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Why Sony Needs an App Store for the PSP Go

Date: 06-26-2009   Click: 795

My friend, like thousands of other garage-based programmers, has been working diligently over the past three months on his first iPhone game. I would tell you more about it, but I don't want to steal his thunder or give away his original idea. Needless to say , he is excited about it, and hopes to scrape a meager profit from its release to help fund his next bigger and more ambitious project. The reason that he decided to abandon the PC and start creating for the iPhone is that Apple provides a streamlined development environment and very low barriers to entry. As a hacker, he also likes to mess around with the latest technology and in his words, "nothing like this has ever been done before."

By all accounts, Apple's decision to open its iPhone hardware to independent developers was a tremendous risk that paid off handsomely. Want a program that can find the closest movie theater, showtimes, and ticket prices? There's an App for that. Want a fully-featured RPG that you can control with only your fingertips? There's an App for that, too.

Long before there was the App Store, however, another mobile platform attracted the attention of talented independent developers. That platform was the PSP-1000. Despite all of the bad publicity surrounding the ease with which hackers unlocked the PSP to play pirate games, a beneficial offshoot was that they also unlocked it to run unofficial applications created by indie developers. The PSP homebrew scene was born. Some of the applications they created for the PSP were pretty incredible as well - there was online chat, music streaming, and web browsing, long before Sony even considered adding features like these to the official firmware. Some great games were made for it too, including a 2D Smash Brothers clone and a port of the popular beat-em-up, Beats of Rage. It is likely that in the years since the PSP's launch, many of those talented hackers have moved away from developing for the PSP and have embraced the iPhone, where they can distribute their programs legally and even turn a small profit by charging for their creations.



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An Apple-like service could help rejuvinate developer interest for the PSP platform.


Sony should seek to capitalize on the wealth of user-created content unleashed by the homebrew community, by opening the PSP Go up to downloadable apps.

So far, the company has not spoken at all about allowing unofficial programs to be downloaded to the PSP Go, but there are signs that Sony might be considering such a move. Last week, they announced that they will lower the price of PSP development kits to $1500 USD, still a significant barrier to entry for garage outfits, but hopefully low enough to spur small companies to take the plunge. There are also industry murmers that Sony might be planning a more widespread push to open the PSP Go to independent developers. Sources told Destructoid that Sony is planning to unveil a new online shopfront that will feature games and apps priced from between $2 and $6. This new online platform does not appear to be geared towards totally independent developers, however:

"The goal with this move," said Sony spokesperson Al de Leon, "is to support development of smaller titles from a broader range of developers and publishers. As part of this effort, we're also streamlining the development process, including concept approval, licensing, and publishing."

Would-be developers will still have to apply for and be granted licensee rights by Sony under this scheme.

There is at least one good reason for charging $1500 for a development kit - it ostensibly keeps back a flood of low-quality titles that could flood the marketplace. If there is anything that the homebrew scene has taught us, however, it is that independent developers possess an incredible amount of creativity and determination. They were so determined, in fact, that homebrew programmers created amazing applications without Sony's permission and without asking for payment -- simply for the thrill of creating something cool. Sony would do well to embrace the creative side of the underground programming community and find a way to encourage them to make even bigger and better software for the PSP Go.

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