As it heads into what is effectively its second year in Europe, following what many expect to be a very successful Christmas period, the PSP is looking healthier than ever.
Below, then, you'll find ten reasons why the year ahead should prove the most exciting for Sony's portable PlayStation.
Ten reasons why PSP will be successful in 2007
Sorry to get you all excited, but we may as well get this one out of the way, eh? Despite the rumours and indications that Sony is toying with the idea of a PSP with video out functionality (and even the inclusion of a hard drive), a revised PSP is unlikely to show up in 2007. That's not the same thing as saying you shouldn't expect a successor to Sony's handheld at some point – one with dual analogue control would be top of our list if the PS2-to-PSP conversions continue (not to mention the arrival of PSone games) – but it's worth remembering that the company has history of taking a lot longer between hardware revisions than Nintendo, which seems to redesign the Game Boy every other week.
Disappointingly, there was no-show for either PSP peripheral promised by Sony, namely the camera and GPS add-ons in 2006. The former has since been confirmed as appearing early in the new year, although an uneasy Soviet-like official silence continues to surround the latter. Still, while some will no doubt look forward to the multimedia functions these devices will facilitate, we're far more interested in how game developers will exploit them to create fresh, new twists on established play mechanics. To be honest we're not at all bothered about knowing how to get to Stonehenge (and taking a picture when we get there) as long as we have new game experiences to keep us indoors.
|PlayStation 3's European release|
The forthcoming March arrival of PS3 isn't important because of how much money you may end up making on eBay, but because it's expected to boost the performance of PSP. Already in the US (and, admittedly less so, in Japan), PSP sales rocketed as a result of the PS3's release. Perhaps more importantly from a gaming perspective is the subsequent PSP/PS3 connectivity, not least the ability to download PSone titles.
Far more likely than a new PSP is a new price for the existing unit. Christmas already saw a number of retailers heavily discounting the recommended retail price, and while we've yet to see sales figures to try and gauge what kind of impact that may have had (if such a thing is possible to determine during the frenzied festive commercial period), it stands to reason that many potential PSP owners are put off by the comparatively high price point (in relation to DS). Don't expect miracles (a sub-£100, like £99, is very unlikely) but something closer to £120 could make a significant difference, particularly when the narrower profit margins on PSP titles makes it harder for retailers to discount them quite in the same way as DS games.
|Downloadable video content|
You're right, it's got little to do with gaming, but for some people the ability to download movies or other commercial video content on to PSP could prove particularly enticing (and we can always convert them to gamers at a subsequent stage). Signs are this is highly likely to go ahead in early 2007 (in the US, initially), with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment recently reported as currently developing a digital download service while its parent company talks with Amazon.com, MovieLink and CinemaNow to potentially offer PSP users access to content.
Films would be downloaded on to PC first and then transferred to Memory Stick, and while no pricing has yet been announced, they should cost considerably less than the silly-priced (and dying) UMD video format.
|Gran Turismo Mobile|
Thought to have disappeared down the back of the development sofa, GT Mobile was confirmed earlier this year as still being in production by developer Polyphony. That will come as a relief to the many, many people looking forward to this game, who can now realistically expect it to roll out of the garage in 2007. (Knowing Polyphony, however, don't cut our brake cable if the game doesn't materialise in the next 12 months – the point about trying to second guess the future is that you don't know exactly what will really happen!)
We've seen it all year this year, with games looking increasingly more impressive as the months went on, but there's little reason to think that PSP games have reached their technical limits. Expect developers to keep pushing the hardware throughout 2007, achieving results previously thought unfeasible.
|Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops|
Considerably more certain than the emergence of Gran Turismo on PSP is MGS: Portable Ops (the English version is already out in the US). It's obviously premature and more than a little silly to talk about game of the year before January has even started, which is precisely why we're going to stick our necks out and say this looks like a very strong contender for the title. And even if it ends up being outgunned by something better, the crucial point is that it's precisely the type of software the PSP needs in order to showcase the hardware's ability, as well as push the format (and other developers) forward. The worst thing a console can do is stagnate, after all.
|Nintendogs and co|
You can close your jaw now – Nintendogs isn't coming to PSP. But that doesn't mean that games like it and, say, Animal Crossing – titles that tap into social gaming and appeal to a far wider audience – are unlikely to turn up on Sony's handheld. In fact, the push is more than likely to come from Sony itself, as third-party publisher show themselves unwilling to risk such releases on a demographic perceived as predominantly older and male as that of the PSP's.
Agreed, there is room in the handheld landscape for the two, very different audiences both DS and PSP are currently targeting, but that doesn't mean the PSP can't venture into Nintendo territory a little more often than it currently does (in the same way that the DS seems perfectly able to include typically PSP-esque experiences as part of its repertoire without the need to subsequently see a therapist).
The beauty of doing these prediction-type articles is the fact that you can always throw in a wild one; one you hope turns out as you forecast but, in reality, have genuine doubts about. And this is ours. It's not unfair to say that Sony showed a worrying lack of attention towards its handheld creation in 2006. Sure, some firmware updates and a handful of titles did emerge, but nearly all of its focus appeared to be on the passage of its new arrival, the PS3. With the next-gen machine safely delivered (and soon to be so in Europe), perhaps this will afford the company to concentrate a little more on the other sibling.
We've previously argued that a potential successful strategy lies in promoting and supporting the gaming side of PSP, even at the detriment of the hardware's multimedia capabilities, rather than risk ending up sitting uneasily between two very different consumer factions. Having said that, we readily admit we're not commercial gods and, more crucially, we speak from the sole perspective of gamers. Whatever Sony does, at the very least it would be good to see it both totally believing in and getting behind PSP. Here's hoping.
(p.s. Excited? Then be sure to keep track of Pocket Gamer's dedicated PSP coverage over the next 12 months!)