Is a Phone all the PlayStation Portable Needs?

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Core Bore

As a gaming platform, the current-style PSP's star is setting. PSP sales have been declining for over a year, and PSP Go sales are in the basement. And PSP games are starting to pop up on iOS devices, including Final Fantasy I and II, LEGO Harry Potter, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, and Madden NFL 11.

Analysts expect the iPhone install base to hit 100 million by 2011. Sony's PSP base is currently stalling at around 65 million users worldwide.

In fact "core" game developers are increasingly bypassing the PSP for the iPhone and its iOS peers. Capcom pulled together an iPhone version of Street Fighter IV last March, but never bothered with a PSP version. Other iOS-but-not-PSP games include Civilization Revolution, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, The Sims 3, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, Mirror's Edge, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.

Then there's industry bellwether id Software, who debuted the mobile version of their next-gen 3D game RAGE for iOS devices in mid-November. No PSP version is planned.

And don't forget iPhone "core" exclusives like Dungeon Defenders, Perfect Cell, Dead Space, Secret of Mana, Infinity Blade, Aralon: Sword and Shadow, and Real Racing 2. There's more buzz around those games than anything in the offing for the PSP.

Whither PSP 2?

Cell service alone won't cut it. If Sony really wants to compete with the iPhone (not to mention Nintendo's 3DS), it needs a portable with a brilliant iPhone-competitive touchscreen, a signature iPhone-competitive Android interface, updated higher-end internals, a one-stop price-competitive app and game store, and a stable of first-rate game studios tripping over themselves to develop for it. *

A PSP 2, in other words, a device that might legitimately generate the sort excitement Nintendo's 3DS does.

Launching the PSP 2 as the PlayStation Phone (or vice versa) this spring would be bold and game-changing.

Launching a PSP Go with cell service, by contrast, would be that other kind of not-so-bold thing.

* I don't list glasses-free 3D because I still consider 3D a gimmick. Because it is, in every movie and game I've seen or played. And I'll leave it to Nintendo to convince me otherwise when the 3DS debuts next March.

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