Editorial: The Present and Future of Online Services: Sony

Granted it is easy to be king when your rivals produce crap for online services.
This logo might as well be a crown.

Launched back in 2006, the PlayStation Network is the second oldest of the three online services. While it is the top online service, it has not been without its share of failures. An extended outage due to a security breach harmed its reputation back in 2011. The outage forced Sony not only to reconsider the security of their network, but they also had to win back their consumers’ confidence.

Today, the PlayStation Network represents the best of both worlds. For customers who only want the free service, the PSN offers the ability to play online with friends and a bevy of entertainment options. Contrary to what Xbox Fantards believe, playing online on PlayStation Network is nearly a one-to-one experience as playing on Xbox Live, the difference being that one is free and the other costs sixty dollars a year.

For customers who desire more features out of their online service, Sony offers PlayStation Plus. Priced at fifty dollars for a year, PlayStation Plus brings some interesting features to the table. It offers a cloud service to sync game saves to so they are accessible on other consoles. It also offers the ability to schedule the system to download game patches each day at a set time. These features are hardly worth the price of admission and should probably be offered along with the free service. The big feature that separates PlayStation Plus from rival services is the Instant Game Collection. The Instant Game Collection is a group of games for both the PS3 and the PS Vita that are available as free downloads for Plus members. Every week brings new downloads. The longer a Plus subscription is maintained, the bigger the collection. The real problem is when a subscription is canceled, the games are no longer accessible. On the bright side, if a subscription is renewed, the previous Instant Game Collection is restored to the user.

Hell yeah it is! How else can I tell my friends how badass I am at Ni no Kuni?
Is a share button really needed?

The Instant Game Collection, an attempt from Sony to overhaul its Plus service, began in June of 2012. With titles including Arkham City, Darksiders, Infamous 2, and LittleBigPlanet 2 the Collection has proven to be a good incentive to many people to subscribe to the service. The big issue with this feature, maybe more for publishers than for Sony, is that many subscribers opt to wait for a game to be added to their Instant Game Collection rather than purchase a copy. Many times Plus subscribers will ignore a sale on a wanted game out of hope that it will be available free at a later date. While paying for a service just for the chance to receive a game for free is an insane idea, it is even more insane with the fact that content off the PlayStation Store is not compatible with the PS4.

The announcements regarding the future of the PlayStation Network seem quite grand, perhaps even impossible. One of the big features that Sony wants to push is the social aspect of games. They are so focused on this that the controller of the PlayStation 4 will include a share button. Instead of launching their own social network, Sony has opted to use the share button to push status updates and media to networks like Facebook and Ustream. Besides filling up Facebook feeds everywhere with a new type of useless shit, Sony also wants gamers to be able to beg friends and strangers for help. With this remote help feature, a gamer that is not good enough to pass the current stage they are in can plead to the public for help. Once somebody agrees to help, they will take control of the character to help get past the trouble spot.

The PS Vita also appears to be a large part of the future for the PlayStation Network. With Remote Play – which is not a new feature to the PSN (although Sony seems to think it is) – gamers will be able to play their PS4 games on the go. With the PS4 doing all the processing, there would be little loss in visual quality of the games played on the Vita, however it would also require a fast internet connection. Sony also has stated that they want every PlayStation 4 game to be available for streaming. Their plan is that the streaming games would be available not just on the PlayStation 4, but also the Vita and many other devices. Sony eventually wants their entire back catalog to be available via this streaming service. This all sounds fantastic at an announcement event, but the truth is that there are many factors going against these features.

Oh wait, that was a lie, just like their low latency video.
This service worked out extremely well.

First of all Remote Play may work fine on Wi-Fi, but 3G is different beast. A 4G Vita has been rumored for a few months now, and with Sony trying to push the Remote Play capability, it may end up being an absolute necessity. The overall support of Remote Play will be up to the developers, however Sony is not the type of company to mandate its usage for all games. While Remote Play will be available only for the games it is programmed for, the streaming service is said to include all PS4 games. As a person who tried the OnLive service, I can say that streaming gaming has many things against it. Even with a broadband internet connection, streaming can lag, something quite dangerous in a FPS or action game. Streaming in 1080p and above would require even greater bandwidth to ensure a smooth gaming experience.

Sony has some big plans for the PlayStation Network in the future. Many of these plans rely upon Sony demonstrating a great amount of support. There was a time when the PSP Go was released that Sony made the proclamation that every PSP title would be available on the PlayStation Store. That faded away relatively quickly, especially on the back of weak sales of the PSP Go. Eighteen months from now will be quite revealing for the PSN. Will Sony hold true and have all PS4 available for streaming? Will our Facebook feeds be raped by trophy posts from Ethos? These are the questions gamers everywhere are asking but the answers are still a long ways off.

3 comments

  1. I’ll admit, the PS4 announcement (along with a coworkers hearty recommendation for the Instant Game Collection) had me running to the Electronics section to price out Vitas. That being said, I agree with you cautioning against putting too much credit into the hype; I still remember when the Kinect was first announced (I’m sorry, I mean Project Natal) and they were building it as some crazy scanning software (Ride your own skateboard, dude!) instead of the psychotic marionette show from hell.

  2. I’ll agree, it’s easy to misunderstand what they’re actually going to put out at this stage. Everyone thought the WiiU would just be a tablet, which might actually have been more interesting…

  3. I am the optimistic type and I shiver in excitement at the idea of them putting up the entire Pllaystation collection on PSN and it streams to PS4 lag-free. I don’t know how likely that is to happen though.

    There was once a time when Sony made lots of money on their creativity and willingness to take risks alone. I think they still have those two traits but they’ve added deceiving consumers to the formula as well now. So I suppose I should not get all excited just yet. We’ll see.

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