Backstage: Sony overprices US PSP, drops ball

Yes, we praised Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) after its Japanese release late last year, noting that it was a great value at its base Japanese $199 price. Sure, $199 was around twice the price of Nintendo’s original Game Boy when it was introduced, and already at a taboo price point for anything portable. It was more than twice the price of existing Game Boy SP hardware, but only $50 more than Nintendo’s not-quite-right DS system, which sold fairly well.

Now Sony, in one of those moves that can only be understood in the context of the company’s cockiness, has managed to do what we basically considered impossible: it’s offering the PSP in North America at a higher price. Well, at least, that’s reality: you can’t buy a PSP for $199 in the USA, period, and will have to cough up $249 and take it with $50 worth of crap.

That’s $100 more than a Nintendo DS, and $170 or so more than a Game Boy SP. No portable console has ever succeded after launching at a $249 or higher price tag. It’s mass-market suicide.

And did I just say “crap?” Yes, I did. In an effort to gouge initial buyers, Sony is packaging all PSPs with a “Value Pack” collection of stuff that no one should be buying: an almost uselessly small Memory Stick Duo Pro, a cheap-feeling remote control and headphone set, and a non-interactive demo disc.

We purchased our Japanese PSP with the “Value Pack” and found only one of its included items – a soft carrying case, worth $5 – in any way valuable. Sony’s also leaving out the most forgettable item from the Japanese value pack, a white hand strap, if anyone cares.

To compensate for the fact that it knows the Value Pack items are lame, Sony is promising that the first million PSP units will include a copy of the movie Spider Man 2 on UMD. Though it’s better than nothing, this isn’t something people wanted or needed.

Our strong advice is to skip the PSP at least until Sony drops this stuff from the box, and better yet until it’s guaranteed that all of the quality control issues on the hardware have been fixed.