Now that both the PSP and Nintendo DS have launched in most major markers, we revisit the current portable console picture in the latest Question of the Week, which asked of our audience of game professionals: "Over six months after our first question on the Nintendo DS versus Sony's PSP, and looking at the answers given - how have things changed? Which handheld do you think is winning the most hearts, and which the biggest marketshare in each territory?"
Illustration by Erin Mehlos
The majority of our respondents felt the DS was the better console of the two. Citing a better library of games and innovation among the reasons for their choice. In terms of marketshare the picture is a bit more murky with future releases with no clear victor until the picture develops further.
It seems the strategy of focusing on ports of successful PS1/PS2 properties has not been paying off for the PSP. The system has a negatives ranging from hardware polygon clipping issues, to slow disc speed and inadequate analog control that make direct ports unfeasible. Also the dark, gritty games that older gamers crave, don't read well on the glossy portable screen (assuming you ever want to play outdoors). As a gamer who owns both systems I have already stopped carrying around and buying software for my PSP and have switched exclusively to my DS. For the handheld space, I think Nintendo has the right philosophy, games don't need to show bleeding edge technology, they just need to occupy your attention for 10-15 minute bursts. Where Sony wins is in a face off at the electronics store. The PSP makes a fantastic first impression.
There's no question that the overall quality of games is higher on the DS and that's why it's currently the top seller. There's really nothing like Nintendogs or Kirby's Canvas Curse on any other system period. All one can say for the PSP is that it has some nice racing games that come pretty close to mimicking their console counterparts. That said, I think the hardware is partially to blame for the low review scores on most non-racing PSP games. The choice to go with UMD means that load times are higher both because of the overall read speed on the UMDs themselves as well as the pressure on developers to fill up those UMDs with as much content as possible. While load times are annoying on any format, they really don't gel with the pick-up-and-play attitude most people have about handheld games.
-Ian Fisch, Green Room Productions
I was very impressed by the PSP when I first saw it and I bought one at the earliest opportunity. At the moment, it sits around unused and two weeks ago I bought a DS and subsequently picked up Nintendogs as well. I like the PSP and had high hopes for it, but the bottom line is that there are still only a handful of games available for it and their quality is low. I would go as far as saying that there is only one game worth buying and playing, which is unacceptable. It's good to see there are more UMD movies available but it also feels that this is only the case to make up for the lack of software. I want games for my PSP not movies. I thought the PSP would clean up, but now I'm no longer sure. The original DS was ugly but the new colors are quite slick and to put it plainly - the games are much better.
As being somewhat platform agnostic, I have been surprised as how strong the DS has performed. It has had several fun games and has an impressive fall lineup. The PSP has struggled in the games department and it remains to be seen if it will repeat the success of the GTA franchise on the handheld. I think people who expected the DS to be the next Virtual Boy or compared its life to the Dreamcast with the looming PS2 threat have been the most shocked. I think that the PSP's biggest faults have been the lack of games and a home console range price point- especially in a year that many are looking forward to the next generation of home systems. I'm sure that the PSP will end up moving more systems once the price point drops and more games are released. I predict, however, that the DS will end up with more marketshare.
The Nintendo DS has been showcasing very intriguing and different games. The whole paradigm of the stylus being used to slice, rub and draw has grabbed our attention in a way that no other system can do right now. The PSP has become a sort of toy that does a bunch of stuff like play MP3s or plays video or store pictures but I have yet to hear about any games for it that people are really excited about. So which is winning people's hearts? I don't have any statistics for it, but my gut says that the DS is winning this war. It plays new and interesting (and fun) games that you can't play anywhere else because of its unique interface. It's cheaper than the PSP and the whole system just feels sturdy by comparison. The PSP seems great, but a bigger screen doesn't mean better games. As to marketshare, I don't know for sure but I suspect that the PSP has been selling more than the DS. It just looks chic and that attracts a lot of attention. When it comes down to it though, the DS has probably sold a ton more games and that's where the money is made. Just glancing through recent reviews, I see a lot of good things being said about the innovative DS games, and a lot of negative things being said about PSP games. While the PSP feels shiny and new, the games feel old and dingy. The DS... Well, let's face it, it's a grey block with this strange 2 screen thing, but the games, they're innovative and fun. In the end, for any gaming system, it's the games that will win the hearts and minds of the people.
