Sony discussed a lot of features at the February 20th reveal for the PlayStation 4, ranging from the new features of the DualShock 4 to the social networking features of the system. However, one aspect Sony did not touch on was the online features of the system outside of the new features. Will the service remain free for all gamers? What about PlayStation Plus? To take a look at what Sony might do with the PS4 in terms of online capability, let's take a look at what it currently does with the PS3.
The PlayStation 3, as opposed to the Xbox 360, offers free online play for all users of the system. All users have access to the core features of the PlayStation Network, including online multiplayer, a friends list, messaging friends, accessing the PlayStation Store and using the Web browser. All that is necessary to use these features is an Internet connection.
In addition, the PS3 also offers PlayStation Plus for either $17.99 for three months or $49.99 for a year. PlayStation Plus entitles you to additional discounts on discounted content (for example, all users get 50% off a game while Plus users get 75% off), early access to content, such as demos and betas, and free games every month through the Instant Game Collection program. In addition, the service spans across both the PS3 and Vita. Unlike Microsoft's model, where the company treats free members as second class citizens and restricts large amounts of content, Sony rewards paying members with additional content on top of the always free online features.
So far, this online system is working well for Sony. While there was initially some outcry over PlayStation Plus, as Sony fans were worried about Sony copying the Xbox Live model, fans have greatly warmed up to it as Sony gives users anywhere from $100 - $200 worth of free games and content every month.
However, let's face reality: there is money to be made from making every customer a subscriber. After all, Xbox Live has millions of Gold members, providing a steady revenue stream year after year. Sony could stand to make a lot of money if they followed the Xbox Live model and restricted basic online features. Does this mean they are going to? Most likely not. Sony stands to lose far more by switching price models as fans would most likely be infuriated at their choice and not pick up a PS4 at all. One of the benefits of the PS3 is not needing to buy any extra subscriptions to get all the features of the console; it's a huge selling point for the device.
With the PS4's shift towards always connected social networking, it is very unlikely Sony would block users from accessing these features unless they pay a fee. With every game taking advantage of the social networking aspects of the PS4, Sony will want as many people to experience the social networking features of the device.
In fact, it's far more likely we will see a tiered system similar to what we already see with the PS3: the basic online features of the device, such as online play and sharing, will be free to all users while users who pay will receive additional benefits. SCE Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida has said as much when speaking to The Guardian:
" We could have gold, silver or platinum levels of membership, something like that. We can do subscription services when we have more content – especially now that we have the Gaikai technology available. With one subscription you have access to thousands of games – that's our dream."
Based on this comment, it seems initially there will be no subscription service at all -- after all, it doesn't make sense for Sony to have PlayStation Plus at the PS4 launch, as there will most likely not be any free games or discounts on PS4 content at the launch of the device. Our guess is to what the PS4 online content tiers will break down to is this:
Basic -- No cost. All online features, such as sharing, online play and browsing the Internet are free
PlayStation Plus -- Similar to today's PlayStation Plus, providing a small assortment of free games, additional discounts and early access to content
PlayStation Plus Gold -- Access to thousands of games, both past and present, via the use of the Gaikai streaming service
Yoshida has big plans for the Gaikai component of the PS4 and for the online service in general, as Sony seems committed to the idea of providing more content for your money, not unlocking content everyone should already have for free. We are confident that all online features you saw at the PS4 launch conference, especially sharing, are going to be free for all users.
What do you think? Will the PlayStation 4 online services remain free? What kind of online services do you want to see with the PS4? Let us know in the comments!
Article by - Joshua Phillips
Insert Date: 03/06/2013
July 16th, 2013 Update: The Answer Is Yes
As we saw at E3 2013, sadly Sony will be charging for online services for the PlayStation 4, specifically online play. A PlayStation Plus subscription will be required for online play for retail games; however, free-to-play games do not require a PlayStation Plus subscription unless the developer or publisher wants their free-to-play game to require one.
Online services, such as Netflix or Hulu, will not require a PlayStation Plus subscription to access them.
A PlayStation Plus subscription will remain at the $49.99 per year price and will include additional benefits, such as free games and access to exclusive demos.
Will this stop you from purchasing a PlayStation 4? Let us know in the comments below!
Update by - Joshua Phillips
Insert Date: 7/16/2013
Talk about PlayStation Plus on our forums!