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Why the PSP is a success

posted on October 3rd, 2006 by jay

Many online sources have declared the PSP a failure. Others, including print magazines, haven’t gone that far but have acknowledged the PSP may currently be failing. The difference being the tense of the verb to fail. Here are some declarations that the PSP is dead or dying:

Should we consider the PSP dead?

RIP PSP

PSP: Just Die Already

Developers: The PSP has “failed”

But common wisdom is wrong: the PSP is not a failure; it has actually been quite successful. Sony took on a company that had around 95% of the handheld market. As of July, Sony has shipped 20 million units compared to Nintendo’s 21 million DS’s sold. There is a difference between units shipped and units sold, though how much is up for debate. Let’s take an extreme stance and assume that Sony only sold half of the units they shipped. This still means they not only penetrated a market owned by Nintendo, but captured a third of it.

God damn, charts are fun!

Nintendo’s Gamecube has less than a third of the console market yet it is usually considered an immense disappointment, not a failure. The Xbox has about 16% of the current console generation yet it is understood that for a company’s first outing into a market, and against a strong competitor that dominated the preceding generation, 16% is pretty good. Why is the PSP held to different standards?

There are a few reasons. One is that gamers seem to be used to Sony dominating markets. This is both because the PlayStations have ruled the console market for two generations now and that Sony never seemed modest about their entrance into the handheld market. If Sony had acted like Microsoft talking about the Japanese market and been candid and honest, perceptions would be different. But Kutaragi never said anything like, “Nintendo owns this market. We may lose but we are getting our foot in the door.” Consumers expected Sony to beat Nintendo mostly because they were Sony.

The UMD format has sold decently, but overall is a failure. Movie studios are backing away from UMD and the failed Sony proprietary format graveyard has another tombstone. This undoubtedly has impacted the PSP’s image in a negative way. If the system was supposed to be a game playing movie and music player, the movie supporting being shitty certainly mars its appeal.

This item may be somewhat out there, but I believe the fact that Nintendo has owned the handheld market for over a decade has had a significant impact on how people are reacting to Sony’s entrance. Handheld fans are highly critical of the PSP and handheld fans tend to be Nintendo supporters if only because Nintendo has given these gamers their handheld systems since the original Game Boy. This may not explain why serious publications think the PSP is dying, but it’s certainly relevant to why there are so many gaming forums deriding the handheld.

Say what you will about UMDs. Any format that has 2 Fast 2 Furious is a success in my book.

Because hardcore gamers tend to run gaming sites and magazines, the PSPs performance in Japan has been given a lot of attention. DS sales outnumber PSP sales by 4 or 5 to 1 every week in the land of the rising sun. While this is significant because as some have said, “Japan’s where the games come from,” its importance has been over stated. If the PSP sells in the West and Western developers are supporting it then the problem mostly exists in the heads of those hardcore gamers who want patently Japanese games. To someone like me, the PSP losing Japanese support is immensely important, but to the million (other) Americans who bought the system, probably much less so.

Finally, people think the PSP is a failure because there is a perception that it doesn’t have many good games. It feels like most PSP games are ports of PS1 games and the other titles are just uninteresting. Even good looking games that are coming out soon like Gitaroo Man, Disgaea, and Parappa the Rappa are ports. I happen to share this perception that the handheld lacks good games, but the fact is success is measured by sales numbers, not hardcore gamers’ opinions.

I think I figured out why journalists have been saying the PSP is a failure. They are expressing their personal opinion as fact. They may say, “The PSP is dead,” but what they mean is, “The PSP sucks.”

5 Comments

  1. Matt said on October 3, 2006:

    Hmmmm, this is very true. I remember when the PSP was released. This was one hardware launch that didn’t actually have a complete sell-out of the system. And it was probably due to the fact that handhelds are defined as a Nintendo-only market, as Jay points out. Sony was going to have the same problem that Xbox had when it first came out. I’ve never actually thought of it like that. But one thing that is evident is the near lack of games that make the purchase worthwhile. None of those games, from my POV, was worth $250. WipeOut Pure comes closest, but one game does not make a good system. Everything else has been a port, or a game that tries to be a console game, but forgot the PSP has only one analog stick (Coded Arms). I don’t know though. Something tells me that, with a system that uses a memory stick, it can grow with time and updates. The PSP might just be around for a long time because of this fact. I will say, though, that the thing is beautiful. Give that man who designed it $10,000.

  2. someone said on October 4, 2006:

    Absolutely!The DS is great as well. For kids and some adults I would think the DS a better choice.But for me, the PSP is a better system and has better games. Lots of people keep writing that the PSP is dead, the PSP is a failure, and there are no good games. And the people that write that stuff are very persistent about it, repeat it many times, and post it everywhere. But it’s not true at all. The PSP isn’t dead and there are lots of great games for it. Not just a small handful, there are many really good and original games for it.Anyway, glad to hear it’s not just me who thinks that. It’s very irritating reading swarms of "PSP is dead" posts. 

  3. Techni said on October 4, 2006:

    With all the great games PSP has, and has coming out, I don’t see how they can call it a failure. Hell even gamerankings.com reports PSP games as being rated higher on average than DS games.

  4. Christian said on October 4, 2006:

    Don’t look into Gamerankings averages too much.  If the DS has an overal larger number of games in its library, that will bring down the average.  Anyway, the PSP is a hive of ports, but some original and unexepected games have been released for it.  If it were a bit cheaper, I think I’d opt for one.  However, as long as the DS maintains its price advantage, it will still outperform it for a wihle, and I personally would grab one first over a PSP.  And guys, please don’t go for the "Nintendo DS is suited for kids’ angle.  It just bugs me to the core, considering the DS overall has a lot of games that someone of any age  should be interested in.  Its one thing to simply not like them, but the "kiddie" angle gets harder to swallow every day.  

  5. jay said on October 4, 2006:

    Multiple people have complained about the not so good chart I took from Kagan Research. I apologize that it isn’t that good but it’s the only one I could find. The percentages I throw around are not based on the chart so the content of the article is not impacted by Kagan’s odd research that indicates GBA and GB Micro games are different.

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