Do you believe in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics?
According to that theory, every outcome that could happen does happen, but in a parallel universe. Decided to turn left at that fateful intersection? There’s a parallel world where you turned right, and the world got invaded by aliens. There’s a world where you were born the other gender, one where you weren’t born at all, one where a charismatic figure with a magical eye made Ben Franklin turn traitor and helped establish the Britannian Empire…the possibilities, and therefore the multiverses, are endless. If you’ve ever watched Sliders, you’re familiar with the general idea: it’s also a prominent plot element in Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, which you really should give a read if your brain is pliable enough to avoid snapping violently at the clever temporal loop the book also presents. (And DeceasedCrab would have you think that Choose Your Own Adventure books are only good for a MSTing.)
There’s also a parallel world where every captain of industry isn’t fundamentally a Luddite, where new technological advances are embraced instead of ruthlessly quashed by those who see them as a threat, and my parallel-world doppelganger looks forward to getting a PSP Go.
What can I say? I can’t fault the Go itself; the PSN Store has made the PSP into precisely what it was promised to be, i.e. the ultimate mobile media device (can your iPhone play Persona, Disgaea or Final Fantasy VII?), and the idea of a smaller, sleeker, undeniably stylish new version is icing on the cake. My only issues with the Go itself are its lack of a touch screen, which would seem like an obvious development given its redesign, its uncomfortable-looking control layout and its use of a proprietary USB cable instead of the standardized, PS3-compatible cord I’m used to.
The thing that brings this candy-colored dream crashing to the ground, however, is that whichever way you look at it, the Go is crippled.
First off, let’s make one thing clear: UMD is a joke. Sony’s “Universal” Media Disc was nothing of the sort, and the colossal movie market it was supposed to spawn imploded rather spectacularly. They’re not as compact or convenient as the SD-like DS cards or even caveman-era Game Boy cartridges; certainly no one worries about their Pokemon Red & Blue carts becoming scratched and unreadable if left out of their protective packaging (though I imagine at this point battery death is a brutal, encroaching reality). And while the situation has undeniably improved with time, especially with the memory upgrades featured in the 2000 and 3000 models, the fact that the PSP is the first handheld system to be hobbled by the load times endemic to optical media is not exactly a selling point.
With these facts in hand, it’s tempting to herald the death of the UMD as the dawn of a new era for the PSP. I, for one, would beg to differ.
It’s undeniable that digital distribution offers many advantages: ideally, I’d have my entire PSP library available through the Store, and have all my favorite games on my Memory Stick at all times. I’ve gotten to the point where I find it a pain to have to switch discs or cartridges; I like all my games and media easily accessed through a simple menu interface (which I imagine is part of why I find the new browser-based interface for GameTap so irksome and clunky; it’s not nearly as nice as the old GameTap Player).
And herein we have the problem. The entire PSP library is not available through the Store, nor is such a blessed event ever likely to happen.
There’s a number of reasons for this. For starters, the only people who like digital distribution are Sony and the consumers (the ones that don’t seem to think that DD is the Devil, anyway). And NIS America, who are pretty cool about DD (we got a price cut on Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! along with the switch to DD-only, and they put most of their catalog on sale for the PSP Go’s launch). For most developers, though, DD is an inconvenience: there’s a reason why Sony has publicly stated that third-party developers will not be required in any way to make future games available on the Go. Sony holds the keys to the DD gateway, and developers have to pay them to get their games out in the Store. That hasn’t stopped certain big-name titles from materializing – Dissidia: Final Fantasy, for one, nearly two months after its UMD release (and over a month after the Go’s launch) – but while being able to carry around an entire game library on a single Memory Stick is the kind of power that gets addictive after a while, it’s things like this that greedy executives would rather we all just forget about. Especially the ones running the retail end of the industry, who are more than a bit reluctant to stock what amounts to the instrument of their impending doom.
The retailers smile and nod and carry PSP Go systems and PSN Cards, but only because Sony has to go out of its way to keep them happy. Think of this: PSN games don’t require manuals, packaging or media, so that’d mean they could charge less for them, right? Wrong. While there are some games that are available for cheaper than retail, new games from here on out will be priced exactly the same as their retail counterparts. DD may outperform physical media in every respect except for the potential for resale value, but the choice to go DD isn’t quite as clear-cut if the two versions sell for the exact same price. And when the retail version sells with extras such as preorder bonuses and soundtracks that the DD version has no chance of having…well, odds are you’re going to buy the version that gives you more. (Yeah, I’ll admit it. It was learning that Persona was going to cost $40 on PSN despite not having the retail version’s soundtrack that soured me on the whole “DD-only” thing.)
Not that I’m saying that a PSP Go is a bad thing to have. If all the games you want are available right now on the Store, and you don’t mind waiting months for new releases, and you have $250 to spare on a new handheld, then there’s really no reason not to opt for the Go. Heck, Sony may have reneged on its promise to let us upgrade our UMD libraries to DD, but if you have a UMD-based PSP already and the money to spend, the sleeker, slightly more portable Go might make a nice counterpart rather than a replacement to the PSP you already have (remember, you can tie up to five systems to the same PSN account). But if you’re looking into getting a PSP, or upgrading an existing model, then you need to weigh the facts. Odds are, you’re never going to have access to the entire PSP library, and the third-party devs will drag their feet getting their big-name titles out for it. Sony is the only party here who’s excited for the Go, and how excited you should be depends on how much leeway you’re willing to give them. Me? I wouldn’t mind getting a Go myself, but if I’m going to spend money on an actual upgrade for my PSP, I’m pretty sure I’d be better off getting a 3000 model.