3 Reasons NGP is the Future of Portables (and 3 Why It Will Crash and Burn)

Most of the games media industry is currently in female-Beatles-fan gush mode over Sony’s new portable, the NGP. Reading the liveblogs coming out of Tokyo on Jan. 27 was a bit overwhelming, as on a few of them, you could almost feel the squee! buzzing through the electrical lines carrying the news away from Japan. As with lots of new technologies, the people enthusiastic about it gathered around to worship at Sony’s altar.

Having read most of the coverage, as well as the Sony specs, I can say that despite the initial outpouring of nerd-excitement, the NGP is an impressive machine. There are a few aspects of the Sony’s handheld that could really be phenomenal, especially given the tough state of Sony’s portable business right now. With Sony’s outreach to mobile gaming and its super-powerful, PS3-compatible technology, the NGP could really be the portable gaming system for which we’ve all been waiting.

But it isn’t all double-rainbows and cute little puppy turds, however. Everyone’s drooling over the NGP and its godlike Playstation-emulating capabilities, but this new Sony machine could very well be the final nail in Sony’s quickly descending (portable) coffin. Sony’s out of touch with the directions of modern gaming, and with the NGP, it’s meet the new boss, same as the old boss — another overpriced portable that caters to the big publishing and developing houses, and not to the wishes of players.

So here’s my analysis: three reasons the NGP could be portable gaming’s messiah, and three more why the Ubermensch of handhelds isn’t really all that uber at all.

NGP as the next Jesus

1. Playstation Suite

The single most forward-thinking aspect of the NGP isn’t its hardware or anything to do with how you control it — in fact, everything about the NGP is old hat when it comes to how it plays games (for touch screens, see any number of mobile phones and tablet PCs and even the Nintendo DS). The most modern and intelligent thing about it is its compatibility with the portable gaming market that’s exploding right now — mobile gaming.

I rail about mobile a lot, because every time I look at it, I’m more impressed. But here’s the bottom line: there are millions of players who play games on their smartphones, and Sony is letting them pay for, download and play its Playstation-branded games. That’s where portable gaming is going, and the NGP could potentially be a phenomenal vessel to use to get there.

Playstation Suite is an app for phone’s running Google’s Android operating system, that’ll allow phones to download emulated PS One games and new Playstation-branded games. The NGP will have PS Suite, too, which will give it a portal to possible bite-sized, casual games that can be played against a huge number of players. And if PS Suite goes to iPhone (and it possibly could, given a recent statement from SCE CEO Kaz Harai), it’ll be even more enormous. With a monster multiplayer community and potentially bargain-priced, casual pick-up-and-play games, Playstation Suite could help Sony take its first step into a larger world.

2. Kojima’s Vision of Truly Portable Gaming

During Sony’s Playstation Meeting in Tokyo, Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima showed Metal Gear Solid 4 running on the NGP and spoke about his hopes for a day when a gamer could play MGS at home, sync an NGP with his or her PS3, and continue playing on the go — the same game in the same place, with no break in between. A truly portable experience, not just a machine that plays watered-down, small-scale versions of popular games.

It’s hard to be too hopeful about the possibilities, especially given that Kojima talked about that capability, rather than Sony. But that feature, if it is actually a real thing, could be enough to sustain the NGP through what is quickly becoming an antiquated model for pocket video games.

Today, in a fight between PSP versions of Metal Gear Solid and games like Angry Birds, Angry Birds is winning — handily. The games are smaller, cheaper, easier to play and — dare I say it — more engaging. But the slice of the population that would love to stop an MGS4 game and have to leave home and jump on a bus to work, only to pick up on an NGP right where they left off, is an absolutely massive audience. I would even go so far as to say there’s not a single PS3 owner who wouldn’t pay a lot for the privilege. And there are quite a few Xbox 360 loyalists who would jump ship for it, too. If Sony really, truly commits to serving the “hardcore” gaming community, as it seems it has, this would be the way to do it.

