Rapid Fire: Launching The PSP

There’s nothing more important than a system’s launch. Remember when the PS2 first came out? The system sold so well that Sony’s supply was far below the public’s demand for the new console. Remember when you couldn’t get a GBA SP for the first three months it was out? It’s no coincidence that these two systems went on to become two of the most successful products the game industry has ever seen. And, of course, it works both ways. When the GameCube launched with Luigi’s Mansion as its flagship title, the system started out slow and never really recovered.

The most important date in the PSP’s entire existence will be March 24, 2005 – the day that the system is released to the gaming public. This is the day where Sony sees how effective their pre-launch efforts have been. While Sony has come up with a quality package for its handheld customers, the package will run gamers $50 more than originally expected. This puts a bad taste in the mouths of cost-conscious gamers, not to mention those people who will draw the inevitable comparisons between the PSP and the DS.

So, is the PSP package worth 249 of your hard-earned dollars? Let’s break it down piece-by-piece and see what exactly Sony is offering here.

Sony’s Launch Package
Sony PSP System. Obviously, you get the system when you buy the PSP package. You have access to all of the PSP’s games and its’ PS2-caliber graphics. You also get a multi-faceted device capable of playing music and movies, albeit with a shorter battery life than anybody would like.

According to SCEA president Kaz Hirai, “Today’s consumer demands access to entertainment outside the home without compromising quality.” Gamers worldwide will have to decide if the PS2’s notoriously short battery life would be considered as “compromising quality.” If so, consider the PSP’s added features useless.
Importance of Sony PSP System: Highest possible importance.

32 MB Memory Stick Duo. Sony has done the smart thing here by including the media necessary to save games, which is nice of them when you consider that they’ve traditionally charged gamers $25 for the right to save their progress. Since the cheapest Memory Stick available is a $40 SanDisk 128 MB Memory Stick PRO Duo, Sony’s doing quite a favor to the gamers of the world.

Of course, this isn’t an entirely altruistic measure by Sony. The people behind the PSP aren’t stupid. They know that if they can get a Memory Stick into your possession, you might be more inclined to purchase a Sony digital camera or Sony camcorder – after all, you already have the storage media the device requires, which will save a few bucks. Even though 32 MB is an extremely nominal amount – as in, you might get 20 pictures out of it on your average digital camera – it still puts additional Sony products in the household, which can’t be underestimated.
Importance of 32 MB Memory Stick Duo: Deceptively significant.

Headphones With Remote Control. One of the biggest gripes that people had with the original GBA SP was its lack of a headphone jack. Sony has made sure that people cannot possibly complain about its audio package by including not only headphones, but a remote control to go along with it. The headphones, obviously, keeps innocent bystanders from having to hear the sounds of your NBA Street contest. The remote control is a nice touch as well.

But the remote control also points to a potential problem in the system’s portability. More specifically, once it goes into your pocket, it’s not going to be very convenient getting it out. This is an area where the DS has the PSP licked; however, it’s not like anybody is going to be playing music out of their DS anytime soon, so it’s a tradeoff most gamers will be comfortable with. Give Sony credit for addressing one of its system’s shortcomings right out of the gate and providing a very practical solution.
Importance of Headphones With Remote Control: A nice touch, but not a deal-breaker.

Non-Interactive Demo Disc. What kind of crap is this? Would it have killed Sony to put some playable demos on here? Sure, it’s nice to see how it plays music and movies, but this is supposed to be a video game system first, right? Right?!?
Importance of Non-Interactive Demo: After two weeks with the PSP, it’ll make a wonderful coaster. Extremely negligible.

Soft Case/Cleaning Cloth. Yeah, we’re reaching the bottom of the barrel here, but don’t overlook these two additions to the package. Think about it – Sony didn’t have to include a case with their PSP. In fact, you’d almost expect them to charge an extra $15 for it. Same with the cleaning cloth. Sony did a great job of including the little things with the PSP so that you could play it right out of the box with no additional purchases, and here’s proof.
Importance of Soft Case/Cleaning Cloth: Not necessary, but generous and appreciated.

Spider-Man 2 (for the first million US buyers). You can either pay $35 for the DS version, or get the game for free by pulling the trigger early on the PSP. This is a nice throw-in for those people who know they want a PSP and for those who are on the fence regarding the system. When was the last time anybody included a top-quality full version of a big-name game with the purchase of a system?

Now, it’s up to Sony to make sure Spider-Man 2 PSP holds up to the standards the PS2 version has set. This is a sort of test for the PSP, as people will compare it to its Sony-based predecesor. If the two are indistinguishable, the PSP gets a major boost. But if the handheld version is significantly lacking, that sets the new system back a notch.
Importance of Spider-Man 2: Cool throw-in, but more important as a measuring stick for the PSP’s quality.

Before we get into the games, let’s look at the package above. You can look at it two different ways…

– Yeah, it’s $249, but look at all the things you get with it!
– Yeah, you get a lot of things with it, but it’s $249!

