Sony, Nintendo in handheld battle

E3: Vidgame giants reveal new mobile systems

Sony and Nintendo are preparing to go head-to-head in the handheld market.

Vidgame giants both revealed new mobile gaming devices Tuesday as vidgame pros from around the world converged on Los Angeles for the 10th annual E3 confab, which opens today.

Sony’s new device, the Playstation Portable, or PSP, will be of particular interest to Hollywood, since it plays video and audio content along with games.

Sony Computer Entertainment America CEO Kaz Hirai said at a news conference that the PSP will play movies on its 16:9 screen, which matches dimensions in movie theaters. Device stores content on Sony’s new Universal Media Disc, a small optical disc that the company hopes will take off for the storage of games, movies and music, despite the failure of previous incarnations of the Sony mini-disc.

Device will also integrate with Sony’s Connect online musicstore, which launched worldwide last week (Daily Variety, May 5).

PSP was previously scheduled to hit store shelves by the holidays, but was delayed until March in North America, reportedly due to delays in getting necessary tools to developers making games for it.

That gives an opening to competitor Nintendo, which already dominates the handheld gaming market with its GameBoy Advance and is launching its second mobile gaming console in the fourth quarter.

Code-named DS, Nintendo’s new device will feature two gaming screens, touch-screen and voice interaction, and wireless connectivity.

Neither company released planned prices, but analysts expect the PSP to come in around $300 due to its multi-media capabilities, while the DS should cost closer to GameBoy’s $100. Nintendo is hoping the advantage in price and release date will help it hold its dominant position against what’s sure to be a major marketing onslaught by Sony, whose Playstation 2 rules the console space with nearly five times as many units sold as Nintendo Gamecube or Microsoft Xbox.

Handheld gaming is a relatively small size of the gaming market, generating just $750 million in hardware sales and two of the top 10 games in the $11.2 billion vidgame industry last year. But it’s a space totally dominated by Nintendo. Company execs said they expect to lose some market share among dedicated gamers to the PSP, which features a larger screen and better graphics, but that they hope to maintain the lead among younger and casual players.

In addition to opportunities on new devices, execs from traditional Hollywood will see more of their pros than ever behind the scenes at the vidgame world.

A plethora of licensed games means that a legion of celebs, ranging from Vin Diesel to Michelle Rodriguez to Patrick Stewart, will be voicing characters.

Screenwriters are also being brought in more and more to script game stories. Scribes Corey May and Dooma Wendschuh recently penned “Prince of Persia 2” for publisher Ubisoft in a deal reported to be worth low six figures.

Game, which will be previewed for the first time at E3, will be released at the same time as a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced bigscreen adaptation of the most recent “Prince of Persia” game (Daily Variety, March 4) .