3. A Worthy Playstation 3 Companion

Yes, the PSP has the ability to link up with the PS3, trade data, and maybe even operate as a controller. But Sony needs to take a page from Apple in this regard: the NGP needs to be capable of connecting with Sony’s machine, grabbing digital copies of movies from blu-ray disc packages, and basically act as a replacement smartphone on the Playstation network. This thing needs to stream movies over Wi-Fi from PSN and the PS3, it needs to act as a controller, it needs to offer things that real Playstation gamers are going to absolutely love — and it’s going to need to offer them for free.
The NGP needs to function so well in relationship with a PS3 that non-NGP PS3 owners are going to see the two devices in action together and think to themselves, God, how much better would my life be if I had that thing?

Apple is working on this right now with its AirPlay functionality, which lets the company’s devices talk to each other over a local Wi-Fi network. The NGP could do the same thing, expanding Sony’s attempts at making the PS3 an entertainment hub by unbridling it from your TV. The PS3 might be the center of a lot of players’ entertainment universes, but they shouldn’t have to be in the center of their houses to enjoy it. Other technologies are mastering that capability: Sony has the opportunity to do so, as well.

NGP as a Future Smoking Pile of Failure

1. Sony Has No Idea What It’s Doing

Sony is flailing right now. Relative to the Nintendo DS and even smartphone gaming, the PSP has been on the decline almost since it was launched. Sony is using the same strategy  it has been for the last two decades — more power, more power, more power. It hasn’t worked with the Playstation 3, it hasn’t worked with the PSP, and it won’t work with the NGP.

There’s no better illustration that Sony has absolutely no direction for its portable business than the NGP itself. The device is an amalgamation of everything that’s working for other devices right now — if it had been rolled out with glasses-free 3D, I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least. Sony is clutching at every straw it can get its hands on in an attempt to find a magic bullet that will make it competitive in mobile and portable gaming: the link to Android, the touchscreen and touch pad controls, the analog sticks, the downloadable games, and even the near-PS3-caliber games are all an attempt to find something that’ll make some damn money, and none of it is innovative. At its core, it’s the same old Sony — the same mentality that has been causing the company to lose marketshare to its major competitors for the last five years.

Here’s a really simple point of comparison: the Xbox 360 has outsold the PS3 (although by a small margin), and the Xbox 360’s failure rate is, last I read, just a little less than double that of the PS3. That’s a statistical fact — the Xbox breaks more often than the PS3. It’s a weaker system that lacks blu-ray capability and overall hardware power. So why is the PS3 losing that fight, or only keeping it close? Because Sony’s overdriven, premium-priced hardware philosophy for the PS3 simply did not work.

Now Sony’s using the exact same overdrive strategy on the NGP as it has with the PS3, and it’ll have similar results, just like it has with the PSP. You’re going to get NGP games that are all over the map as far as control and technology, but none of them will be unique to the system — they’ll feel like PS3 games that aren’t as well-made, with tacked on augmented reality systems or touch controls for novelty. But at their heart, these will be games you’ll have played before, that were a better and more exciting experience, on your big TV at home. So why would you buy games that are the same experience or worse than what you have at home? Why would you pay Sony for the privilege of playing UMD games you already own? And if Sony truly s–ts the bed on this and doesn’t make PS3 games NGP-compatible in some way, why would you pay for full-priced games twice?

2. A Shotgun Approach to Stupid Features

OH MY GOD THE NGP WILL HAVE TROPHIES.

The gaming press ate up that feature, which Sony didn’t even confirm but brilliantly left for writers to glean from the stills it showed in Tokyo this week. Oh man, Trophies? How amazing is that!

Actually, not amazing. At all.