Whether you favor the package or not depends on which resonates more clearly with you – the prohibitive price or the goodies Sony threw in. Clearly, Sony went for the jugular here, as they don’t include a Memory Stick, protective case, and a free game for no reason. Sony has never put together a package like this for a video game system, a package where everything a gamer needs is right in the box. Even if you’re not willing to spend an extra $50 to have a PSP, you have to give Sony credit for going above and beyond what’s customary for a system’s launch.

Of course, you can’t ignore that price! Japan offers a base package with just the bare essentials, which is not being sold in America. Sony apparently feels its package will entice people to spend the extra cash, so much so that they’ve eliminated all alternatives. So it’s a 20 percent price hike that gamers are looking at if they want to get the PSP at launch; for some people, they just can’t spare $50 more for a new video game system. Really, it all depends on the gamer,the gamer’s bankroll, and the gamer’s desire to pick up a PSP.

The Games
This desire, of course, is determined in large part by the games available upon launch. Quality games (or the lack thereof) can make or break a system’s launch, and Sony has done everything possible to make the PSP’s initial lineup as appealing as possible. They’ve done this mostly by bringing previously successful franchises to the new handheld in the hopes that big-name games will result in big-time sales.

Here’s the list of games, taken right from O’Reilly’s news post

— Ape Escape(R): On the Loose, Sony Computer Entertainment America
— ATV Offroad Fury(R): Blazin’ Trails, SCEA
— Darkstalkers Chronicle(TM): The Chaos Tower, Capcom
— Dynasty Warriors(R), KOEI
— FIFA 2005, Electronic Arts
— Gretzky(TM) NHL(R), Sony Computer Entertainment America
— Lumines(TM), Ubisoft
— Metal Gear Acid(TM), Konami
— MLB(TM), Sony Computer Entertainment America
— MVP Baseball, Electronic Arts
— NBA, Sony Computer Entertainment America
— NBA Street Showdown, Electronic Arts
— Need for Speed(TM) Rivals, Electronic Arts
— NFL Street 2 Unleashed, Electronic Arts
— Rengoku(TM): Tower of Purgatory, Konami
— Ridge Racer(TM), Namco
— Smartbomb, Eidos Interactive
— Spider-Man 2(TM), Activision
— Tiger Woods PGA TOUR(R), Electronic Arts
— Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 Remix, Activision
— Twisted Metal: Head On(TM), Sony Computer Entertainment America
— Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, Sony Online Entertainment
— Wipeout(R) Pure, Sony Computer Entertainment America
— World Tour Soccer, Sony Computer Entertainment America

A lot of these names look familiar, no? Sony apparently has backed off of its initial “no ports” stance and has embraced the concept of bringing famous names to its system. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? That all depends on your mindset as a gamer.

The average Sony gamer loves this. They might not be getting a ton of new content, but they know that their favorite series will be playable on the PSP. For quite a few people, that’s grounds for purchase right there. The fact that they’ll all (tentatively) be available on March 24, 2005 adds a lot of credibility to the launch of the PSP.

However, a lot of people aren’t going to be in favor of this lineup; namely, the people who bought the DS for its potential for innovation. As much as people love the big names, there’s a growing contingent of people who are tired of getting the same games over and over again. These people are going to avoid the PSP like the plague; then again, odds are good that they were turned off of the PSP from the very start due to its battery issues and lack of a game-centric focus.

It’s a matter of tastes here, and that has more to do with a purchase than anything else written in this column. If you have each version of Grand Theft Auto, the PSP is for you. If you thought GTA3 was enough for the next five years and are looking for something new, you might want to take a look at the DS. Nobody’s wrong here. In fact, it’s actually a good thing that the differences in the types of games for each system are so striking, so that it can clearly be seen what works in terms of sales and quality.

The Final Verdict
Sony has pulled out all the stops for the PSP’s launch – tons of throw-ins, a top-notch launch lineup, and, of course, a system that can do many different things. Is it worth $249? Probably. But that all depends on how willing you are to play Sony’s titles and deal with its subpar battery life.

No matter what your feelings on the system, you’d be hard-pressed to say that Sony didn’t step its game up in order to justify the system’s increase in price. Sony has made it very clear what will be included in the launch package and, by extension, what won’t be included. And what you’re getting is a great deal of stuff. Assuming you’re one of the first million to put your money down, you’re not going to have to buy anything else besides the $249 PSP launch package, and it’s been a while since people could say that. Sony could very easily charge an arm and a leg for accessories, but they’re not doing it this time. While their motives are somewhat questionable, the gamer scores a major coup.

The bottom line – if the games turn you off, no amount of bundled goodies are going to get you to plunk down the $249 Sony is asking for. Games do more to sell a system than anything else, especially at launch time, and the games have to speak to you in order for you to be impressed. However, if you’re interested in a good number of the launch titles, the PSP is not only a solid alternative to the DS, but it is certainly a worthwhile investment.