It's taking Sony some time to properly roll out its plans in terms how the PSP interacts with the PlayStation Network, PlayStation Store and PlayStation 3, but every firmware release is adding another piece of the puzzle.
The most recent significant change has been the release of PSP firmware v5.0 (together with v2.50 for PS3), which adds the ability to download games direct to your PSP without requiring a PC or PS3.
However, technology isn't much use without Sony also making changes to the way that publishers and developers can release their games. With that in mind, we got in touch with Zeno Colaço (pictured), vice president of publisher and developer relations for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, to find out how the whole strategy fitted together.
First off, we asked how the new direct-to-PSP distribution model would mesh with the other changes Sony is making in terms of publishing models.
"It gives publishers and developers much more scope in relation to the types of games they can release," says Colaço. "If they want to make a massive game, then they can do that, as before, as a boxed product on UMD. But if they want to do a smaller game just released online, or add downloadable content such as new characters to a UMD game, they can do that too. Customisation is a big part of what consumers want these days, so we want to empower developers to be able to add such features and deliver them however they want to."
Of course, one of the most interesting options with digital distribution is the potential flexibility it offers when it comes to reducing the cost of games. Obviously, if you're not releasing on UMD, you don't have to deal with high brick-and-mortar retail margins or the cost of manufacturing and moving the discs from factories to warehouses to shops.
"Sony's effectively the retainer for the store, so we do get a margin for handling the digital infrastructure but it's up to the publisher to set the pricing differentials for the games as they wish," states Colaço. "There are no hard or fast rules. If publishers want to sell games cheaper digitally that's within their gift."
Another issue this sort of publishing flexibility should improve is the perceived lack of games released for PSP.
Colaço says he's generally happy with the level of support the hardware gets from publishers, pointing out that around 30 games including Need For Speed, FIFA and Pro Evolution, will be released between October to December. "I think publishers see PSP as a strong third-party platform, which isn't the case on other handhelds," he says. "Worldwide sales remain bouyant and the new hardware [PSP 3000], combined with the new firmware features mean it's an attractive console for them."
Significantly, he also predicts the new distribution models will result in a wider range of releases in 2009. "I have to be careful what I say but publishers are definitely exploring more opportunities in terms of the types of games they can release on PSP, even in terms of more female-oriented games, puzzlers and less hardcore games," he says. "The opportunity we're providing with digital distribution will ignite those thoughts."
In other words, watch this space.