Now that we’ve played a handful of PSP Minis, it’s time to weigh in on them proper. Are they any good? Will they save the PSP?
The dirty word here is obviously 'iPhone', and by extension the App Store. It’s not unusual for companies to be reluctant to reference competitors when talking about new products and services, but even when pushed as far as is strictly polite during our chats with Sony at GC this year, Sony’s stance on the matter was militant.
The line that is being toed is this: PSP Minis are their own proposition and they add value to the PSP line-up by virtue of being so well suited to the portable platform.
Evasive or not, Sony has got that much right, and based on the hands on sessions we have had with the PSP Minis launch line up things are looking good.
The quality bar is very high and ranges from iPhone hand-me-downs like Fieldrunners to brave new licenses like Kahoots to the even lower key Mahjong from G5 or Arcade Darts from Icon Games. The PSP Minis collection is already looking compelling on all fronts.
At what cost?
At least, it is as far as we know. A sizable question mark still hangs ominously over the issue of pricing. The App Store has been responsible for a dramatic shift in customer expectations when it comes to price, and the cost-to-quality ratio is more important now than ever before.
Speaking to Chillingo about its PSP Minis ambitions, company Director Chris Byatte was reluctant to confirm or deny that the PSP would receive updated versions of its games, as opposed to straight ports.
He did mention, however, that as with all developers Chillingo would be keen to make the most of the unique strengths of any platform it works on. It’s a sentiment that we heard repeatedly throughout GC, most notably from Subatomic, which has made a considerable splash by planning an upgraded version of Fieldrunners for the PSP Minis range.
With Sony’s only word on the matter being that pricing will be “competitive”, it seems plausible that Sony is potentially looking to justify slightly higher price points than on the App Store through offering higher quality games. We’re fairly confident that we are not going to see (m)any 59p games in the Minis range.
But that’s not a criticism. If games in the Minis range are at least comparable with the App Store’s middle ground, price-wise, that means current PSP owners are soon going to have a catalogue of great games available to them at price points that are less than a quarter of the averaged boxed retail game, or even a high profile download.
What's the deal with updates?
The other slightly smaller question mark hanging over PSP Minis is updates. Will they be paid? Will they be free? Will they be both?
So far, neither the people we spoke to at Sony nor the developers working on PSP Minis launch titles seem to have a firm answer for this. Perhaps that’s because the PSP has been offering updates for its games since day dot. WipEout: Pure, a PSP launch title heralded handheld DLC, both paid for and free, way before the iPhone came along.
Since then, PSP Store games large and small have received similar updates, and there’s no reason to assume that the PSP Minis will be any different (other than that the paid for updates might be a bit cheaper than your average extra level pack for a boxed retail game).
And user reviews - what about them?
So that’s all the big questions covered, bar one. If there’s one thing that developers love about the App Store, it’s that it allows them to have a direct relationship with their customers.
Sony hasn’t announced a comments system for the PSP Store yet, and the likelihood of it happening is slim. The PSP is not a device that was designed with text entry in mind and seeing as the PSP Store is chiefly an on-device channel, a comments system could become a bit of a white elephant.
But that means those all important updates that developers issue swiftly on the back of consumer feedback will not be possible for games in the PSP Minis range.
Interestingly, if the PSP Minis range is successful and more publishers move towards a multi-platform model for their games across the PSP and the iPhone, perhaps they'll make use of the App Store’s comments system to help red-flag similar issues in the PSP versions of their games.
It’s wait-and-see just now, but we could be on the cusp of the most unlikely of gaming codependencies.
Room for apps?
Lastly, some food for thought. One of the biggest surprise announcements during Sony’s GamesCom presentation was the Digital Reader, an application that will allow you to download and read Marvel Comics (and hopefully others) on your PSP. Will this pave the way for more non-gaming applications for the PSP?
Who knows? But one thing is clear: PSP Minis are more than just a cynical attempt by Sony to ape the iPhone’s successful model.
The PSP Minis we played have us very excited about the PSP’s future, and we can’t wait until October. Now if Sony will just announce that PSPgo price cut we’ve been hoping for, we'll be set.