Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Article Re:"Why Sony's PSP2 (NGP) will fail"

Thought I might try another piece idea. Commenting on another article from another site. Not necessarily always agreeing or disagreeing, but just analyzing the arguments and points being made, and giving my stance on the subject. 
This piece is a point-by-point response to this article over at Destructoid.com, titled "Why Sony's PSP2 will fail."

For starters, the article has a sensationalist title. Good tactic for grabbing attention, but I think it just brings about a less intelligent dialogue as some passionate supporters of the subject at hand post their knee-jerk reactions, and people who are passionately against the subject at hand post their knee-jerk reactions, at which point the groups hurl insults at each other rather than discussing anything.

The article begins with a paragraph running through the various technology in the NGP, so we'll cut to the first point of interest;
"Is Sony misinterpreting the handheld market by betting, as usual, on technological superiority?" "As a company, Sony is adept at building sleek devices laden with bleeding-edge technology. But they have proven themselves less skilled at selling the mass market on those high-tech gadgets, especially in the gaming space since the last console generation. Of course, those issues are related: filling gaming devices with the latest and greatest tech ensures that they will be prohibitively expensive at launch and for many months thereafter, which, in turn, limits the potential market to technolust-afflicted early adopters. That was how the early years of the original PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3 played out, which is to be expected when you price your hardware at $249 and $499/$599, respectively."
In a way, I think they are misinterpreting the handheld market. In the same way, but to a lesser degree, I believe Nintendo has priced the 3DS at a higher profit margin than any of their hardware before it, and is misinterpreting the handheld market. It remains that if my theory is true they have considerable room to drop the price and still earn a profit off the hardware, if the market responds negatively to the price. Sony as of late -has- been betting on technological superiority, and generally it doesn't seem to be putting them in the lead in most of their product divisions. With the NGP, if it starts at anything below $400, then I believe they won't have the same luxury of dropping the price if the market responds negatively without selling the hardware at a loss.
"Nintendo -- with both the DS and Wii -- provided the right mix of relatively cheap hardware with a gimmick and software with mass-market appeal. It remains to be seen whether the gimmick of glasses-free 3D will be enough to draw customers to the 3DS, especially in light of its $249 price tag and weak software lineup at launch. Still, I see a greater sales potential right now for the 3DS than for the NGP -- even at $249, $50 more than the Wii -- because the 3DS and Wii offer completely different experiences. Is it possible, even likely, that we’ll see spin-offs of Wii games on the 3DS? Sure, but they’ll still have to be designed specifically for the portable hardware."
Nintendo has very successfully used inexpensive hardware as a part of their strategy as of late (and earlier via the Game Boy line). They somehow seem to predict and produce titles with mega mass-market appeal; titles that to many experienced gamers would simply be interesting diversions, but to a wider market are enough of a reason to buy the system. Because Nintendo sells hardware for profit, this means that the effort towards one of these mega mass-market appeal titles nets them a reward exponentially higher than the reward from a title that might appeal only to experienced gamers. He mentions a "weak software lineup at launch" for the 3DS, but fails to clarify in what regard. If he's looking at it from the same mass-market appeal standpoint that made the DS and Wii such huge successes, then it's very true; the price and the game selection in the launch window have little hope of propelling the 3DS to the same level of success as the DS and Wii. That doesn't seem to be Nintendo's strategy at the beginning of the 3DS's life, instead focusing more on experienced gamers. His final statement about how the 3DS versions of games shared between the Wii and 3DS inherently have to be designed differently is faulty, I believe. When using the IR pointer of the Wii remote along with a Nunchuk, you have a fairly comparable set-up on the 3DS; one analog stick, one pointer input (touch-screen on 3DS, IR on Wii), a shoulder button and d-pad in reach, and motion sensors and gyroscopes ready for the using. We're already seeing something across 3DS and Wii like this in Rodea: The Sky Soldier.
"Sony is touting the NGP as a handheld device capable of “console-quality” games. At PlayStation Meeting 2011, a cavalcade of publishers pledged their support for the NGP, trotting out their heavy-hitting console IPs: Uncharted, Lost Planet, Yakuza, Call of Duty. Sony presumably brought those companies on stage in the hopes that their presence would instill confidence in the NGP (since the PSP has always suffered from a lack of third-party support), and would impress the millions of fans of those franchises. Hideo Kojima came out and showed a cutscene from Metal Gear Solid 4 rendered natively on the NGP, running at 20 frames per second, as if to say, “Look at what this baby can do!” 

