Sony’s online gaming service—which we believe will be dubbed HUB once launched—will feature free support for a number of online options, including online play, according to comments from Sony Computer Entertainment president Ken Kutaragi.
Speaking to Japanese-language site PC Impress Watch, Kutaragi suggested that because PC gamers are accustomed to being able to meet up and play online for free (presumably leaving aside subscription-only games), it doesn’t make sense to charge for that functionality on the console.
"We don’t charge for the basic functions of the network like matching services. Things like that are taken for granted on a PC, aren’t they? There’s the feeling of why a game console gets to charge for a service that’s normal on a PC. So, we just made the basic services available, and based our business on the contents," he said.
Kutaragi’s comments clearly suggest that online play will be free, up to and including meeting up with other users (the matching service). Voice and video chat, messaging, and ranking services are also expected to be available for free, stemming from comments made by Kutaragi in March. This does not rule out additional value-added services, however, and until the service is officially announced, we can only call these plans tentative.
Kutaragi also said that Sony has plans to sell "content" online, saying that they had wanted to do it as far back as 1999. He hinted that the American market was still too dominated by modems at the time, however, and so they had to cancel plans and wait for the opportunity to return with the PS3. In the meantime, he says, "Apple realized e-Distribution. So we figured it was about time for us as well." He added that, "In a year or two, I think everyone will just expect [commercial content distribution over networks]."
Yet it is unclear what Sony intends to sell. While the 60GB hard drive in the premium console is spacious, it would not be large enough to hold a collection of HD video, although the company could sell storage add-ons in the future. We believe that Sony will initially sell other content, including music and standard definition video, as well as gaming content such as that available today in the Xbox Live Marketplace.
Kutaragi also took an opportunity to take a swipe at Microsoft, saying that the Redmond giant calls the Xbox 360 "just a game console"—a dig couched in Kutaragi’s insistence that the PS3 is a computer. The rhetoric will only intensify as the PS3 launch draws nearer, and Sony appears to be ready to champion its online service over Microsoft’s more mature Xbox Live.
The ploy could work. Such a service may sound tempting to many users who are otherwise put off by the PS3’s price. With "free" online play rolled in, it could convince many gamers that the PS3’s expense is more reasonable. By comparison, Microsoft’s Xbox Live service has two primary levels of memberships: Silver and Gold. Silver memberships are free to all Xbox 360 owners, while Gold memberships cost approximately US$50 per year. Generally speaking, Gold-level access is required for gamers who want to square off against friends and others online, although the Silver membership allows for online gaming for MMORPG titles (that is, titles for which there is no other way to play except online). In short, it appears as though Sony plans to offer for free what Microsoft is currently charging for, and that could be a big plus.
Ken "akatombo" Le translated the interview’s contents.