The NGP: Not Gonna Purchase (Unless It Costs Less Than $400)

I have not been shy about expressing my appreciation of the iPad on this blog. Despite my limited experience with it, I would be willing to say that it’s one of the most powerful and incredible devices I’ve ever had the privilege of playing with. I am almost 100% positive that the iPad 2 will be the next big technology purchase I make. But of course, there are always bigger and better things just beyond the horizon. And so I’ve already found myself thinking about what I’m going to save up for after I get an iPad.

One of the strongest candidates is something that doesn’t even have an official name yet. Instead, it has a code name: the Sony NGP, which stands for Next Generation Portable. Clever, huh? In any case, the NGP is more or less the follow-up to Sony’s previous portable gaming system, known as the PSP, or Playstation Portable. The PSP came out all the way back in 2005, so it’s definitely a bit long in the tooth. I only just bought one last summer, and being a father of young children, I don’t get much time to actually play video games anymore, so I haven’t actually used it a ton yet. But I like it. It’s clearly technology that’s almost 6 years old now. But there’s definitely some good games available for it.

In any case, the NGP is a beast of a machine. I don’t necessarily want to bore you with all of the technical details, so here’s a link where you can find out more if you’re interested. Here’s the quick summary: quad-core processor, 960 x 544 5″ OLED display which is also a touchscreen, multi-touch touchpad on the back, a gyroscope for motion sensing, cameras on the front and back, 3G connectivity, etc. Basically, if you can pack it into a handheld device, this thing has got it.

Not only that, but the games should be great too. If you read last week’s post, you would know that I’ve got a thing for Nintendo’s exclusive franchises like Mario and Zelda. Well, Sony’s stable of exclusive franchises is no slouch either. Already Sony has announced that games based on franchises like Killzone, Uncharted and Resistance are coming to the NGP. Killzone and Uncharted are definitely two of my favorite video game franchises, so I’m very excited about that.

There is one little concern that has yet to be answered by Sony that could have me writing a much angrier blog post in a few months. That, of course, is price. As I just said, the NGP is a beast of a machine. And I’m afraid that it’s going to have a beast of a price to match.

This may come as a bit of a surprise, but I think the ideal price point for this device is $300. If you read last week’s post, you know that I spent a great deal of time railing against the $250 price point of the Nintendo 3DS. So why would I be okay with this device costing $50 more? Well, there’s a couple of reasons. First of all, the 3DS is notably inferior to a competing device that costs less. The NGP is considerably more powerful than any other handheld device either currently on the market or slated to come to market in the near future. Therefore it is logical for it to cost more than other competing devices. In fact, it’s fair to wonder if pricing it lower than competing devices would actually make some people wonder what was wrong with it. That, and, the lower the price, the more money Sony would lose on each one.

Second, although $300 is indeed more than the cost of the 3DS, it is considerably less than what this device could and probably will cost. As I believe I’ve already mentioned, this is a beast of a machine. It is entirely likely that Sony would lose money on each one sold even if they sell it for $600. Now, Sony has already said that the NGP will cost less than $600. Which is good, because the Playstation 3 cost $600 when it came out over 4 years ago, and it was obvious from consumer reaction that it was priced too high. If $600 is too much for a home console, then it’s definitely too much for a handheld console.

But even $500 is way too much. At $400, I would probably try to buy one, but I’m not sure that many other people would. I really think that $300 is the magic price point that they have to hit if this thing is going to be a success.

I can already hear the inevitable question, though. Why, if Sony would lose money at $600, would they ever sell it for $300? In fact, it’s actually quite common for video game consoles to be sold at a loss. The thinking is that by taking a loss on the actual console, you can flood the market with your console and then sell more games, which of course are ridiculously overpriced. So that’s where the real money is.

Anyway, it will certainly be interesting to see what happens with the NGP over the next few years. The PSP certainly wasn’t a failure, but it definitely wasn’t as much of a success as Sony hoped it would be back when it first launched in 2005. The thinking at the time was that the PSP would be able to do something that no other handheld console had been able to do: dislodge Nintendo from the top spot in the portable video game market. At first, it seemed inevitable that Sony would dominate the portable market as thoroughly as they dominated the home console market (and count me among those who thought the Nintendo DS was doomed right from the start.) But Sony overpriced the PSP and didn’t support it with enough good games, and the DS went on to dominate like the various Game Boy consoles had before it.

In any case, it doesn’t really matter what a console’s market share is. All I care about is whether or not it has good games. So let’s hear it for good games on both the 3DS and the NGP.

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