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Sony: PSPgo Was Planned All Along

A recent interview with the head of SCEA's product planning division, Naoya Matsui, revealed that the platform holder planned to ship a UMD-free PlayStation Portable since the very beginning. In fact, the company set its sights to release this 'network centric' model when the digital market eventually matured. But many disgruntled PSP owners may think otherwise: the UMD access times lacked, the format failed commercially, and now the company seems to be covering up those facts by saying "oh we meant to eventually discontinue UMD."

Convenient.

'We'd planned to release a PSP model without a UMD drive since the very beginning,' Matsui told GameBusiness. 'But if we'd simply released the hardware, there wouldn't have been much for everyone to enjoy. We needed to prepare the right environment for it first-- things like the transferral of content with the PS3 and PSN, and PC software to manage content like music and movies such as 'Media Go'.

Of course, taking a sarcastic note, let's forget the fact that Sony could have designed the PSP to read games from cartridges or DS-style game cards. Let's also forget the millions invested in developing, promoting and distributing UMD games and movies since the PSP-1000's debut. But hey, Sony planned this all along, right? The thing to consider is that UMDs (Universal Media Disks) hold 900 MB on a single-layer disc, 1.8 GB on a dual-layer disc. The question to ask is if technology was available in 2004 to hold that kind of data in a cartridge or game card format. To find that answer, just take a look at the specs for the Nintendo DS game card: they can hold up to 256 MB of data. With that said, the technology just wasn't there, and if it was, it was just too expensive.

'We wanted to release it when the delivery of digital content was on par with the delivery of physical media,' Matsu continued. 'That's what we've been working on these past two years. We'll be selling the PSPgo alongside the existing PSP models, because it's a product targeted at those people who are more accustomed to digital content.' That actually makes sense: the industry is moving towards digital distribution, and this is Sony's way of adapting to the times.

Recently Nintendo showed signs of adapting to the times by releasing the DSi, the lastest DS portable model featuring a single DS game card slot; the previous DS and DS Lite models featured an additional Game Boy Advance cartridge slot. However, Nintendo too is embracing digital distribution through its online store via the DSi's embedded browser. With that said, the Nintendo DSi serves as Sony's biggest handheld contender, and with the upcoming PSPgo, the company can better compete with Nintendo's new handheld console over the UMD-laden PSP-3000.

Was the PSPgo always in the works? Looking back to 2004, it was probably conceived to be an eventual migration. Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony... every multimedia hardware manufacturer across the globe has probably imagined products that will eventually cross over into the completely digital realm--that fact in itself should be a given.

But we're really not buying the whole "we're waiting for a mature market" story. Current PSP models can access content via the PlayStation 3 and a PC; the digital access has been there for a long while. It hasnt been until recently that Sony kicked up the digital content on its network, taking cues from Apple and Microsoft that consumers actually do want to download digital content outside old-school games and gaming clips. Perhaps the digital market has indeed matured after all as Matsui stated.

Still, we're betting that the PSPgo's existence is solely based on the UMD's failure, and the threat of Nintendo's DSi. Actually, we're more inclined with the latter, as it doesn't seem like a coincidence that the PSPgo is hitting the market months after the DSi. With the current PSP-3000 model ranked fifth as of May 2009, Sony has a lot of catching up to do if it wants to regain footing with developers and consumers. That means dumping a lot of digital content onto the PlayStation Network before the device goes retail in October.