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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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“Cool” — it’s Sony’s hottest commodity.

From its range of television sets, portable CD players and video game consoles, Sony excels at making consumers want what they sell.

Enter the company’s latest piece of technology — the PSP, short for “PlayStation Portable.”

With a handheld video game console that sports more features and better graphics than any portable game system before it, the PSP seems like an easy sell to the consumer, especially for a marketing veteran like Sony.

But the system has seen mixed reactions during the five weeks since its launch on March 24.

Bobby Bowley, a sales associate at the Wal-Mart in Bowling Green, said that sales at the store have been low.

“I’d assume people don’t know about the features,” Bowley said. “They just look at the price and assume it’s not worth it.”

The PSP can read two types of media — UMDs, or Universal Media Discs and Memory Sticks, which are similar to flash drives.

In addition to video games, UMDs can also hold music or feature-length movies.

Wal-Mart sold 13 PSPs in its first four days on sale, with sales decreasing to nine the next week, then seven and four in subsequent weeks.

Last week, only one PSP was sold at the retailer.

But Wal-Mart is not representative of the entire PSP sales picture, according to Nate Biller, associate manager of the EBGames in Perrysburg.

Biller said initial sales at Wal-Mart were not as good as smaller stores dedicated to selling video games such as EBGames.

His store has sold 40 to 45 PSPs in the last five weeks — about 10 more than Wal-Mart — but even those numbers are not at expected levels.

“Sales didn’t go as well as we thought they would [initially],” Biller said, “we thought they’d be a complete sellout … within the first three days.”

Biller said sales have picked up recently, with three or four PSPs sold per week.

“Sales are strong,” he said. “That’s good for a $250 unit. Look at the PS2 and Xbox, they’re $150 and we sell just as many [as the PSP].”

While retailers expected the PSP to sell out, the sheer number of units available at its launch date may have raised those expectations.

In a press release, Sony announced that they shipped 1 million of the handheld systems on March 24.

According to NPD Funworld, the video game-specific arm of sales data-tracking company NPD Group, 620,000 PSPs were sold through April 2.

David Riley, head of public relations for NPD Funworld, said in an interview that PSP sales are on-par with video game console launches of the past.

“I’d call them [sales] stellar,” Riley said. “Let’s say a manufacturer puts out 10 units and sells six, that’s 60 percent but if they only sell one, then you’ve got a problem.”

While Sony may have readied a million PSPs for launch, Riley said they may not have expected a sellout.

“I think they realized that when you have a million consoles, you’re not going to sell them all,” he said.

Riley explained that hardware manufacturers such as Sony make little, if any money on hardware, with most income generating from software sales.

And according to NPD Funworld’s numbers, about 1.03 million PSP games were purchased by the beginning of April — almost two games for each console sold.

“They’re courting an entirely different market than the traditional handheld market,” Riley said. “It [does] have a mass appeal to the nontraditional handheld gamer.”

Adults are the nontraditional handheld gamers, a demographic mostly untapped by leading handheld console maker Nintendo.

“They [Sony and Nintendo] are approaching two different audiences and Nintendo’s been the leader in this one from the beginning,” Riley said.

Nintendo currently sells two different handheld consoles, the two-year-old GameBoy Advance SP and the five-month-old Nintendo DS.

Riley said the PSP is not affecting either Nintendo system’s sales, however.

“Consumers will buy both if they want both,” he said of the PSP and Nintendo DS. “We’re seeing … people buying more than one console.”

Despite what Riley described as solid sales, local gaming retailers remain somewhat disappointed.

A manager with a local GameStop, who spoke under condition of anonymity due to company policy, said his store sold its initial 25-console shipment in four days. But after receiving its second shipment of 15 PSPs, six units remain after about a month.

“To be honest, I thought we’d be selling out of them pretty fast,” the manager said. “We had big events for [its launch] … only people with reservations came in for it.

“And later that day I went over to the Circuit City to see if they had any left and they had a lot of them.”

He said that sales are lower than expected because it is not the holiday season and its $250 price point is higher than some consumers are willing to pay.

“We’ve got the display boxes, we have units out for people to play, we’re doing all we really can to sell these things,” he said. “I think it really needs to build up a bigger library.”

Sixteen games were available when the PSP launched, and that library has since increased to about 21.

“I think it’s definitely geared towards a more adult kind of crowd,” the manager said of Sony’s handheld. “Especially with a $250 price point, kids and teenagers don’t usually have that kind of money.”

One teenager has set aside enough money for the PSP, though, according to EBGames’ Biller.

“A lot of younger people, younger than I’d expect [are buying the PSP], like teenagers,” Biller said. “I had one guy come in here, he’s prolly only 14 or 15, and he keeps spending all his hard-earned money [on the PSP].”

The age ratio of PSP owners is about half and half, as Biller described it — half of them under 23 and the other half over.

Sony’s new device, if nothing else, is successful with at least one demographic — the Perrysburg police force.

“Actually, a lot of the Perrysburg Police come in here [and buy PSPs],” Biller said. “They play it in their lounge when they’re off-duty.”

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