The Playstation Vita drops early next year and PSP owners are looking at their pile of UMDs (most of them being small) and wondering if Sony will do anything to throw them a bone. What shall we do with the colossally dead format of UMDs and how, Sony, are you going to make the pain of clearly wasted money go away? I wouldn’t have guessed that Sony would do anything for PSP owners and their game collections, but recently, for Japan, Sony announced the UMD Passport Program.
Players with PSPs connected to the Playstation Network, will be able to verify their “ownership” of certain UMD titles and receive a voucher to download that title to their Vita for a discounted price. Naturally, the games available for this are limited and for seemingly nefarious reasons, the prices for the vouchers will vary.
Publishers will have to opt in to the service and as of right now only about 262 PSP games will be available at launch. That’s just under half of the total titles available in Japan on UMD. Many major publishers have yet to opt into the service, with the most notable ones being Capcom, Konami, Square Enix, Sega, and Namco Bandai. Without Capcom on board in Japan, the Passport Program may already be DOA. Monster Hunter alone would be the most vouchered game across all publishers.
The Passport service has not been announced stateside, but journalist like Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek have been very vocal about how poorly it’s being designed. The chief complaint is the variance in pricing. Some games will transfer for as low as $5 while others will be upwards of $50. Keep in mind this is Japan and games can cost significantly more than they do in the US, but Sony not giving a concrete reason for the price variance in even their own titles has caused a stir.
I get it, internally, Sony knows what each of their games is worth and they are looking to get what they can from them, it’s just smart business. Backward compatibility is decreasingly important and the only reason this service can exist is because a large portion of the PSP library is already available in a digital format and will be available for purchase at launch of the Vita. It’s an olive branch that Sony can offer without putting in much work. Just build the Passport Program into a PSP firmware update and leverage their already established redeem code service and PSN, done.
Sony is in no position to try and strong-arm publishers into locking down participation, availability and pricing, especially on a feature that is a footnote at best. I would expect more stable pricing if this is announced in the US because of the already stable UMD prices here. I also expect them to vary, just like the price of used games varies. Titles like Daxter or GTA, are always going to be low because of the amount of copies already in consumers hands, while rare titles will always cost more. It’s basic supply and demand.
Seeing as there will be no way for Sony to prevent UMD sharing that causes multiple redeem codes to be generated from one disc, I’m surprised any publishers are participating at all. The fall of UMD gives publishers more control over the money their intellectual property generates. Ridge Racer will sit on the PSN store until the end of time and every time someone wants to buy it they will give Namco (and Sony) money. It’s not in Namco’s best interest to allow Ridge Racer players an “out” that cuts the price of that purchase.
The other mindset is that players who would have not paid full price for the game digitally might be willing to drop some dollars for access to it on their new hardware. With that in mind, how many players would really be willing to make that transition and how many resources should Sony put behind the initiative? I would say not many. If the PSP had a rich library of top shelf games and diehard followers, it might be worth the work, but even I, as a PSP fan, cannot find more than 10 or so games I’m interested in playing on the handheld. If I am listing games with replay value, that number shrinks to a handful at best.
I equate this to Microsoft’s half-hearted backwards compatibility list on 360 for original Xbox games. Only a fraction of the games are playable and many that are supposed to be playable are broken in a way that makes them unplayable. Both this and the Passport Program are nice services being provided that have the consumer in mind but they are clearly not perfect. Asking them to perfect the process is like attacking an iceberg with a BIC lighter. Unlike the backward compatibility list, the UMD Passport Program potentially costs publishers revenue and you see where the Backward Compatibility went.
Sony doesn’t have to provide this service at all, its not like they are pressing a self destruct button for all PSPs rendering them unable to play UMDs. If playing Lumines is that important to you, just carry around a PSP. They are cheap, reliable and get the job done. UMDs will always have a home, and that is in PSPs, for us to expect more, is really putting too much faith in the kindness of Sony Computer Entertainment.