Remember what I was just saying about the NGP as an amalgamation of anything remotely popular? Trophies are another symptom of that disease, which infects the NGP and Sony’s plan like a cancer. Trophies on the NGP are not that big of a deal, because looking at Trophy lists is really not that compelling. It’s a feature Sony threw on in a desperate attempt to increase social networking with the NGP — yet another thing that’s doing well in the world, so why not incorporate it?

The downfall is, the NGP is going to be an expensive, exclusive machine with a small built-in audience and a smaller demographic even capable of buying it. Its social networking capabilities are going to be lacking, and worse, they’re going to provide players with reasons not to buy the NGP.

Sony made a big deal about “Location-Based Entertainment” at the Playstation Meeting, which is supposed to show players who’s playing what in their geographic vicinity. But unless the NGP really is the greatest portable ever and everyone buys it, those location-based features are going to show lots of mostly empty maps, or slightly less empty maps filled with a bunch of people playing different games. It’s not going to be the “make friends, find opponents” atmosphere Sony thinks it is because Sony’s not Facebook or Foursquare, and hardcore gamers that would buy a big flashy portable are not that dense a population. Instead, the location-based features are going to show the NGP’s weaknesses, and Sony’s going to abandon any support they might have had when the features aren’t immediately successful.

3. A Diminishing Market

Guess what — hardcore gamers who want to pay as much as $300 or more to play Playstation games while they’re on the go is a small group, and getting smaller. There’s a reason why the PSP has been steadily losing market share for years, and it’s a message Sony doesn’t seem to be getting: people are not buying it.

So what’s different about the NGP? Absolutely nothing. It’s another heavily powerful console-style gaming machine that caters to players who want heavily powerful console-style gaming. Those people are not the market that’s currently driving the video game market, and you only have to look at the sales figures from Sony and compare them to Nintendo’s for the Wii or the DS and Apple’s for the iPhone to see that. Smaller, casual gaming with innovative controls and experiences are making money hand over fist, and Sony’s putting out a machine for a segment of the gaming public that, relatively speaking, started out riding dinosaurs.

“Hardcore” gamers, as a group, are fewer and fewer every year. Those of us who grew up with video games in the 1980s and 1990s have grown up and, as adults, simply don’t have the time and disposable income to dedicate to expensive video games. Meanwhile, 15-year-olds with lots of spending money aren’t that big a market, but that’s who Sony’s catering to — oh, and the big publishers and developers. Don’t forget them.

Not to be totally cynical, but the people who Sony has built the NGP for aren’t the people who will be buying it — it’s the people who plan to make games for it. Epic, Sega, Capcom and Konami are thrilled to be able to make high-priced games with technology that’s pretty close to that which they’re already using. And they get to make new games in all their AAA franchises to boot, which will sell at a premium, pull in lots of revenue from gamers, and ultimately be more of the same gaming experience.

Can Sony Handle It?

That’s the ultimate question. How Sony deals with the great parts of its NGP — and how well it goes about making things available to players without nickle-and-diming them to death — are going to determine just how successful NGP is. Sony and its spiffy new handheld can overcome its potential pitfalls by capitalizing on the features that gamers can’t live without: things like streaming video from a PS3, saving games in a cloud, accessible-over-the-Internet format and playing them on the go, and opening the NGP up to the casual market as well as the hardcore market. All those things are very doable, and if Sony instills its new portable with a great deal of value, it could reign supreme in the next handheld generation.

But mismanagement and a reliance on power over innovation could just as easily doom the device. Sony hasn’t really shown us anything that we haven’t seen before yet, and without a specific reason to buy an NGP game — a quantifiable NGP experience, unattainable anywhere else — players just aren’t going to respond, especially if the new portable costs as much as a new console.

We won’t know Sony’s strategy for a while, but when it finally does roll out, it’ll be interesting to see if the company has learned from its past mistakes, or if they’ll expect players to pay for more of the same.