-Dave Fried, The Collective
I have both the DS and PSP. I must say I enjoy my DS quite a bit more then the PSP. The reasoning is the touch screen. It makes games more interactive and if implemented correctly can really make a game. For the PSP I have yet to find a game that really stands out. The DS on the other hand, I have found myself loving games like Feel the Magic, Meteos, Advance Wars: Dual Strike, and Warrior. As for the physical state of both, I find the screen on PSP scratches extremely easy and still after sending my PSP to get some dead pixels fixed they are still there. Over all I feel the PSP is exactly that, a Playstation Portable. The DS on the other hand takes things that are common in many games produced for Nintendo systems and makes them unique, giving them a change to make it enjoyable to play again.
After an unbelievably slow start, it's very heartening to the DS living up to its potential with great games like Nintendogs, Advance Wars, Kirby, etc. It was and always has been about the games, and now there's a lot of reasons to get a DS. But where are the PSP games? As predicted by many, it's been nothing but ports of old PS2 titles. The few original titles that have arrived haven't been system sellers by any means. And literally the only game I can even name that's coming out for the PSP in the next six months is GTA . While that's a big title, I'm wondering if the steep costs of the PSP (from large development costs all the way to high retail price of the system and games) are keeping the PSP back from what many expected. Nonetheless, major publishers like EA have put everything behind the PSP and they won't suddenly shift their efforts. If PSP sales can't get a jump-start from GTA, then I think publishers are going to take a serious look at what they're spending on PSP development. My guess is that the "ooh" factor will continue to help it gain ground, and killer apps for the PSP will arrive slowly over the next few years. In the long term, I see Sony still taking a good chunk of the market. While the DS sales will continue to be reasonable, it will probably end up 2nd in the US and Europe due to lack of 3rd party support and lack of the technological "ooh" factor. But that doesn't really seem to matter to Nintendo. Or to me. The DS has won my heart by virtue of its games, and even though I worked on a PSP launch title, I have yet to find a reason to buy the system.
Current US sales are a virtual draw and the forthcoming holiday battle will put one of the two ahead. In my opinion, Nintendo is slightly ahead in this franchise battle and, with the addition of Nintendogs, will be wearing the Christmas crown come January. PSP has the cool factor and the utility to match its price, it is a serious piece of machine and Nintendo was right to drop the "GameBoy" monkier in their attempt to compete. However a game system is a game system and unless Sony seriously considers opening their system to independent development (ala IBM, Valve) they'll see their new system go the way of the PSX.
-Tyler Shogren, Atlus USA
This is a tough question. It's such a close situation. Currently I would say DS is winning the race purely due to Nintendogs. At release, DS really had a limited library and is just now getting some decent games. The PSP seems to be going through the same troubles the DS had 3 - 4 months ago. However, in the long term, I believe the PSP will be the overall better investment and will have the larger library/fan base. The technology for the PSP to become something really great is there, it's just waiting for the right software to come and show what it can really do.
-Neville Boudreaux, Turbine Entertainment
I have yet to hear anything about any new hotness coming out of the PSP past WipEout and Lumines, while the DS fairly recently seems to be sprinting way ahead with the recent Nintendogs, Meteos, and I'd be guessing the new Castlevania title. I am curious as to if any surveys have been done on the percentage and frequency of the usage of UMD movies playing on the PSP though; that's a separate market Sony has all to itself here.
