Online gaming has taken on a new life this generation. With Microsoft’s Xbox Live service, Sony’s PlayStation Network, and Nintendo’s Wii Marketplace, the current generation of gaming is enjoying benefits that were limited to PC gamers for so Long. Live is the oldest and most respected of the three online services for home consoles, but Sony’s PSN is making a name of its own. The main difference between these two, other than the PSN’s lack of a few key features, is the fact that Microsoft charges a monthly or annual fee to utilize the full capabilities of their online service, while Sony does not. Live is more polished and some argue that you get what you pay for, but the PSN has made great strides and is only a few steps away from matching Live. My question is should Sony start charging for their online services, or should Microsoft make theirs free?
There are several different elements to this argument, with the key argument being that Live is far superior. Most people who have a 360 and use Live say that because Microsoft charges for Live, it is a better service. While initially this may have been true, the PSN has done some great things over the past year, all while remaining a free service. The most wanted features the PSN lacks is cross game invites, cross game audio chat, and demos for every game available for download on the PSN store. These are all features that Live subscribers have enjoyed for some time now. No matter how important these extra features may be to each individual, any additional features are welcomed, especially when they are free.
Live had a four year head start on the PSN since Live started on the original Xbox console. The PSN was a brand new service that was first used on the PS3. With every update, Sony has worked hard to add features and stability to its service and today the PSN is miles ahead of where it was back in 2006. I myself do not believe that charging for the PSN would make it any better, nor do I believe that Microsoft’s choice to charge has made Live better. I do believe that Live is a better service because Microsoft had an idea of what they wanted to do with Live from the beginning while the PSN seemed to be created out of necessity. Live was more of an innovation and a new idea, built off of an older idea (SegaNet), but much better, and it made the whole online gaming aspect of console gaming change. I do not believe that Sony really knew what they wanted to do with the PSN initially until people started asking for certain features and accommodations.
With that being said, at this point I don’t think it would favor either company to change the way they are handling their online services. Sony should continue to provide the PSN for free and Microsoft should continue to charge for Live. What Microsoft could do is lower the price, but this would cut into their bottom line financially since Live subscribers contribute a great deal of revenue to Microsoft and its gaming division. With around 17 million subscribers to Live and 30 million 360’s sold. Raw math would assume that if all subscribers have a gold membership and not a silver membership, which is free, that Microsoft makes in excess of some $850,000,000 off of live subscriptions alone. That does not count sales of games and other media from the Live marketplace. That is a substantial number that Microsoft would like to see continue to increase year over year. That money can be used for many different things, even outside of Microsoft’s gaming division. When you look at those numbers you could say that Sony is hurting their own pockets by not charging at least a small fee for the PSN, but as I stated before, the PSN was not worth paying for early on, although some would have no problem paying for the services PS3 owners have now.
In the end, each company’s business model is different and each company has a different goal. One company’s weakness is the others strength, so there will always be differences on how each company handles their finances, marketing, game development and other aspects of their gaming business models. All in all, whatever your choice of online gaming community, they both have lots to offer. If Sony would just add those three key features I mentioned earlier, Live would have a run for its money and Sony may charge a small fee once the PSN is on par or relatively close to Live. I would not have a problem paying for the PSN like I do not see a problem paying for Live, but if I am going to pay for something I feel should be free, then it better be good.