Disaster puts Sony portable behind

By Clifford Edwards

Sony may launch its new portable gamer into only one regional market this year. Photo / Supplied
Sony may launch its new portable gamer into only one regional market this year. Photo / Supplied

Sony may stagger the global release of its next-generation PlayStation Portable game machine after production delays caused by Japan's earthquake and tsunami last month.

The new PlayStation Portable, dubbed "NGP", may be introduced in only a single region this year instead of starting sales in Asia, Europe and the United States in time for the end-of-year holiday shopping season, said Jack Tretton, president of Sony Computer Entertainment of America.

"It may be the straw that [means] we get to just one market by the end of the year," Tretton said. Delayed introduction may give game developers in certain regions more time to complete their software, he said.

A 2012 rollout in some markets threatens to put Sony further behind Nintendo in the portable games market, said Edward Woo, a video games analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles. Nintendo has released its 3DS hand-held player in the US, Japan and Europe in the past couple of months.

"It raises the bar on the competitive issues that Sony is going to have to hurdle," said Woo. "As it is now, it's already going to be almost eight months behind Nintendo, and a delay could push that to a year."

Tretton declined to say where Tokyo-based Sony may offer the device first.

Sony and its executives have been unclear about specifics of the release. A January 27 statement said that NGP would make its debut this year, without giving details.

In a subsequent interview with trade publication IGN, Kazuo Hirai, head of Sony's games business, described "holiday season" introduction. Tretton, speaking with the website Engadget, said the company was being ambiguous "for a reason" and that Sony may not get to more than one territory by year-end.

Nintendo, based in Kyoto, said last month it sold a record number of the hand-held 3DS machines on its first day of sales in the US. The device, which allows people to play 3D games without special glasses, sold more than 800,000 units in the first month after its February debut in Japan, according to Tokyo-based researcher Enterbrain.

Atul Goyal, a senior analyst at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Singapore, cut his estimates last month for Sony's operating profit for the 12 months ended March 31 and this fiscal year, citing concerns over the economic fallout from the earthquake.

Hirai said in January the NGP would deliver the power of the PlayStation 3 game console in a hand-held device. The new portable model would have a 12.7cm organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, display and would offer location-based services as part of an application called "Near".

The NGP features front and rear-facing cameras and a rear multi-sensor touchpad. The company also has developed a proprietary memory format for the NGP.

Apple, Samsung Electronics and other mobile device makers are improving graphics capabilities on tablet computers and smartphones to deliver more realistic games to those devices.

Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications is set to introduce the Xperia Play smartphone in Europe over the next few weeks on Verizon Wireless' network, the company said. The device uses Google's Android operating system and is the first to let users play Sony-developed games under its PlayStation Certified program that optimises any Android hand-held for gaming.

"Expectations are pretty limited for NGP this calendar year, the idea being that they would need some time to build up a library," said Jay Defibaugh, an analyst at MF Global FXA Securities in Tokyo.

"Third parties carry more weight for the Sony platform and will need more time for development, so the medium-term view is more important for NGP than how it gets out of the starting block."

- Bloomberg

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