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20 Comments on 3 Reasons NGP is the Future of Portables (and 3 Why It Will Crash and Burn)

Authuran

On February 1, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Another incredibly Microsoft-biased review, way to fail with the “news” again, GamingToday. Btw, NGP is amazing.

Jeff

On February 1, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Typical troll reply looking to bash something they don’t understand. “Microsoft” was not even typed in the post let alone used as a comparative. You fail utterly at even creating flame bait, Retard. (<-that's flame bait, fyi)

Anyway. After the downward spiral that the PSP took after release, I hope that Sony licked their wounds and took lessons from why it wasn't a blockbuster item after the initial demand wavered.

Joneson

On February 2, 2011 at 3:27 am

This might have been one of the most ignorant “articles” I’ve ever read. Hardcore gamers, and the core gaming market is on a steady decline? Really? Last time I checked, the industry has been having record sales as of late. No, not for Wii games or “casual” games, but for “hardcore” PS3/Xbox 360 games.

The gaming industry is doing nothing but growing. How incredibly ing ignorant this pathetic piece of journalism is. The vast majority of consumers that spend money on “hardcore” games and consoles may not actually identify themselves as hardcore, but guess what, that doesn’t matter since they’re buying core games and core consoles. “Hardcore” gaming has gone mainstream with this generation of consoles, and has grown considerably from the last generation. The amount of money the gaming industry makes these days is pretty unbelievable to say the least.

Jesus. I give up on journalism. Douchebag sensationalists are a dime-a-dozen these days, and truly INSIGHTFUL and RATIONAL journalists are almost impossible to find.

Babaganoosh

On February 2, 2011 at 4:14 am

@Joneson

lol the Call of Duty series isn’t hardcore btw, neither is WoW. They made their success on getting my BFF Jill and her friends on facebook able to jump in and play regardless of skill level.

Ron Whitaker

On February 2, 2011 at 5:48 am

@Joneson

Obviously, your definition of hardcore and mine vary a bit. I would define people like me as hardcore. People who play games as their primary form of entertainment, and think nothing of dropping a weekend on a game just because they can. They own every possible platform you can play a game on.

Playing ‘Call of Duty’ or ‘Halo’ doesn’t make you hardcore. Heck, those two series have become so mainstream/casual friendly that the hardcore gamers don’t even play them anymore.

A casual gamer is someone who plays sparingly, maybe around 10 hours or less a week. This group, thanks to quick games like Bejeweled, Peggle, and everything else PopCap ever made (not to mention Facebook games) comprises a large segment of the ‘gaming’ community.

The NGP has a chance to do well, but it’s going to be its acceptance among this large segment of casual gamers that determines how it fares, not its adoption among the hardcore.

Phil Hornshaw

On February 2, 2011 at 9:44 am

@Joneson,
Jeez Joneson, sorry if I upset you. While you’re right — gaming is making more money than ever — you can’t deny that the industry is expanding to absorb people who traditionally “don’t play video games,” and that all three of the major console players’ are banking on the success of gimmicky motion controls that are geared more toward casual gamers than those of us who grew up with Resident Evil and Final Fantasy and Ocarina of Time. Even before the motion control craze, what was big? Guitar Hero. Rock Band. Party games for people who don’t need to use controllers. Why are Nintendo and Microsoft posting record pockets? Because of casual gaming.
Okay, drop that point for a second — in portable gaming, it’s much more true that Angry Birds is the shape of the future and PSP is the past. And in THAT market, the NGP has a great chance to bridge both new world and old. Or it could let you play Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid 4, and even though “gaming is making more money than ever before” and you don’t see this community as being smaller and shrinking, or at least changing what their gaming habits entail, you can look always look at PSP sales. Sony gave people games like those on a portable already.

