Second Coming • Page 2

Rumours swirl about the PSP2's unveiling - but what form will it take, and where does this leave the 'PS Phone'?

It would also be a very clear statement of purpose in terms of Sony's market positioning. Given the success of the Nintendo DS, it's interesting that Sony has seemingly chosen to stick to its guns - delivering a handheld system which is heavily focused on power-hungry, core gaming experiences and what will presumably be excellent media functionality. Then again, it's not like the firm's choices in this regard are legion. A direct challenge to the DS' market would be extremely risky, and could alienate the PSP's own more hardcore fans, while the increasingly impressive gaming abilities of the iOS devices will force Sony to pull something pretty stunning out of the bag in technical terms.

So where, in all of this, does the Xperia Play lie? It's a competent gaming device but reportedly lacks the processing grunt required for an emulator which could directly run PSP content. Sony could leverage its first-party studios and third-party relationships to secure original content for the device, but it's not clear whether that content would be interoperable with the PSP or PSP2 - both of which, as we understand it, sport somewhat different control interfaces to the Xperia Play, which complicates matters further.

In other words, even after all the excitement surrounding the PSP Phone, it's beginning to look like it may be precisely the lowest common denominator device which cynical commentators expected from the outset - a Sony Ericsson phone which integrates aspects of PlayStation branding without actually seriously benefitting from the rich ecosystem that has developed around the PlayStation products themselves. It may well be a decent phone, but it seems likely to be a pretty terrible PlayStation.

PSP2, on the other hand, looks like it will fit into that ecosystem like a hand into a glove. The persistent talk of a second analogue nub ties into that point of view perfectly, giving the device almost exactly the control layout of a Dual Shock pad - and hence, assuming a couple more small tweaks, the ability to perfectly replicate the controls of any of Sony's PS1 and PS2 library of titles, arguably the most enviable back catalogue of entertainment software in existence.

In our haste and excitement over brand new gaming markets and experiences - everything from the Wii and the DS to iOS and Facebook - it's important not to forget that there are tens of millions of consumers out there who have been with gaming for many years, aren't intimidated by existing controllers and are willing to spend plenty of money on core gaming experiences. Not that any game companies ever really forget those consumers - you need only look at the wealth of high quality core gaming experiences which turned up in 2010 to realise that casual and social gaming has appeared in addition to, rather than as a replacement for, the core, upstream games beloved of so many gamers.

I don't doubt for a second that Sony's strategy for PSP2 will include some clever nods to the audience that have entered gaming through the Nintendo DS - but equally, I don't believe that Sony has any desire to abandon the original PSP's more hardcore market, a sense which is strongly reinforced by seeing the vast popularity of the device in Japan in the wake of the launch of Capcom's latest Monster Hunter instalment. The PSP may have lost out to the DS in the battle for the sales crown, but it's by no means a failed console - indeed, considering that it's a first effort in a struggle against a company which has utterly dominated handheld gaming for over two decades, it's been a stupendous success.

More of the same, then, is likely to be the order of the day - something to delight PSP fans and appease the PlayStation's long-standing devotees, with casual gaming titbits thrown in as a side salad rather than being the main course of the meal. Rather than trying to dethrone the DS or fire a broadside at iOS - both fools errands in the current market, even for a company of Sony's scale - the PSP2 is likely to aim for a sleek, high-tech third way.

And the Xperia Play? Let's be entirely honest - was the world really all that excited about the 'PSP Phone', or was it just starved of information about the PSP2? Time will tell, but I suspect the latter, and sense that Sony Computer Entertainment's heart may never have been in the phone project. Once the wraps are taken off PSP2, whenever that is, it's clear what the main attraction will be - and with Nintendo's 3DS only weeks away from landing in consumers' hands, there's no question but that the handheld battle is back on in earnest in 2011.

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