PlayStation Goes Global: How Online Functionality Shaped the PlayStation Brand

With the current generation of gaming consoles, such as the PlayStation 3, online gaming has become central to the gaming experience. Nearly every game released has some form of online component, whether it is playing online multiplayer against your friends and rivals or downloading additional content for your single player game. Online capabilities have now spread beyond online gaming; it is possible to stream and watch your favorite television shows and movies directly to your PlayStation 3.

However, it wasn’t always like this. It’s hard to imagine, but it was only recently that the PlayStation brand has been so tightly integrated with online gaming and other online features. When the PlayStation 2 was launched in 2000, online gaming had yet to take off, due to the fact that the technology wasn’t readily available yet. These days, many gamers are used to cable modems and wireless internet being standard, but in 2000 many residents of the United States were still using dial-up and phone lines to connect to the Internet. While online gaming was possible, it was prone to slowdown and dropped connections, making it an unappealing way to play games for many gamers. While the Dreamcast, released in 1999, had a built-in modem, only a few games used the feature and while one game, Phantasy Star Online, was hugely popular, Sony decided to pass on online gaming at the outset of the PlayStation 2.

Because of this decision, the original PlayStation 2 did not include any hardware dedicated to online support. However, Sony quickly saw the error of their ways and, by 2002, had unveiled the PlayStation Network Adapter in the United States. The PlayStation Network Adapter supported both dial-up connections and broadband connections due to an increased number of households that were making the switch to faster Internet speeds.

Over 100 PlayStation 2 games supported online play, including Final Fantasy XI, Twisted Metal Black and numerous games from the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series. However, online gaming was still in its infancy at this point; a centralized service was not available, so each game required separate user names and passwords. In addition, many games did not support voice communications, making online gaming a lonely experience.

In 2005 Microsoft unveiled the Xbox 360, placing an emphasis on online gaming; the system was built around keeping you connected at all times. Not one to be outclassed, Sony did the same in 2006, but with one major change; while it costs $49.99 a year to play online on the Xbox 360, Sony provided its online gaming service for free. To this day, this remains one of Sony’s strongest bullet points; while the cost of Xbox Live has gone up to $59.99 a year, the PlayStation 3’s online gaming features still continue to remain free.

Just like the Xbox 360, many elements of the PlayStation 3 were developed around online gaming, which is a stark contrast to the PlayStation 2, where online gaming was an afterthought. However, unlike the PlayStation 2, the PlayStation 3 only supports broadband access, either wired or wirelessly. This can be attributed to the faster Internet speeds becoming the new standard in many parts of the United States.

PlayStation Goes Global: How Online Functionality Shaped the PlayStation BrandAnother major change from the online capabilities of the PlayStation 2 is that all online components are centralized; every game uses the account name you created when you first used your PlayStation 3. The console also tracks every player you play against in any online game, allowing you to add those players to a friend’s list: a stored listing of players you want to play against in the future. You can also talk to anyone on your friend’s list, sending them a text message or chatting to them via audio or video: the PlayStation 3 is compatible with any Bluetooth or USB headset. However, this feature does have its limitations; unlike the Xbox 360, cross game chat is not supported on the PlayStation 3. What this means is that to talk to a friend via audio, both of you must be in the same game or on the PlayStation 3’s main menu; for example, if your friend is playing Battlefield 3 and you are playing Modern Warfare 3, it is not possible to talk to him via headset.

The PlayStation Store is also a new addition to the online capabilities of the PlayStation 3. Through the PlayStation Store, users can purchase downloadable content to extend their game, download free demos of games to try before they buy, purchase and download full games, such as Mass Effect 3, and download movies and television shows. All the available online features of the PlayStation 3 create what is known as the PlayStation Network and is a driving force behind the system.

Outside of the PlayStation Network, certain applications can be downloaded to increase the functionality of the PlayStation 3. Currently, this includes the Netflix and Hulu applications, with each application requiring its own separate subscription to access. If you have a subscription to either service, your PlayStation 3 can stream television shows and movies directly from the chosen service to your television instead of your computer.

Now that Sony has officially unveiled the PlayStation 4, we can see just how online will continue to be a major component. Many of the PlayStation 3's online features, such as online play, access to a variety of applications and downloadable movies and music will remain. However, with the new social interactions such as sharing screen shots and videos to your friends, the PlayStation 4 pushes online functionality more than ever before. If you're interested in seeing just what Sony is doing with the PlayStation 4's online features, you can check out the Official PS4 Experts PSN Page. This page contains up-to-date information on everything involving the PS4 and its online features.

Sony has built an incredible base for all online functionality; we can be assured that, with the PlayStation 4, whatever changes happen will only serve to push that functionality further, creating not only a better gaming experience, but a better entertainment experience for everyone.

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