Japanese PSPs getting online store, PS3-based ad hoc play

Sony uses Tokyo press conference to unveil PS3-/PC-free Web-based content market, PlayStation Network-enabled portable play mode; now more than 10 million units sold in Japan alone.

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TOKYO--With PlayStation Portable sales booming in Japan, it's not surprising that Sony Computer Entertainment is strengthening its online support of the handheld. Today in Tokyo, the company held a press conference to announce its year-end plans for the PSP.

At the conference, Sony Computer Entertainment Japan president Shawn Layden began by noting that the PSP-3000's release date in Japan will be October 16, two days after the North American launch. The handheld will retail for ¥19,800 ($182), the same price as the current PSP-2000 model. The redesigned handheld, the second in as many years, will also be available as part of a ¥24,800 ($228) value pack, which includes a 4GB Memory Stick Pro Duo, carrying pouch, strap, and wiping cloth. The color variations available in Japan will the same as in other countries: Piano Black, Pearl White, and Mystic Silver.

After the hardware talk, Sony revealed that Japanese gamers will be able to access the PlayStation Store directly with their PSPs. Starting this fall, PSP owners will be able to download demos or to buy PlayStation Archive games without having to connect through a PlayStation 3 or PC, which is currently necessary in North America and Europe. The first game announced for the service is a PSP version of the Japan-only online game Mainichi Issho, which translates roughly as "Everyday Together." Sony did not reveal when the functionality would be available outside of Japan.

Sony also announced a new online functionality that will let PSP owners engage in ad hoc play over PlayStation Network-connected PlayStation 3s. Matchmaking, friends lists, text chat, and voice chat are among the planned features, and the service will be available via download this fall. All three PSP models (PSP-1000, PSP-2000, PSP-3000) will be able to use this service, and Capcom's Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G will be one of the first games to take advantage of the new connectivity.

The conference also saw a number of upcoming PSP games dated for Japan. Patapon 2 will arrive on November 27 for ¥4,980 ($46) at retail and via a slightly cheaper ¥3,980 ($37) downloadable version. The game will also be offered as part of a hardware bundle for ¥23,800 ($219). Meanwhile, Namco Bandai's Kidou Senshi Gundam: Gundam vs. Gundam will ship on November 20 for ¥5,040 ($46) solo or as part of a ¥24,840 ($228) PSP bundle. Lastly, Square Enix's Final Fantasy: Dissidia will arrive on December 18 for ¥6,090 ($56) a la carte or inside a ¥25,890 ($238) PSP-3000 package.

Sony also used the conference to talk up the PSP's dramatically rising sales in Japan. According to Layden, the handheld was the top gaming machine in Japan from January to August, having sold 2.47 million units--a 189 percent rise over the same period last year. Sales for the April to August period were particularly good due to the popularity of Capcom's hit game Monster Hunter Portable 2G. The handheld sold 1.43 million units in the four-month period, a 227 percent boost over last year. Layden also mentioned that the PSP's sell-in and sell-through figures have both surpassed the 10 million mark in Japan.

Software sales have also been good for the PSP, with 6.66 million games sold from January to August, up 171 percent from 2007. Of those, 4.19 million were sold after April, a 242 percent increase over 2007. The biggest contributor was Monster Hunter Portable 2G, which was released in March and quickly became the first PSP game ever to sell more than 2 million copies in Japan. As of August, Monster Hunter Portable 2G has sold a total of 2.4 million copies. Layden commented that the PSP is in a good "positive spiral" condition, meaning that the hardware and software sales are enjoying abundant synergy.

Sony also took the opportunity to offer some insights on how consumers in Japan are using their PSPs outside of gaming. According to research figures, only 16 percent of PSP owners use their machine to just play games. Some 69 percent of users said that they use their PSPs for listening to music. Watching videos came in second place at 58 percent, followed by photo viewing (46 percent), and surfing the web (39 percent). About 25 percent of PSP owners said that they use their handheld for watching TV, given that a PSP digital TV-tuner peripheral is available in Japan.

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