Editor’s note: Julian makes the case for the PSP Go as an Apple App Store-like open platform, but he isn’t just writing from the perspective of a gamer — he also developed the indie Xbox Live game Groov. Makes sense, but is Sony forward-thinking enough to actually do it? -Demian
After listening to the Bitmob crew discuss the PSP Go on Mobcast 13, I couldn’t help but notice that the guys sounded decidedly less than enthused. Sony is committed to re-launching the PSP brand this fall, but their plan doesn’t fix many of the issues that have previously dogged the platform. My idea wouldn’t address the device’s exorbitant price or lack of a second analog stick, but it could very possibly invigorate its software sales and maybe even address its long-standing piracy woes.
The most exciting feature of the PSP Go is its emphasis on digital distribution. UMD has been a relatively useless format or a while, and since Sony has already announced the ability for users to transfer digital copies of the UMD games they already own to their PSP Go, those little disks really have no business hanging around anymore. The PSP Go’s digital-only distribution model is a first for conventional game platforms, and could potentially signal even further innovations in the way that Sony delivers content to customers.
On the Mobcast, Shoe criticized Sony’s attempts at mimicking the iPhone’s distribution model without having the guts to take it all the way. This is right on the money: not only should Sony take Apple’s notion of an open platform and run with it, they should take it further than Apple itself has. The iPhone is an awesome device and the App Store allows independent developers to deliver metric tons of original content directly to users. However, the device itself is limited in what kinds of experiences it can offer. If Sony opens its platform to huge publishers and small independents alike, it would take full advantage of its digital-only distribution model and give gamers a whole bunch of reasons to get excited about the PSP Go.
While I love really innovative games that take advantage of the iPhone hardware (Drop 7 is my latest addiction/background for podcast listening), I’ve yet to be convinced that even the simplest of traditional games, like the original Mario, could be implemented on the platform. Even The Secret of Monkey Island, a simple point-and-click adventure game, has frustrating control issues relating to the accuracy of the touch screen and accelerometers. While virtual gamepads have been implemented into some games with varying degrees of success, nothing beats the tactile feel of real buttons when you’re craving a traditional gaming experience.
While the PSP Go’s lack of a dual-stick analog setup may pose problems for more modern styles of gameplay, there is no doubt that deep, traditional gaming experiences can still be had on the device, far more so than on the iPhone.
Microsoft has made a similar foray into the realm of an open platform for indie developers: Xbox Live Indie Games (formerly Community Games). Having developed a game for the platform (Groov), I know firsthand the advantages and disadvantages of such a distribution model, on which I could write an entirely different article. However, Sony could learn from the mistakes that Microsoft has made by having large publishers like EA and Activision release their games in the same open marketplace that small indie developers do.
Microsoft has a segmented online marketplace, and Indie Games are at the bottom of the ladder. After retail releases and their accompanying DLC, the newly announced Games on Demand, and the ever-pricier Xbox Live Arcade, Indie Games occupy a space on Microsoft’s agenda somewhere between themes and pants for your avatar (that’s taking into account the recent price re-jiggering of Indie Games, of course). While Microsoft’s approach works for them, and I’m extremely grateful that I was even able to create a game for a major console that anyone can buy, it does severely limit the visibility that small games can get on Xbox Live.
If every publisher or developer submitted their games to the same open PSP Go marketplace, the smaller indie titles would be given an enormous opportunity to rise to the top. Furthermore, if Sony followed Microsoft and Apple’s lead by implementing a proprietary ratings system and a “hands off” approach to certification, the cost of entry would be significantly reduced for big publishers, and the exclusion of retailers from the equation would free up their pricing schemes as well, allowing them to really let loose and create games that would normally be too high-risk to get approved.
Of course, Sony would need to work out many details to get the experience right. “Web 2.0″ functionality like tags, user ratings, comments, and social networking integration should be included in the marketplace, along with strong editorial content from Sony regarding interesting releases, and developer/publisher pages that would allow consumers to quickly find the next big thing from EA or the latest experiment from a well-regarded indie developer.
My plan definitely isn’t without its faults, but a completely open traditional gaming platform is something that I’d at least begrudgingly pay $250 for, not only as a developer, but also as a gamer.