PSPgo an Expensive Toe in the Water for Sony?

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Sony says it's "learnt a lot" from the PSPgo (PCW Rating: 2.5 out of 5), the company's powerhouse ultraportable video games handheld that many view as overpriced and market-mismatched (count me among them). I'd expect as much, since the company was first to market with a dedicated gaming handheld that eschewed physical media (really-really compact discs, aka 'UMDs') in trade for digital downloads stored on

What I wasn't expecting, however, was Sony Computer Entertainment Europe president and CEO Andrew House telling UK biz site MCV that the PSPgo was in fact "a test for its future plans in the handheld sector."

A test? Really? A $250 piece of hardware that does less than the company's $80 cheaper, disc-based mainstream model was just a digital toe in the physical media-free market?

Yes indeed, says House: "It was introduced in a mature lifecycle to learn more about what the consumer wanted," said SCEE's prez, adding that he doesn't believe success is measured by sales. Thank goodness, because PSP sales have plummeted in 2010, down year-on-year 29 percent in March and 43 percent in April.

You could argue, plausibly, that the downturn's equally engendered by a dearth of blockbuster games. The last two PSP majors were Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars and LittleBigPlanet, released in October and November 2009, respectively.

House told MCV that Sony wanted "to understand where...consumer behaviour was going," and that it was "getting signals from consumers that [the PSPgo] was the kind of device that they wanted."

It's looking increasingly like it wasn't, so as we approach the advent of a true PSP sequel device, let's hope Sony learned at least two lessons: One, that selling a "casual" angled device at "hardcore" prices while lopping off features is like trying to sell Cadillacs with four-cylinder engines at Cadillac prices to first time car buyers. And two, sometimes common sense can be a lot less expensive than a full scale product launch.

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