Sony is Going after the touch

October 3, 2009

It's like a touch with a slideout of awesome.This weekend, Sony launched the PSP Go. It is 35% smaller, adds 16GB of flash, a nicer display, and sports a slider that makes the device look very clean when closed. To accommodate this, it drops the UMD drive, seals the battery, and ups the price. It appears Sony has Apple envy.

The gaming press savaged the Go this weekend with a raft of negative reviews. Critics abound claim the PSP Go will fail: why buy the Go for $249 if you can’t play your existing UMDs, when you can get the old PSP for $169? Hardcore gamers that have PSPs and UMDs want answers.

The Go is not for hardcore gamers. It’s for people who want an iPod touch. These are people who would never even consider lugging around a half-pound original PSP with a stack of little discs. They don’t even know what a UMD is. Sony already owns the hardcore gamer mobile market, and is losing money at it, while Nintendo and Apple are raking in the dough from people who are just interested in having fun with a stylish device.

Sony posted its first yearly loss in 14 years this summer. Although they deny it, The Fireball is right: every device Sony makes is under threat from the iPhone platform. The Go is the first sign that they are alive, and reacting.

That’s fine, the reviewers say, but why the hell is the Go more expensive, rather than less? This is the true genius. Of course the tighter design, sliding mechanism, and internal flash make the hardware somewhat more expensive. Further, the software attach rate will be lower for these casual gamers (and zero for the retail outlets that sell the hardware), so they need a higher margin on the hardware.

Still, there are subtler reasons for the high price point. There’s the known effect that a higher priced alternative makes the lower priced product more appealing. Plus, Sony is making this a desirable product simply by charging more for something that looks better: every teenaged boy on the bus won’t have one.

So yes, the Go’s software download and update process is as terrible as Sony’s always has been. And yes, the volume of the Go will probably be low at this price point. However, I think it’s a smart move, and if they get the software side up to par, they could have a chance at staying in the game.

© Allen Pike. See also Twitter and Steamclock.