With the recent news of sales of Nintendogs, we can see exactly the magic that saved the GBC from demise back in the mid to late ‘90s. The GameBoy would have died too if not for Pokemon, which single-handedly revived the platform. I feel the PSP is easily the best system, extremely versatile and much "cooler." Nintendo understands that portable market as it stands is dominated by kids and parents who want to keep kids quiet in the car and on vacation. Sony and the PSP have not been able to reach this market, but as they did with the PS1 they also realize that those 12 year old kids who were playing Pokemon in '98 are now 19 years old and may be seeking a more advanced portable gaming solution. There has always been room for at least two game consoles, perhaps there is room for two portables as well.
Nintendo is winning for now. Technology is good but at the end of the day it's all about the games. It's a crime that Sony has more movies available for the PSP than games and people are spending stupid amounts of money supporting the UMD format. PSP is trying to compete on too many fronts and people are not asking the important question that should be asked...where are the games? It's too big to be an MP3 player, battery life is suspect for a movie player and it's expensive. When the consumer finishes paying for memory sticks to download films, not to mention the UMDs that they will eventually buy, they will have spent more money than the cost of the PSP itself. It's suspect at best...I'll stick with Nintendo for now.
-Victor Bunn, Solo Mission Studios
My personal view of the PSP hasn't changed at all. It's not what I'm looking for in a portable system. Seriously, who actually wants to watch a movie on a tiny screen? The DS genuinely has more options for innovation when it comes to unique software, but because the general masses are easily influenced by what is cool, I can foresee less developers spending time on creating innovative software on the DS in an effort to cash in on the popularity (and mass marketing) of the PSP. Still, the DS has sold quite a number of units, also, where I currently reside, the PSP has only just launched recently, so it's still hard to say.
Speaking from my own perspective, I have always been more inclined towards the DS. I was never really interested in the PSP, and had Nintendo gone the same way and simply offered another GameBoy power-increment, I would have skipped this hand-held generation all together (as I did with the GBA). Having now played a PSP though, I must say I am impressed with what the system can do, but as yet AU$400 is a bit much for a system that plays the same games I can play at home or shows a selection of low-grade "blockbuster" movies (Spider-Man 2 excluded) on what is still a hand-held size screen. As the Australian sales charts show though it's been a huge success over here, and the range of games is impressive. For me though, the unique features and gameplay possibilities of the DS were to intriguing to pass up, but unfortunately, I think it has been woefully under-supported, and I am really disappointed with the selection of games available (I've bought more GBA games that DS games since I bought it). I am yet to play a game that really takes advantage of the system that isn't a simple gimmick or analog stick alternative, but I'm hanging on for Kirby and Nintendogs (which have yet to launch in Australia ). I think the PSP is likely to be a huge force in the Australian market for the time being, and I can't see the DS doing anything similar without a much wider range of games that, using the unique interface of the DS, takes gameplay to places nowhere else available.
-Ben Droste, Krome Studios
The PSP is a lovely gimmick that really doesn't lend itself to short play times like the DS. Sure the PSP is portable but not practical for most day to day situations due to long load times. I think long haul commuters (2+ hours or more) could see a use for the PSP - namely for replacing a laptop, but beyond that I think the lifespan of a novelty handheld like the PSP is short lived.
I bought the PSP... Personally, I wish I had bought the DS as it has much better games. PSP has nothing but puzzle and driving games. I bought WipEout , and played it for a week. I am bored. Movies are too expensive. I think the PSP was a waste of money. Hopefully a decent game will come out soon.
-David Clayton, Principle Solutions
Many respondents saw the PSP as being cooler and more chic with its stylish good looks than the plainer looking Nintendo DS, rightly positioned as a multi-functional lifestyle multimedia machine. One international respondents mentioned that the PSP is doing much better than the DS in his local market (Korea):
I believe that Sony PSP has basically won the battle versus Nintendo DS. The PSP is a much deeper platform and the breadth of its functionality is quite strong, especially with its WiFi and Internet-browsing capabilities.
-Ajoy Reddi, Fiduciary Trust International
I am living in Korea working mobile contents publishing and have checked sales status of both handheld machines in Korea . The PSP has already sold out over 300K unit (I think almost 400k - 500K unit) while the Nintendo DS still struggling for sales in Korea . Marketing for the PSP is quite aggressive in Korea .