Authuran

On February 2, 2011 at 6:44 pm

@Jeff
PSP’s downward spiral after release? Were you living under a rock from 2005-about 2007? The PSP was hot when it came out and was a highly treasured portable for a few years, then took a slowly downward spiral after game designers lost interest. Geez, I’m not even trying to troll, it seems like you are the one who fails at understanding, every single article about anything Sony related is heavily biased against and filled with opinions and not fact. This ‘news’ thing seems to suck the of anything Xbox related (which btw, is full of fail) and yet the innovators at Sony who come out with revolutionary products like the NGP get trashed for no good reason.

Blake Vittoria

On February 2, 2011 at 11:47 pm

You cannot possibly be this biased against something that hasn’t even come out yet? Perhaps you could ride Microsoft’s a little less hard in your next ty article? Maybe then your readers will take you more seriously.

Phil Hornshaw

On February 2, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Do you guys just skip over the whole top half of the article where I talk about how NGP could be the greatest thing that’s ever happened to portables? Where’s the bias in an article that takes BOTH sides of the issue, and why does being skeptical about Sony and their portable strategy have anything to do with Microsoft, which doesn’t even compete in that market?

Deamonicus

On February 3, 2011 at 3:37 am

I agree that this is a totally biased predoction, but not mickeysoft biased. Read what he is saying. Sounds like all of us, as gamers, that have concerns. I am a Ps3 fanboy for 2 reasons, Ps3 is way more powerful than the 360, and 360s have a high failure rate. I think that if Sony would do alot of the things aforementioned, they could really give us the “Holy Grail”. I personally would like to see some other features though. Id buy this expensive machine if I didnt have to pay $60 for a Ps3 game, then turn around and buy its mobile itteration for the same premium. I think that when you buy a Ps3 game, take the new uncharted for example, youd have a choice to pay $59.99 for the game, or you could buy the $79.99 version that comes with the portable itteration for psn download on the ngp. Or add a cart in the blueray case for those with no psn connectivity, sorta like when you buy a blueray/dvd combo pack. As for another concern that sony hasnt addressed, backword compatibility with umds. Who cares?

CurlyQu

On February 4, 2011 at 1:34 am

Imagine if you just bought a PC you wouldn’t even have to worry about which console is better.

Replies from butthurt fanboys appreciated. :D

Greg

On February 4, 2011 at 9:44 am

@Ron Whitaker – wow, we’re really impressed with how “hardcore” you are. Seriously, we are.

I thought it was a good article that had a lot of solid discussion points in it. Kind of ish for people to get so defensive over a system that’s not even out yet. If you think you can write a better article then go for it. s.

Ron Whitaker

On February 4, 2011 at 10:24 am

@Greg – That really wasn’t the point of what I was saying. I was trying to point out that the definition of hardcore has changed over the years, and that there aren’t enough ‘hardcore’ people to support a system on their own. That’s why casual gaming is so important to a system like this, and why Sony is trying to embrace it as best they can.

@Deamonicus – I think that idea has a lot of merit. If Sony can build value into the system, such as the combo packs you’re talking about, it has an excellent chance of being successful. If I can save my Uncharted game on the PS3, pick up the NGP and pick up where I left off in the car, that’s a powerful thing.

Bobi

On February 4, 2011 at 11:48 am

How the hell are people not buying the PSP? There are more PSP sold worldwide than Xbox 360 lol and the numbers are even higher if u look at Nintendo’s portables. 60 million PSP vs 50 million Xbox 360.

So there are more people in the world wanting to play portable systems than a full consoles.

If more people play portables than full consoles then i doubt the 1st proper powerful next gen handheld will sell bad, Especially when the only alternative is a kids aimed old gfx DS or a smartphone.

Phil Hornshaw

On February 4, 2011 at 11:57 am

@Bobi
I think your logic there is a little flawed as far as numbers (PSP vs. Xbox does not mean people want portables more than consoles. That’s less than half the story). And I’m pretty sure those numbers are wrong as well. http://ps3.ign.com/articles/113/1131203p1.html

Alex

On February 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm

This article is way BS. I really think it’s from the perspective of someone who just saw but didn’t touch or own any of the consoles or hand-held consoles. Oh wait, it’s a journalist….figures! Microsoft ass kisser!