Were you impressed? I wasn’t. 

Sorry, but the prospect of console-quality games on a handheld doesn’t really excite me. If I want a console-quality experience, well, I’ll just play a console game, thankyouverymuch. Big-budget console titles are designed to immerse you within their finely crafted environments, and on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, an HDTV and surround sound go a long way toward that end. If I’m playing something like Uncharted orKillzone, I want to be sitting in front of a big-screen TV so I can really be drawn into the world, not hunched over and squinting at a five-inch screen while I’m on the subway. The idea that playing that kind of game on a small screen can resemble the console experience is almost as absurd as thinking you can truly experience a film on your '****ing telephone.'"
He's expressed that he isn't excited about playing the typified home console game experience on a handheld console. Fair enough. In this situation, I agree, but I have to make it a point to say it's only true for me when the portable experience is more expensive than a very comparable home console experience. The price of the NGP hasn't been stated or implied to be any certain range, and we can't look into the future to see what kind of games the NGP will keep getting, ports of home console games or otherwise, so it's a full blown assumption that the NGP will be more expensive than a version of the PS3 and have similar games. But I think it's a fair assumption to make at this juncture. As I said, I need this price caveat to be true to agree. When the author uses the fairly daft exaggeration "hunched over and squinting at a five-inch screen while I'm on the subway" he swiftly overlooks sitting at home, or playing with headphones plugged in and tuned out from the rest of the world, and implies that a five inch screen is small and squint-worthy. That, my friend, is absurd. Again, price is a very fair issue to dwell on, but that HDTV and surround-sound speaker set easily exceed any price you could imagine the NGP being. In this way, I find that the trade-offs leave the handheld leading most often. Then again, if you don't need this high-end "theater" experience, then the PS3 might be cheaper than the NGP.
"Yet many of the publisher representatives who presented games at the NGP unveiling seemed delighted by the ease with which they were able to produce NGP ports of PS3 engines. I don’t see much appeal in playing a console game that a developer has ported to a portable (because, again, I’d simply prefer to play it on a console, even if the NGP’s second analog stick makes console-to-portable ports more feasible). I’d much rather play games that have been built from the ground up for the NGP. 

Consider that the very best Wii games have been exclusives; they were developed with the unique characteristics of the console in mind. The same applies for any gaming system, but it is doubly true for distinctive devices like the 3DS and NGP. I expect to eventually see a handful of great non-ported, NGP-exclusive games like Little Deviants -- especially since the hardware offers a diverse array of inputs (e.g., rear touchpad, two cameras) -- but Sony’s initial emphasis on reproducing the graphical horsepower of console games is worrisome."
It's quite true, many of the Wii's objectively best games are exclusive efforts. A quick look at my collection reminds me that the most cherished experiences I've had on the system are exclusive titles. And so it is for most consoles, but I've always felt that in general, video game enthusiasts put too much value on exclusives, and "professional" video game reviewers put too much negative emphasis on a title that is a remake or port of an existing game. As I look at the 3DS launch window line-up, I certainly note that almost none of them are completely new games in a franchise, and further still some of them are ports. But they are still experiences I haven't tasted yet. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3D is a great example; highly acclaimed upon it's original release, yet subsequent ports of the game don't retain similar acclaim despite being pretty much the same acclaimed experience. How does time diminish the quality of an experience?

Since I brought up that point about the 3DS's launch line-up of ports and retreads, I feel I need to bring up the NGP's potential launch line-up of ports and retreads. I poo-pooed it a bit in this piece of mine. It's true that most of those games would likewise be new experiences to me, but again my point is that, starting at square-one with both systems upon the NGP's launch, the PS3 and it's games will likely be the cheapest alternative. And depending on the television set you already have, it will be a nicer looking experience.
"Another argument against console-type experiences on a handheld device is the current state of the handheld gaming market, which has undergone a transformation since the PSP first launched six years ago. That sea change is, of course, the intrusion of smartphones. The future is obviously trending toward convergence -- toward a world where we carry around one pocket-size gadget that serves as a mobile phone, music and game player, and Web access device. I think there’s still a place for dedicated portable gaming systems -- at least for now -- since most of the games currently available on iOS and Android simply aren’t as deep or fulfilling as the experiences that devices such as the DS and PSP offer.

