Sony’s recently announced new portable Playstation device, codenamed “Next Generation Portable,” is an absolute beast of a machine. With a bright five-inch OLED touchscreen, a quad-core computer processor and graphics processor, the NGP lends itself to nearly PS3 level graphic capabilities.
Sony showed off a fully-fledged version of “Metal Gear Solid 4” on the portable to give an example of what was possible. Unlike the original PSP, the NGP also has two analog sticks for better control methods. There is a touch pad on the back of the device as well, much like a laptop mouse pad. On top of all that, there are also two cameras, motion sensors, a gyroscope and accelerometer, GPS capabilities and 3G wireless support built in.
All of this sounds incredible, and from a technological perspective it is incredible. But stepping back to a consumer’s perspective, one can’t help but wonder who it’s actually for. Sony’s main pitch seems to be of the console’s ability to play PS3 games, touting the power and graphics of franchises like “Uncharted” and “Killzone” on their small screen.
But wait — don’t those people who want to play PS3 games already have a PS3? Though Sony hasn’t announced a price, most industry veterans are speculating the price between $300 and $400. Are PS3 owners really willing to spend the amount they paid for their PS3 for a portable version of the same thing? Wouldn’t a consumer deciding between a PS3 and an NGP favor the version that could be played on a big screen TV? Considering most Americans travel by car, few are in a position where it would be convenient to play on-the-go.
The NGP would certainly make sense for Japan — people commute by train constantly and over long distances, and often have tight living spaces. An NGP might be preferable considering the Japanese might not have room for a large TV and a PS3. But on the American front, there aren’t that many people taking public transportation outside those in major cities. Perhaps kids riding in back seats would be an ideal demographic, but that doesn’t seem like the market Sony is targeting, since the most prominently featured titles are shooters.
Of course, there is the touch screen functionality, which adds a new element of gameplay. Sony has said that the games will come on “new media,” but hasn’t been clear on the kind of flash memory the device has. Regardless, digitally downloadable games are now possible, meaning we could now see low-price touch games in the vein of the iPhone.
But it comes back to the original question: Who is it really for? Don’t the people who like touch games already have an iPhone or iPod Touch? Why would they buy the NGP when their primary device already has so much functionality? And it’s not even like the NGP would be able to replace the iPhone — while the NGP does have 3G capabilities, Sony has explicitly stated that it cannot be used as a mobile phone.
Despite this, maybe all this negative speculation will ultimately be irrelevant. The fact remains that the NGP could be a worldwide hit for years to come. Perhaps developers will create incredible new games using motion sensors, cameras and great dual joystick controls all at the same time. The problem is that Sony hasn’t really shown off many games that utilize all the interesting parts of the console. The touch pad on the back can be rubbed in the new “Uncharted” game to climb vines — which is neat, but not especially exciting.
Like every game platform ever released, it will all come down to the pricing and the software. If it’s affordable and companies come out with top-of-the-line creative games, it’s easy to see this device doing gangbusters. But if it’s $400 and there are mainly iPhone games or portable versions of PS3 games, then it’s not hard to imagine consumers saving their money.