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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Feature: State of Digital Media Distribution on DS and PSP

Neither Xbox 360 nor PS3 owners should be strangers to digital media distribution on their respective consoles. Xbox Live offers game demos, full Xbox games, add-ons for released games, trailers, movies and smaller-scaled games like the successful Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and Hexic HD for download, while PS3 owners have the PlayStation Network to occupy themselves with. Nintendo has also recently jumped onto the digital media distribution bandwagon with the Wii, offering classic games for download.

There is no denying that digital media distribution has been more or less established on home consoles and it is going strong, with developers taking advantage of it and new content being released weekly. Home console owners are certainly getting the fun, but for handheld gamers, it’s a different story. Suffice to say, digital media distribution for handhelds is still relatively new. We are here today to look at the current state of the aforementioned on the DS and PSP and attempt to predict what the future holds for digital media distribution for the 2 portables.


DS owners didn’t have a platform for a digital media delivery service until March 2006. This could be attributed to some obstacles, including the lack of on-board memory and support for feasible content storage options on the DS. However, things changed when Nintendo of America’s President, Reggie Fils-Aimé, announced at DICE in February 2006 that Nintendo will start to offer all DS owners free downloadable game demos and other downloadable content at thousands of participating retail locations around the US.

For the DS Download Service to be possible, in-store kiosks beamed wireless demo versions of games and other downloadable content onto a player’s DS. All users needed to do was to stop by the store with their DS, select the option “DS Download Play” on their handheld and choose one of a variety of games they wanted to sample. The game will download automatically and users can play all they wanted until they turned their DS off. Among the debutants on the DS download service were the demos of Tetris DS, Brain Age, Mario Kart DS and a Metroid Prime: Hunters video clip.

However, the DS Download Service was far from perfect. Media ‘downloaded’ to the DS was only temporary; users didn’t really have the ability to run the demos and videos after they turned off the DS. In a way, it wasn’t a true platform for digital media download. Furthermore, players had to be at the store for the DS to be able to receive the media and this could be hassle. This leads me to the next issue with the DS download service: It’s not accomplished via the Internet, and hence, not many people around the world were able to enjoy the ‘downloadable’ content.

DS Download Service is accessible from the Nintendo Channel on Wii.

With the launch of the Wii, the situation became better. In April 2008, Nintendo launched the Nintendo Channel for the console alongside WiiWare. The Nintendo Channel wasn’t solely meant for the Wii, though, as DS owners got factored into the equation as well, as demonstrated with the offerings of game demos on the now more-convenient DS download service, accessible via the Nintendo Channel. Suddenly, DS owners didn’t have to travel to the stores anymore to get their fix of demos.

But Nintendo was and is still missing one demographic of gamers: Those who own the DS, but not the Wii. In other words, only those who have the Wii have access to the DS download service, and users who have only the DS (like me) are left stranded. To be fair, it isn’t entirely Nintendo’s fault. Again, this could be due to the DS’s technical limitations as both the original DS and DS Lite don’t have ample on-board memory nor content storage options. What this translates into is that even if Nintendo did have the DS download service accessible from the PC, DS owners wouldn’t be able to enjoy the demos.

Currently, digital media distribution on the DS is only possible for gamers who own both the Wii and DS. Content also consists mainly of game demos. As of the time of this writing, Nintendo hasn’t announced any further plans with regards to digital media distribution on DS.

Users can access the DS Download Service directly from their DSi in Japan.

However, hope has arrived in the form of the newly-launched DSi. Already in Japan, the DS Download Service can be accessed directly from a user’s DSi. This is possible not only because of the built-in web browser on the DSi, but also because of the ability to use the SD card as a storage option on the DSi. If the upgraded DS download service in Japan is of any indication, DS owners worldwide could be enjoying the same benefit come 2009 when the DSi launches in other countries.

Additionally, Nintendo could launch a PC edition of the DS Download Service and allow players to save content onto a SD card. This also allows media files that are greater in size to be played on the DSi. There’s the problem of piracy, though, as media files downloaded via the DS Download Service could be passed from individual to individual if there isn’t a proper security system in place. For instance, WiiWare games saved on SD cards can only be played on a particular Wii console now. A similar security system could be implemented for DSi. Indeed, an expanded DS Download Service looks very possible in the future.


For some time now, Sony has been offering PSP owners downloads of game demos, smaller-scaled games and movies via the PlayStation Network. These downloadable content for the PSP are accessible from the PS3, PC or even the PSP itself. By virtue of these facts, digital media distribution on the PSP is stronger than that on the DS – and more convenient as well. All you need is a PlayStation Network account and you’re good to go.

However, a recent check on PlayStation Network revealed that the amount of downloadable content for the PSP clearly pales in comparison to the amount offered for the PS3. What is offered for the PSP is acceptable at best and neglected at worst. There are still the usual game demos and films, but where smaller-scaled games are concerned, the situation is less than desired. The PSP isn’t exactly loaded with retail game releases nowadays, but downloadable games could ease the pain. But where are the downloadable games?

“We’re not interested in filling up our store with games that nobody wants to play, just so we can say we have the most games,” SCEA President and CEO Jack Tretton said recently when asked about the state of PSN games.

What Jack Tretton said is true as the number of games offered on PSN is far overwhelmed by that offered on Xbox Live Arcade. Bad news: There are few games on the PSN, but quality more than compensates for the lack of quantity. This is especially true for the PS3, with games like Calling All Cars! and Super Stardust HD receiving positive reviews from commercial videogame journalists, but does Jack Tretton’s statement hold true for the PSP?

Super Stardust Portable is one of the best games on PSN.

Given that there are already so few games on the PSN when put in comparison with the Xbox Live Arcade, and that most of them are for the PS3, we can already say that there are extremely few downloadable games for the PSP. There’s Enchorome, Everyday Shooter, Brain Challenge and Super Stardust Portable for download, and by that, I mean games that are exclusive to the PSN. Super Stardust Portable is an incredibly fun and addictive arcade shooter, but to expect a title of such quality every few months for the PSP is already deemed demanding.

A game like Super Stardust Portable is a great step in the right direction, but I would really like to see more of such titles being released more frequently for the PSP on PSN. Unlike the DS Download Service, the infrastructure is already in place, and all the PSN for PSP needs is an injection of creativity and content.

The social component of Little Big Planet brings hope for downloadable content on PSN for the PSP.

The future looks really bright, though. The recent of announcement of Little Big Planet for the PSP brings about a glimmer of hope. Little Big Planet on the PS3 is all about user-created levels and sharing the fun, and while I expect some of the elements from the game to be toned down when it gets ported to the PSP come 2009, the crux of Little Big Planet is still the social component and this fact alone makes certain that there would be more downloadable content on the PSN for the PSP come next year. However, Sony could also very well host an independent server for Little Big Planet for PSP and the PSN for PSP could remain in a similar state as today.

Regardless, there is no doubt that the PSN for PSP needs more content, especially smaller-scaled games. Additionally, there could be official applications made for the PSP, something which the increasingly popular iPhone is enjoying. Suggestions include a calculator, a weather forecast tab and a unit conversion tab – or even a specifically-built for PSP eBay site among others. The only hurdle is whether games and application developers are willing to invest their time and money – considering that the PSP isn’t as widespread as the DS and the iPhone. Sony could take the initiative, though.


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