But it seems to me that the market is trending toward convergence on the hardware side, and on the software side toward games that are designed to be played in bite-size chunks. The way in which people play portable games is already changing; more and more, the games that achieve success on the level of phenomena like Angry Birds or Brain Age can be experienced a few stages or puzzles at a time -- five minutes while standing in line at Chipotle, ten minutes while waiting for the bus.

What was the last console game you played in that manner? I don’t know about you, but I completed Uncharted 2 in a few multiple-hour sittings. Those games just aren’t meant to be enjoyed like that, and if they’re going to work on the NGP, their developers will have to rework them completely. But if you ask me, it’s a moot point. I think that smartphone gaming will eventually grow to encompass the kinds of extensive portable experiences that currently exist only on the DS and PSP, in addition to today’s slate of mostly pithy games, which will pave the way for next-generation smartphones to make dedicated mobile gaming devices obsolete as the consumer desire for convergence skyrockets."
I really don't think the future is so obviously trending in the direction that the author implies. Each company making computers, making phones, making gaming consoles and games do what they do well because they aren't focusing on everything at once. Sony definitely has the greatest potential to do everything at once and do it well, but their insistence to make the NGP and the PlayStation phone separate devices leads me to believe that they either don't want full convergence (have fans buy multiple products of their making), or don't think it to be a sure bet at success at any of the parts involved.

The author delves into how the general market plays their games on the go, but throughout the article he never clarifies what he wants out of portable gaming. He doesn't want the typified console level experience, that's for sure, but he never says if the App Store market is in line with what he wants from a portable device that playes games or if he thinks the 3DS market will be more in line with what he wants. I think it was a point he should have mentioned. Though, if he has to squint at a five inch display, I'm not sure he carries any portable devices capable of gaming on him. To answer his question about the last game I played "a few stages at a time"; I'm currently playing Donkey Kong Country Returns in exactly this manner.

Got any of your own comments on the original article? Got any comments on my comments on the article? Let me hear 'em in the comments section.


  1. "To answer his question about the last game I played "a few stages at a time"; I'm currently playing Donkey Kong Country Returns in exactly this manner."

    Just finished collecting the letters and puzzle pieces today with my wife...we've had a blast with the game so far!

    As for the article and its points, I think the point about not wanting "console-type experiences" on a handheld is interesting, and the points about Brain Age and Angry Birds were good examples.

    I also think New Super Mario Bros. DS and Mario Kart DS are more simple games, where you can play a few levels, race a few races...then hop off.
    Perhaps Nintendo understands the mobile market better from a games perspective...I don't know.

    Again though, I don't want to speculate on anything really...because we don't know the price yet. If Sony says, "Hey, it's $250 guys!", I would imagine most articles like this would disappear quickly...now if Sony goes the $400 route...probably a different story.

  2. Darn. I clicked off of the page without posting the comment I wrote. I'll try to recreate it.

    If there isn't a data-contract involved with getting a $250 version of the NGP, then my jaw will be on the floor at the losses I assume they would take on the device at that price. My surprise would be that they are willing to take that loss again, really. An estimate of the manufacturing cost of the PS3 at launch: http://www.xbitlabs.com/news/multimedia/display/20061117130000.html

    And the PS3 took about 4 years before they started making profit off of it. The idea is to let profit come from software, but if the market responds to the NGP like they did the PSP, then they can't rely on software for profit. If they price the NGP close to the 3DS, then they definitely have a chance at coaxing a few customers away from a 3DS, but as I mentioned, I think Nintendo can respond with a lower price without taking a loss.

    Donkey Kong Country Returns keeps surprising me with all of it's variety. As a single player experience, I think it beats any other platformer on Wii. Though multiplayer New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a really unbeatable experience, in my eyes.