Sony Plans PSP Comeback In America, Recovering From System’s Low Point

There was barely a word about the PSP at E3 2008.

Sony revealed several new products for the portable at their press conference, but third-parties were mum on their support. At E3, I sat down with John Koller, Sony’s director of hardware marketing, about the state of the PSP in 2008.

What’s coming over the next 12 months? Why aren’t third-parties talking? Sony explains…

“Where we are today is the result of a development cycle from 18 months ago,” said Koller. “18 months ago PSP hardware wasn’t doing quite as well in terms of sales. Since then, it’s taken off. We’ve been talking to a lot of developers and really trying to change their thinking about how PSP is doing and they’ve realized it from what they’ve seen at retail.” This isn’t just hype. PSP has been the best-selling system in Japan for months, outselling the Wii, DS and PS3. This is a big change from 18 months ago when DS was still dominant. Credit is given to the introduction of the slim PSP late last year and the continued success of Capcom’s “Monster Hunter” series on Sony’s handheld.

Koller was surprisingly frank about Sony’s efforts to reach out to third-parties, but said it requires a little rethinking on how to approach the platform. “[We’ve told developers to think about] how they create the games,” he said. “Because the games they were creating were mostly ports and a lot of consumers were playing it at home and saying ’well, I could play it on a screen like this or I could play it on a smaller screen.’ We don’t want to have that competition.”

As for when these new games will be revealed, Koller couldn’t say. He anticipates the next wave of PSP announcements will come before next year’s E3, but asked for fans to be patient. He did, however, tease what to expect from the games themselves. Koller pointed to “Resistance: Retribution” as an example of Sony’s first-party strategy, and said to expect similar levels of support from large third-party franchises, as well.

“Going towards the end of the year and going into 09 and beyond, we’re going to see a lot of very large franchise games come from third-parties,” he said. “They’re going to be a bit of a surprise, they’re going to be like ’Wow, that’s coming to PSP?'”

Sony declared 2007 the year of the PSP. 2008 has been pegged as the year of the PS3. But the PSP isn’t going anywhere, said Koller, and their mandate for 2008 is to continue encouraging the development of franchise games for the platform that aren’t ports, highlighting the large, high-resolution screen on the device and diversifying the delivery of PSP’s content, whether it comes via UMD or through Sony’s online store.

In early 2009, however, Sony will roll out GPS functionality for PSP. Koller told me Sony will be at the forefront of creating game applications for that, though he didn’t talk about which games yet. But with so much multimedia functionality, are games getting left behind? Koller said it’s still their focus.

“It [PSP] has to be rooted in games,” he said. “We start every discussion with “What are the great games that are coming? Are there franchise-type games coming that are not ports to PSP?” We spread from there.”

With “Crisis Core” and “God of War” already out, much of PSP’s high-profile franchise titles have already hit. Readers, how do you feel about the state of the PSP in 2008 and what’re you looking forward to this year?