-YongTae Kim, Intersystech
From the sales numbers, it looks like the DS has a slight edge. However, this is a little misleading, considering that the PSP has a growing, loyal audience and is finally beginning to give them great games. With the release of GTA: Liberty City Stories, more innovations like the upcoming Stealth movie/hame hybrid, and a few new games based around existing successful IP like Syphon Filter and possibly Devil May Cry, the PSP will eventually take the lead. The DS has a superior software line-up, but it's still only a game machine. The PSP is a portable, stylish media center - which still could benefit from a minor price drop.
-Sheloman Byrd, Upper Deck
The handheld that I believe is slowly wining the market would have to be PSP. It is a newcomer, and it need a little more extra time to shine, but it is so much for what you pay for. Game machine, audio, video, Internet, what else can you ask from it? It even plays movies... It is beautiful, and the promise Sony is giving it should come up on top.
-Aleksandar Dragosavljevic, MCI
Nintendo has simply lost its dominance it has so long held in the handheld industry, and Sony now has a solid valid market share to make money from. Most surprising is how a device costing over $100 USD more than a competitor has managed to maintain a decent market segment across all territories. In any marketing salesman's terms, that's a success. It remains to be seen, however, if the DS can have a long lifespan with its limited technology and surviving on its core Nintendo fanbase. It is stuck in the middle - it can't quickly release a new device to compete with PSP, for fear of alienating its fanbase, and it can't leave the DS to try and maintain market share over PSP over time.
-David Lannan, R3 Interactive
In the end the PSP will win... not because that it is technically superior, but because it is so much more promoted than the DS. This obvious in the fact the EB games still has Nintendo products in the back of the store, while Sony has the front. I'm disappointed with the line up of games on the PSP (mostly ports from the PS2, and racing games it seems) while the DS has opened up whole new possibilities in gaming. While the PSP is more than twice the price of the DS I'd expect the majority of consumers to buy it because of the perceived 'bling bling' factor.
-Jamie Telford, Fuzzyeyes Studio
A few of our respondents didn't see a true winner or even a true competition between the systems but were more intrigued at the big picture moving forward:
I don't think there is as much direct competition between the two systems as industry pundits want us to believe. While head-to-head competition makes a good story, the DS does not compete with the PSP as directly as the GameCube does with the Playstation 2. First, the DS capitalizes on the enormous library of GameBoy games, and is priced significantly below the PSP; it's an easy decision for someone with a significant investment in GBA games, without even considering the technical merits of the two systems. Compounding this advantage is its inherently kid-friendly/kid-proof design - while I have no data to back up my intuition, I'd feel a lot less uneasy about an 8-year-old taking the DS out on the playground. The PSP is undeniably gorgeous, and as expensive as it is, it looks even more so. Consequently, it appeals more to status-conscious teens and parents. I've noticed a distinct trend among my friends: the higher-income families give their kids PSPs, while those of lesser means get the DS. There is another competition that for some reason is never mentioned, but just as plausible. The PSP screen quality and graphics horsepower bring it within striking distance of the Playstation 2, and I expect that at this late point in the console's lifecycle, the PSP is cannibalizing some PS2 sales. It would not surprise me to find that for every PSP purchaser who was deciding between the PSP and DS, there was another who was deciding between the PSP and PS2.
-Michael Roberts, Xtructure, Inc.
I always imagined that Nintendo would do well at their stated aim, which was capturing a non-traditional gamer audience. They seem to have done this, and maintained their fanbase as well. But judging from reports from the Penny Arcade Expo, they've also done surprisingly well in marketing to hardcore gamers. However, the PSP has done very well in Europe, and also seems to be getting a lot of mainstream press and advertising attention, so ironically it may be the machine that gets more non-traditional gamer acceptance. I think the real test will come this holiday season, however, as both consoles get more of a library. The release of GTA: Liberty City Stories should be interesting, as well.
[Article illustration by Erin Mehlos. Please note that the opinions of individual employees responding to the Question Of The Week may not represent those of their company.]