Following the recent announcement of Sony’s plans to offer a premium platform for PlayStation Network users, the gaming community has mixed opinions. Many have cried foul, claiming that Sony is heading towards the Xbox Live model in which free access severely limits your options. On the other hand, others have articulated this is a great opportunity for Sony to open new doors and expand the PSN to new horizons, rich with a multitude of features.
A complete network infrastructure for millions of users cost a pretty penny to maintain. PlayStation 3 staples such as Resistance 2, Killzone 2, MAG (Beta) and Warhawk players generally enjoy lag-free, dedicated servers. While this is an excellent benefit for everyone, it ultimately puts Sony in a difficult spot. Adding a revenue source would free them up to maintain parity with the competition and put them in a position to excel in the Network gaming space. To focus primarily on one of these aspects could lead to disappointment on either side of the spectrum. Equality is important to Sony, and the extra cash would give them the ability to improve the PlayStation Network tenfold. Xbox Live has improved over time and many point to the fact that they charge a premium as the recipe for its success. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the analogy applies to what Sony is doing with the PlayStation Network.
“SCE will further increase sales by offering users new entertainment through the combination of hardware, software, peripheral and PlayStation Network, especially in the online area, we are studying the possibility of introducing a subscription model, offering premium content and services, in addition to the current free services.”
– Kaz Hirai, CEO, Sony Computer Entertainment [Source]
Quality should never take a step backwards and diminish the great things Sony’s network is already known for. In order to implement these advancements without sacrificing what made the PSN great, it’s only natural to charge consumers seeking options and new experiences. While details on the premium services are scant, according to Kaz Hirai they will be in addition to the current free services.
The PlayStation Network has matured by leaps and bounds since its infancy. Sporting countless free services like online gameplay right out of the box; PlayStation Home, up to date global news feeds via Life with PlayStation, as well as the PlayStation Store which offers a variety of free content (demos, wallpapers, themes and videos). Firmware updates have also advanced the platform and the network alike. PlayStation 3 owners have little to complain about in terms of the value proposition of the PSN.
It is likely that most of the core enthusiasts will jump at premium services. While the Xbox Live Gold membership fees spark the ire of core PlayStation fans, Microsoft has proven time and time again that people will pay. Xbox Live Gold costs each Xbox gamer $50 annually and results in more revenues that can be used to fund new projects for the network. It would have been audacious for Sony to ask for subscriptions for the initial PSN offering, as at the time it was very much sub the Xbox Live standard.
In the beginning Sony faced harsh criticism that plagued them throughout 2007 and much of 2008. Even now, forum threads are filled with numerous complaints about each firmware update and network hiccup. Regardless of the fact that Xbox Live hasn’t been a flawless experience. Updates require a lot of resources and hard work to implement. Of course, the Xbox Live subscription model provides MS the means to keep on top of their game in delivering their community what they want. Sony has been putting in just as much effort at no cost to their end users. There is no logical reason to think Sony would not do similar or even greater things, considering the scale of Sony as a whole entity.
Sony has achieved near parity with Xbox Live without charging anyone a dime. Free online gaming is not going anywhere and offering additional but premium services can only spell good things overall. It will all boil down to exactly what kind of content they will offer. Will they use overwhelmingly requested features such as in-game party chat and soundtracks to merit a price tag, or will Sony have something new and exciting in store for us? For now the spotlight is on them, and the community is patiently waiting.