Arham

On March 22, 2011 at 9:41 am

In my opinion, the PSP was a Great console. Compared to the DS it still has better games, not in much quantity but certainly Quality. Play Persona 3 Portable once, your guaranteed to be hooked for Hundreds of hours. Metal gear solid, God of war ghost of sparta, phantasy star portable the list goes on.
The PSP sold like “a must have technical innovation” when it came out in 2005, selling millions in the 1st year. It was certainly a cool device with stunning graphics but Sony didn’t expect one thing. Smart phones. Yes those damn things starting popping up in 2007 and PSP sales decreased in 2008 by a lot due to piracy and lack of interest by developers.
Personally I hate mobile games. I never liked angry birds or 90% of the games on apples app store. Most are ones which only have me hooked for mere minutes. I am 15 so I don’t necessarily appreciate the “cheap” games cause I don’t earn on my own. I get money for a PSP game and a PS3 game monthly. And I saved up a lot for the NGP cause I hacked my PSP a while ago.
I am really looking forward for the NGP because it’s the next version of the PSP, a device I still play and enjoy while I do so.

Arham

On March 22, 2011 at 9:51 am

Talking about expensive consoles the 3ds isn’t leading by far. the NGP will most likely be $250 also. IGN and people in general say if they have amazing graphics they want to play it on a TV. Same thing here, but what people don’t know is stereoscopic 3D I’d better than glasses free, don’t count the “accessories”. If the want to watch 3D content they have to watch it at home. I have a 3D tv (by Sony, cause SONY RULES) and even on that I have some probs in calibration. Nintendo made a bold but not so thought out move with the 3DS, especially cause on a handheld the console moves around a lot and due to the “sweat spot” it must be a pain in the butt.
I am going to get a NGP no matter what journalists may say. People believed the PS3 was a fail, now there isn’t a better console than it and it offers the MOST features anything on the market has in the $300 range and even more. Long live PLAYSTATION!

Abhijit

On April 17, 2011 at 1:36 am

Excuse me? Under the “Sony Has No Idea What It’s Doing” section, you boldly claim that Sony’s methodology of putting more power didn’t work with the PS3? Hello? Have you hit yourself in the head? At January of 2011, the sales of both PS3 and XBOX 360 were nearly neck and neck, with XBOX 360 barely ahead. To put this in perspective, XBOX 360 had a head start of 1 WHOLE year, approximately. And as far as shoddy games are concerned, well they were mostly at the early stages of the PS3′s life when developer’s really didn’t get a hang of it. Now, if you play games on either, they look just the same. Some times PS3 looks a bit better, some times XBOX. However, you need eyes so sharp that you can tell the difference between the color “white” and one with the RBG value (254,255,255). In short, you are dead wrong.

Phil Hornshaw

On April 17, 2011 at 2:00 am

@Abhijit
You’re right that the PS3 is keeping up with the Xbox, but you have to remember that the PS3 at launch had features like backward compatibility — but Sony removed that feature because of costs. And it cut the price of the PS3 substantially. At launch, the PS3 was too expensive to consumers and too costly to Sony, and Sony was selling machines at a loss for years. It had to make major changes to its PS3 strategy to become profitable and to put PS3s in the hands of players. And by rights, the PS3 should really have outdone the Xbox, even with the year’s head start. It was capable of more things and had more power, it had way more brand loyalty, it was a cheap Blu-Ray player back when Blu-Ray players cost a first-born child. Taking into account all those factors, the fact that the PS3 sold only as well as the Xbox 360, wasn’t profitable and had to cut major features, I argue that Sony’s PS3 launch was a failure, and Sony only recovered from it five years later because it had the money to invest in a five-year profitability scheme. If this had been Sega, instead of Sony, the PS3 would have been abandoned three years ago.