Part of the appeal of the PlayStation Network is that – currently at least – you don’t need to pay anything to play with your friends online. Of course, one could reasonably argue that much of the cost of running the network in this way is offset (that’s for another article entirely) but the fact is that you can buy a PlayStation 3 (or a Vita) and a game (assuming it’s new, or doesn’t require an online pass at all) and jump straight into some online gaming.[drop2]And whilst that’s likely to remain the case for the current machines (and perhaps should be something Sony shouts about more) as Sony posts one ridiculously massive loss, analysts have weighed in with their opinion on where the service itself will be heading away from just thinking about gaming.
As Kaz Hirai attempts to steer the PSN into new territory, things might well have to change, and Hirai has already stated that he intends to “increase sales by enriching [Sony’s] catalog of downloadable game titles and subscription services available through the PSN platform.”
“I think it’s unlikely that they will require a fee,” says Michael Pachter, analyst for Wedbush. “But think they will strip down the free version to multiplayer and not much else in order to encourage people to pay the fee.”
Another analyst, M2’s Billy Pidgeon thinks that Sony will continue to tier the pay-for options. “Providing networked services for online gaming is not inexpensive,” he said, “and charging for these services would help Sony defray those costs. I think Sony would best benefit by continuing to build out on the currently employed freemium model, charging for enhanced, tiered and incremental items, services and add-ons to add value to the online gaming experience.”
The general consensus is that Sony need to leverage the other non-gaming offerings and tie up some deals with content distributors in the same way Microsoft have. But offering up online gaming without immediate cost is clearly something that the PlayStation brand needs to hang on to.