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Sony NGP: What the industry thinks about it

And what it means for you...

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Smaller games, like Minis, will be distributed online only. Of course, NGP will be backwards compatible with PSP games - but no UMD drive means you'll need to re-purchase your collection (with slightly improved visuals, Yoshida has reportedly revealed) from PSN.

Games aside NGP is, without question, the most powerful handheld to date. The fact that Sony has plumped for an ARM Cortex A9 CPU combined with an Imagination Technologies SGX5 43MP4+ quadcore GPU shows it means business.

SPECIALISE OR DIE
However, privately, many devs are hoping that Sony will not make the mistake of slavishly following the PSP model with NGP, which is no longer a sustainable business strategy.

Apple's iOS development and distribution ecosystem and the booming growth of the smartphone market has changed the way that handheld gaming works over the last two years.

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As Screen Digest's senior games analyst, Piers Harding-Rolls explains: "From a device perspective, smartphones are now aggressively intercepting a wide range of consumers further up the 'consumption chain'.

Mainstream devices (like iPhone) are used for a wide range of everyday activities and also happen to serve games content. This trend will result in use away from specialist devices, onto smartphones."

Decent casual games content is both cheap and plentiful on iPhone. "The combination of which delivers a hammer blow to specialist devices," argues Harding-Rolls. "The overlap between the average future NGP user (14-35 male with high disposable income) and high-end smartphone user is substantial and we believe that the addressable opportunity is narrowing, especially in Western markets."

Mobile games designer Stewart Hogarth from Chunk Games agrees. "Rather than just trying to imitate the competition by cramming as much as possible, Sony should try to fill in the shortcomings of its peers. If console gaming on the go is what they're going for, they need to make sure it delivers".

Either way, the early roster of games is impressive - over 80 major publishers are already signed up to work on NGP, including the likes of Activision, Konami, Capcom, Level-5, Epic Games, Square Enix, Sega and Rockstar. Sony can make the high-end handheld business a success, insists ZEN Studios' Kigyossy, despite the PSP faltering in recent years.

"Sony needs to think long and hard about how people are using handhelds, because so far NGP has been about the power of the technology - hopefully that translates into amazing gaming experiences and consumers see the value. When you look at what all these devices have in common - WiFi, 3G/4G, Phone, Games, Movies - what will set them apart? It's all about content."

GAME CHANGERS
Early gameplay demos - most notably Uncharted - show Sony are challenging conventions, producing "something that already looks to offer an advancement in how we play handhelds," according to TNS Technology analyst Ged Egan.

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"Titles already announced are impressive and I expect Sony will do everything to ensure the vast majority are available at launch. If they can pull this off, it will be the strongest list of launch titles of any console, portable or otherwise, that we have ever seen."

How easy will it be to port existing PS3 games? "We are currently developing Yakuza: Of The End, to be released (on PS3) in March," says Sega's Toshihiro Nagoshi.

"We had the NGP team transfer it over to their device - in about 10 days. The time-frame being what it was, there were certain features that we couldn't include. But I think that it is very significant that we could have a real-time movie that was designed for PS3 completely transfer to NGP in such a span of time. With some later work to add lighting, mostly."

Battery life should be in the order of 4-6 hours like existing PSP models, despite the processor demands. "The ultra-low-power quad core ARM Cortex-A9 processor at the heart of the system provides exceptional device performance on the move, without limiting battery life," says Jim Wallace, director of Cambridge-based mobile chip designer ARM.

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