The PSP: Celebrating PlayStation's most groundbreaking console 20 years after its release

Commonly known as the PSP, product launched in 2004 took gaming to a new level

Sony's PlayStation Portable launched in December 2004 and had far more features than its rivals. Reuters
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The gaming landscape in 2004 was quite something. Some of the most memorable games and longest lasting franchises were revealed for the first time.

Microsoft had just released the first Xbox, creating competition for Sony’s PlayStation 2, which was the best-selling console of the year. Meanwhile, Nintendo had the GameCube, which was buoyed by its exclusive games but not much else.

However, the best portable console available at the time was Nintendo’s DS, continuing its dominance of that particular market since it had released the Gameboy. But the ceiling for portable consoles was about to be challenged by Sony, which would revolutionise gaming on the go for good.

A new challenger

Nintendo had dominated the portable gaming market, so being dethroned by a competitor did not seem likely in 2004.

Finnish mobile phone maker Nokia launched a portable console that doubled as a phone. It called the N-Gage. The gaming phone failed miserably, with some reports suggesting only 15,000 units were sold by mid-2004.

Sony revealed in the summer if 2004 that it was working on a portable console, set to be released at the end of the year. But how would it fair against Nintendo? That was the question.

The Japanese company tried to answer the question by creating a marketing campaign that would appeal to both fans of the PlayStation and portable gaming.

A new gaming experience

The PSP launched in Japan in December 2004, with gamers in other countries having to wait until March the next year to get their hands on it. The first model cost $249, which was initially criticised for being too expensive. To put that price into perspective, the Nintendo DS was priced at $149.99.

But comments about pricing were soon ignored, as the PSP sales rolled in after launch. Sony sold more than 200,000 units on its first day in Japan and more than 500,000 during the first two days in the US.

Reviews of the new console were positive, with many praising the PSP for its large bright screen and its sleek and intuitive user interface. The PSP also had cutting edge technology such as Wi-Fi connectivity and GPS functionality. It might seem ridiculous to highlight such features today but in 2004 these were brand new for a portable console.

The PSP immediately proved why it was the pre-eminent portable gaming console by showing that games could closely resemble the experience of playing on a PlayStation 2.

While not delivering a one-to-one replication, Sony created scaled down versions of its most famous titles to be playable on the PSP, including Gran Turismo and Grand Theft Auto.

The world was not ready

Despite great sales, especially for a brand-new console, the Nintendo DS still outsold the PSP. To date, the DS has sold 154 million units, while the PSP sold around 81 million. The price might have been a factor, but there were other things that gave Nintendo the edge.

The DS benefitted from Nintendo’s already established dominance, making it an easy choice for most consumers. The DS also had two screens, one of which was a touch screen.

All that said, the PSP was not a failure by any means. Sony advertised the portable console as one that can do more than just play games, and it did those things brilliantly. It could play films, via cartridges or file transfer.

The PSP could also be used as a music player, allowing for curation of playlists through its external storage. Most impressively, its internet connectivity meant that players could browse the web wherever Wi-Fi was available. A lot of what the PSP allowed users to do back then is what can be done on today’s smartphones.

A lasting legacy

Gamers today have a range of choices when selecting a portable gaming console. From the reliable Nintendo Switch to the mind-blowing strength of the Steam Deck, gaming on the go has never been more popular.

While Nintendo can boast about its sales, Sony’s PSP set the high standard for what a portable console could do. It is hard to overstate how ahead of its time the PSP was, being able to play a game, watch a film or listen to music on a hand-held device in 2005 was no small feat.

It's easy to take for granted what our devices can do today. Any smartphone is miles ahead of mobile phones from 20 years ago. The PSP’s features paved the way to imagine and create portable devices that are now common and accessible.

Sony tried to keep innovating with its portable devices, releasing several iterations of the PSP. It followed up with the PS Vita, which did not do well in the market, selling only five million units worldwide.

Perhaps the biggest sign of the PSP’s impressive legacy is that it still experiences interest in the second-hand market. Gamers can pick one up today to experience what made the portable console so special.

Updated: May 05, 2024, 11:45 AM