Much has been made over Sony's struggles with the PSP. The company's first portable gaming system hasn't done as badly as some reports might lead you to believe, but it's nevertheless been a disappointment compared to Nintendo's success with the DS and the DS Lite. Blame it on the PSP's initial high price and suspect marketing, but there's something a bit more subtle going on that Sony must contend with: Chicks dig the DS, and that's a problem.
Do I have any hard numbers to prove this? Nah. How 'bout some sort of analysis I could quote? Sure, but why bother. This is a column, you go with your gut, and all the anecdotal evidence points to the simple fact the DS has a higher wife and girlfriend acceptance factor than the PSP.
Are women gamers driving the DS to victory over the PSP?
Take the case of CNET assistant editor Matthew Moskovciak. This is his first job out of college. He works like a dog and doesn't make a ton of money. And while he doesn't like to admit it, his girlfriend keeps a gentle eye on his discretionary spending, particularly when it comes to items like game consoles. He recounts that her interest in the DS was piqued when she saw an ad somewhere online for a Mario Bros. game
and "liked the concept of the touch screen," he says. "She thought it was more interactive than what you had with the PSP." With that ringing endorsement, he did what any savvy dude would do: he bought the DS Lite for her as a gift. Now they "share" it.
This is by no means an isolated incident. As I said, Matt's on a budget, so he hasn't splurged yet on a second DS, but the more usual scenario seems to involve the purchasing of multiple DS Lites in different colors (Nintendo does offer some more girlish colors, but I won't get into that). The idea, of course, is to hook the girlfriend, and while she's busy wasting her life on silly games, you can, too! There are plenty of painfully adorable titles for the DS--Cooking Mama, Nintendogs, and Animal Crossing, just to name a few. Oh, and then there's the whole Brain Age angle, "Look, honey, you can improve your memory and ward off Alzheimer's." Meanwhile, when you get a crack at the DS, it's time for Castlevania, Age of Empires, Resident Evil, Metroid, or Madden.
Does the DS' chick-magnet quality hurt the PSP's appeal?
For some reason, the PSP just hasn't found that warm spot in the female heart. I'm generalizing, of course--there are women out there who enjoy the PSP--but you just get the sense that women see the DS as a cute, fun toy, and not an evil game console that's a mindless time suck. And then there's the whole pick-up-and-play factor that people keep talking about, which also applies to the Wii
in a big way. That only takes a guy so far, though.
Yeah, yeah, I know, it's all about the gameplay, and the DS rocks. But the fact is, the number of really good titles for the DS is actually pretty thin, especially if you happen to be over 21 and don't worship at the altar of Mario or Pokemon. If you're looking to play more "adult" games with any sort of backbone, the PSP is a far better choice with a much stronger game library. The initial wave of PS2 ports has given way to a meaty list of games across a wide variety of genres: action/shooter titles (Metal Gear Solid,SOCOM, Syphon Filter, Grand Theft Auto, Killzone), platformers (Daxter, Ratchet & Clank), racing (Burnout, Ridge Racer, Need for Speed), fighting (Tekken, Def Jam, The Warriors), and sports (Madden, FIFA, Virtua Tennis, MLB 07). And all of them look and play better than most of what you'll find on the DS. Prefer something a bit more cerebral? The PSP even has a decent selection of addictive puzzle games (Lumines, Exit) and retro arcade titles, and even a couple of unique offerings that defy genre pigeonholing (LocoRoco, Katamari). If you haven't got time to play something on the home console and can only snatch a half hour here and there of gaming, the PSP experience is the next best thing to being at home in front of your TV.
The funny thing about the DS is that Nintendo didn't consciously decide it was going after adult female gamers. Thanks to the Game Boy legacy, everybody knew the handheld was going to appeal to the kiddies, and that includes young girls. Unlike with the Wii--where Nintendo's been actively trying to "widen the audience" for games--I don't think the company went out looking for girlfriend acceptance with the DS. It just kind of happened.
I don't know how aware Sony is about this--or if it cares. The company has acknowledged it did a poor job of marketing the PSP and with the recent lowering of the PSP's price to $169.99, it's launched a new campaign to reinvigorate sales (To date, Sony says it's shipped nearly 25 million units worldwide, with more than one million new PSP systems sold in North America in December 2006 alone). The truth is it's probably never going to appeal to women like the DS--or the iPod--does. But it could become a more "sensible" product. And the company's got to do a better job marketing to the people who should be buying this console--males 15 to 45, who range from the casual gamer to would-be heavy gamers who have more time to play on the road than they do at home.
Sony needs to do two very important things. To increase the console's pick-up-and-play quotient, it needs to figure out a way to shorten load times on games, presumably through some sort of memory buffering system that's similar to that of the PlayStation 3. There's the whole concept of simple control schemes, but young and old alike are looking for immediate gratification. No one wants want to wait 45 to 60 seconds for a screen to load, and contrary to popular belief, you don't get more patient as you age (at least I haven't). Sony needs to allow you to store some game content on either a memory card or produce a new PSP with at least 4GB of built-in memory.
The second--and most obvious--thing Sony needs to do is move away from UMD when it comes to music and movies. It's been pushing the whole entertainment aspect of the console from the get-go, but it's become clear that few people want to pay $15 to 20 for a pocket-sized DVD, even if the PSP makes for an excellent portable movie watching device. The sooner Sony gets to providing downloadable movie and TV episode rentals, the sooner it's going to get the hoard of mobile professionals, men and women, to buy into the system. Imagine being at an airport and wirelessly downloading (via the PSP's internal Wi-Fi connection) a movie or two and a maybe an old Seinfeld episode before boarding your flight. Ideally, of course, frequent travelers could opt for a monthly subscription service a la Netflix. If that includes a nice selection of downloadable games, so much the better.
I have a feeling this was--and still is--part of Sony's grand plan for the PSP. But the company had better hurry up, because Nintendo has shown it always has a little something up its sleeve. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if I saw the DS Extra Lite before I saw the next iteration of the PSP.
What do you think?
Does the DS' chick-magnet quality hurt the PSP's appeal? TalkBack to me below.