Sony executives got a jolt of adrenaline with their caffeine this morning when they read the latest memo from respected game-industry analyst PJ McNealy. The memo's title says it all: "Sony PlayStation Portable Launch at Risk?"
In the memo, the American Technology Research analyst outlines his reasons for suspecting that Sony's upcoming portable may not make its March 2005 release window. "We continue to monitor the status of development for the upcoming Sony PlayStation Portable and believe that wide publisher support may be challenging for a North American launch in the March 2005 quarter."
One reason for McNealy's supposition is that Sony has not sent out the PSP yet. "From a developers perspective, they would have ideally already had an SDK [software development kit] for a March 2005 launch, as the later the arrival of an SDK into July or August, the odds of having a game ready drop," read the memo.
Another, more-sinister-sounding reason comes from within Sony (SNE) itself. "We believe there may be internal issues for SNE with the PSP that are not only technical, but also business-model related," warns the memo. (Emphasis in the original.) McNealy cites the complexity of launching a multimedia device like the PSP as the main factor. "In order for it to have a successful launch, [the PSP] needs support from several different SNE divisions such as SNE Pictures and SNE Music," read the report. "This also means that development kits must be made for not only the game developers, but also members of the movie and music divisions to be able to put content on SNEs Universal Mini-Disc (which is being used for the PSP)."
McNealy also points out that any non-game company that wants to create UMD media will also need the PSP SDK. "To make things even more complicated, if any of the other six major movie studios, or any of the other four major music labels, or any of the TV media companies want to put content on the PSP, they, too, will need SDKs."
Given the severity of the charges and the stature of McNealy, Sony was quick to respond. "The PSP is definitely on track," said Molly Smith, Sony Computer Entertainment of America's director of public relations. "We haven't changed our window at all. What we laid out at E3 remains fact today." That plan called for a winter 2004 launch of the PSP in Japan, with an American launch by March 31, 2005.
In regards to McNealy's SDK worries, Smith pointed out that the first batch of PSP emulators was sent out in November 2003. "Since that time, we've had a lot of dialogue with our partners," she said. "There's a lot of discussions and back in forth between the developers and publishers." Smith also noted, more than a little ironically, that McNealy's report came within 24 hours of "the latest round of disclosure to our PSP partners on the global level, which included business plans and a tool update."
Smith also downplayed McNealy's concerns about UMD music and movies. "UMD video and UMD audio don't require a full software development kit to optimize and develop content," she said. "It's more like the DVD format." She also emphasized the positive reception the PSP has received. "We've been overwhelmed in the support that has come from the gaming and other media sectors...we've got a lot of responsibility."