to be the focus of the column this week, especially with the PSPGo launching in Europe and North America on October 1st. The excitement for the device has largely been neutralized by a few bits of disappointing news, but all the same it's a console launch worth covering. I just wonder if I'll still want a PSPGo after writing this....
Ok, that's enough. Let's get to the News!
Sony's latest handheld, the PSPGo, is just days away from launching in Europe and North America. Normally the launch of a new console, even just an updated version of an old one, is something to get excited about. Unfortunately for Sony, that doesn't seem to be the case this time, at least in North America. Several offers announced in Europe don't seem to be making their way to North America, and a few Sony programs and initiatives are actually far less than what they were said to be. The first of these disappointments is Sony's now non-existent UMD Transfer Program.
Europe, in general, has to pay a much higher price for the PSPGo than North America does. That's saying a lot considering that the handheld costs $250 here. Thankfully, to ease the pain for European early adopters, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) has decided to throw in 2 rather nice incentives. The first is an offer to get a free digital copy of Gran Turismo to anyone who buys and registers a PSPGo within the first ten days. That's a pretty sweet deal I have to say. The second offer targets European owners with an older PSP, and a UMD collection. Titled the "PSPGo Rewards Program," SCEE will offer three free games from a list of seventeen Sony first party titles, both new and old. Interestingly, to obtain the voucher for the three free games, you have to connect a PSP with a UMD in the drive and log on to the PSN. Both of these programs are really nice incentives for European consumers who have to pay a much higher price tag than the rest of us. Keep in mind that Gran Turismo and a few other games on the list still cost roughly $40. The offer ends March 31, 2010.
So what is Sony Computer Entertainment America doing for its PSPGo launch? Basically nothing. SCEA has gone on record and stated that the long-awaited UMD Transfer Program won't be happening. An SCEA Rep. told Kotaku in an interview:
"We were evaluating a UMD conversion program, but due to legal and technical reasons we will not be offering the program at this time."
Kotaku noted that based on the tone and wording, a solution might not ever materialize. While it is understandable from a business perspective, consumers will still be left disappointed or downright angry. If SCEA had made the effort to bring over a similar rewards program like the one that SCEE is implementing, it would have eased the concerns of North American consumers who are upset over pricing and compatibility issues. So as it stands now, North American consumers have to ask themselves: do they want a system that will never play their old UMD library again? Or, if the form factor really is that appealing, is it worth $250? The most interesting thing here is that the people who would benefit most from buying a PSPGo are new consumers who have never owned a PSP before. Without a UMD library to hold them up, a device like this could be very appealing to consumers who are unphased by the price. The November NPDs will be very interesting to say the least.
During GamesCon about 2 months ago, Sony unveiled its PSP Minis initiative. The idea was to bring small iPhone-like games with a 100MB limit to the PSP. Unfortunately, these Minis will come with a few restrictions that their iPhone brethren don't have. During a conference at GDC Austin, Justin Cooney from Sony Computer Entertainment revealed PSP Mini restrictions. At launch on October 1st, PSP Minis will have no downloadable content, no support for peripherals, and no networking or online features. The Minis program has been limited with the intention of accelerating the approval process to ensure that there is a quick and steady stream of content in the PlayStation Store. The interesting thing is that while gamers and developers might see this as a negative, Sony thinks the restrictions are instead quite positive. Justin Cooney explains:
"When you look at it from a testing perspective, you have to do more QA. [Allowing wireless multiplayer, DLC and updates] would defeat the purpose of having a dedicated service for smaller content. It increases the barriers. From our perspective, if we're going to reduce the time it takes to get through our internal process, it helps that we don't have to check multiplayer features."
So while it's nice to have a steady stream of cheap, downloadable games for PSN, without a few basics like DLC, connectivity, and multiplayer, a lot of the best features of what make iPhone games so unique and special are sorely missing. Thankfully, these restrictions could be limited to the first few batches of Minis on PSN. In an interview with Destructoid, Eric Lempel, the Director of PlayStation Network Operations and Strategic Planning, says
"So you can patch Minis, but we won't have multiplayer functions in the beginning. Basically, to get these developers on board, and to make it easier to test and get it through the pipeline, we won't be allowing that functionality for the first stage of Minis. It's something we will consider in the future."
So there you have it. If a Mini has an issue in need of patching, the Mini's developers can do that. On the other hand, if you want new levels, updates, and/or adhoc and wifi multiplayer features, you are better off with an iPhone/iPod Touch game at this point. The only saving grace is that all of these games will be less than $10, most costing $5 or less from what I hear. The Minis program still has a lot of potential, and like the App store, it gives smaller and indie developers a solid platform to sell their games. So keep an eye on it, and let's hope that the restrictions are gone soon
16,000 Pieces of Downloadable Content:
Finally something positive to write about the launch of the PSPGo. To accompany the launch of the PSPGo on October 1st, Sony says it will have 16,000 pieces of DLC available on the PS Store. The vast majority of that content will be movies and TV shows. To be exact, there will be 2,300 movies and 13,300 TV episodes. On the game front, 225 downloadable games will be available on the 1st, and these games are a combination of full PSP titles, PSN exclusives, UMD legacy titles, and Minis. So whether you buy a PSPGo or not, it is great to have so many games, many that are now hard or impossible to find, available to download 24 hours a day. If there is any downside, it's that new UMD titles will cost full retail price, despite the fact that there is no packaging or retail overhead to deal with. It seems counter-intuitive to have full-priced downloadable games on the PS Store, but it was a concession Sony had to make to retail to make the prospect of carrying the Go palatable.
Another concession Sony has made to retailers is the availability of PlayStation Network Game Cards. These are voucher codes available in-store that allow users to download full PSP games. This practice is nothing new for Sony, as it tested the waters with the release of Patapon 2. The first batch of games available as vouchers include Gran Turismo, Daxter , and God of War: Chains of Olympus. I think this is a really good idea. It keeps retailers happy, and it gives consumers a chance to find discounts and deals on download-only games.
So that's the PSPGo pre-launch news roundup. You probably already know if you want a PSPGo or not by this point, and the lack of any UMD conversion program probably pushed a few people into the "do not want" camp. As for me? I think I will probably end up buying a PSPGo, simply because I received a good deal on Amazon that gave me $51 off one. I like the form factor, and I can stand the system's shortcomings at the $200 price point. Now, if I had to pay full price for it, would I buy it? Probably not, especially when you consider the fact that for $50 more, I could buy a PS3. So whether or not you think the Go will be a failure, I think we can all agree that Sony trying to make its entire PSP and PS1 Classics library available for download is a good thing. It's nice that you will always be able to find a copy of hundreds of Sony legacy titles, and that's what we really should take away from all this. Basically, the PSPGo forced Sony to upgrade its PS Store and services.
I'm glad the PSPGo is finally out. This is the last column where I have to talk about the system and the mistakes surrounding it in great length - at least I hope so. While I'm not so sure that we will be hit with a deluge of news any time soon, we will have an onslaught of AAA games to play through and that's just as good in my book.
Before I close off this week's column, I'd be interested to know if any readers will be buying a PSPGo, a cheaper Wii, or a PS3 Slim. If you bought any new hardware recently, let us know what you think of it.
See you all next week!
See you all next week!
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