Devil’s Advocate: No New PSP At E3

There will not be a new PSP announced at E3. Don’t believe me? Let’s consider what we know, rather than what has been rumoured.

  • Sony tell us that they have spent the last eighteen months working closely with developers to get momentum behind the PSP and make 2009 “the year of the PSP”.

  • They have only just recently begun selling the PSP in The West in a wider variety of colours to attract buyers for whom being able to colour-coordinate your handheld console with your outfit is an important consideration. It’s all about selling more PSPs.

  • Taking another leaf out of the SCEJ book, they are promoting more bundles to help drive sales. Here in the UK we’ve got the Go!View bundles arriving on the 8th May. The US are getting the lilac Hannah Montana bundle and Assassin’s Creed and Rock Band Unplugged bundles.

  • The US release of Patapon 2 as a download only title at retail is a test case for the new distribution model. A test that cannot begin until the game is released on the 5th May.

Now, what happens if Sony announce there will be a new UMD-less PSP launched just in time for Christmas. I’ll tell you what happens; there will be no “year of the PSP” this year. Why not? When they announce the new PSP, sales of the current PSP to anyone with even half an idea of what’s going on in the gaming world will collapse. Think about how many of you have already said here on TSA that you have put any decision to buy a PSP on hold until after E3 because of the rumours. US PSP sales certainly will not see the 10-15% growth this year that John Koller was predicting.

It’s not only PSP hardware sales that will collapse. Sales of UMD games will plummet too. Or are you seriously going to try and convince me that you are such a hardcore PSP gamer that you will continue to buy UMD-based games over the next few months, knowing full well that you’ll be able to buy and download a digital copy of the game before too long and not have to carry a bunch of UMDs around in your pocket. I don’t think so.

Wouldn’t reduced hardware and software sales for the next six months really annoy the developers and publishers that Sony have been courting for those eighteen months? Imagine the Sony guy having to tell them, “Guys, great work. Thanks for getting behind PSP in such a big way. Just one thing though. We’re going to announce a new PSP at E3 which will kill PSP hardware and software sales until we launch it in November. You don’t mind do you?” I really cannot see that as a conversation that would go well for Sony.

Maybe all these new big-title games that have been announced will be digital-only releases, like Patapon 2 in the US. But then why haven’t we heard from SCEE and SCEJ that they are also trying a ‘test case’ in their respective markets? We are all aware of how each of the three markets is unique in different ways. How can they be sure how consumers in each market will react? Why not wait until the US test case has been tried before making a decision?

What if the Patapon 2 experiment doesn’t work? Imagine Sony announces that it’s going for all digital releases at E3 alongside the announcement of the new PSP. Then the week after E3, Patapon 2’s first month sales figures become available and show it’s been a complete disaster at retail for a number of reasons.

Consumers who might have paid $5 more for the game at retail, instead of the cheaper PSN price, to have it physically on a UMD don’t buy it. People who might have tried it in the knowledge that they could trade it if they found they didn’t like it don’t buy it. Non-gamers (parents, grandparents, etc.) who might have bought it as a gift, but are confused because it is ‘different’ to the other UMD titles on sale or aren’t sure if Little Johnny will be able to download it, don’t buy it.

Retailers don’t give it the shelf space or promotion it might deserve because they don’t like that it cannot be traded or rented. Many games retailers earn up to 50% of their revenue from the pre-owned part of their business and if Sony’s experiment, that Patapon 2 represents, is successful it will destroy that revenue stream for the PSP. They want it to fail, so they don’t try to sell Patapon 2.

Maybe Sony have got all the answers, or at least think they do. It’s not like corporate arrogance at Sony is completely unheard of, the same as can be said of most large companies. They do hold closed-door, press-free conferences with retailers, developers and publishers. So maybe they all know and are happy with Sony’s plans.

Maybe Sony has come up with a way to protect retailer’s pre-owned revenue. Maybe developers and publishers are happy that the PSP installed-base will stop growing between now and November and that game sales between now and then are uncertain. Maybe Sony has a sure-fire way of getting those of us who already have a collection of UMD-based PSP games to upgrade to the new hardware when it comes out that doesn’t involve us having to keep our old PSPs or lose access to the games we already have.

I don’t know, but that sure sounds like an awful lot of “maybes” to me. What do you think?