Third-Place Sony Gets Dumb, Considers Charging for Online PS3 Gaming

Last Updated Aug 27, 2010 11:15 AM EDT

Sony (SNE) is coming strong with the PlayStation 3's Wii-inspired Move and PS3 3D capabilities, but the corporate giant seems determined to push users to Nintendo's (NYTDO) market-leading Wii and Microsoft's (MSFT) popular XBox 360. Sony is now considering charging PS3 gamers to play online, a move that would be both foolish for third-place Sony.

According to Matt Martin at GamesIndustry.biz (as shared on Engadget), Sony Computer Entertainment CMO Andrew House said, "On the principle of making online portions of the game available or unlocked from the disc-based release for a fee," he said, "we're broadly supportive... and we're exploring actively the same option for our own content."

It might sound familiar: A few months ago Electronic Arts (EA) announced it would start charging buyers of used games $10 to play online. It's move focused on the EA Sports line, which, as expected, has a vibrant online gaming community. I argued that "[t]he ballsy -- but dumb -- decision won't even begin to recoup money lost to used game sales and, if pursued further, will push customers to competing sports franchises from 2K Sports and Sega."

Sony is now contemplating a similar play, but the stakes are much higher for several reasons.

First, as of June 2010, the Sony PlayStation 3 is still last in console userbase:

  • Nintendo Wii: 74 million
  • Microsoft XBox 360: 42 million
  • Sony PlayStation 3: 38 million
Second, while it seems to be discussing its own software, it is unclear if Sony would add a charge to just its first-party content or all the console content. EA's decision to charge for online play just affected its games. Comparatively, Sony's decision could impact the sales of all PlayStation 3 publishers. It could be the difference between a user purchasing a game on an XBox versus a PlayStation 3.

Third, Sony is risking one of the few advantages it has over Microsoft's XBox Live: Free online multiplayer gaming. While the online PlayStation Network is free, XBox Live currently requires a $49.99 annual fee.

If Sony is interested in making a bigger profit on online gaming, it could handle the situation more shrewdly. EA, Activision (ATVS) and other game companies are making additional money with in-game microtransactions. However, as far as I know, Sony doesn't get a piece of these purchases. EA is already charging users, and if it's successful, that will encourage other third-party companies to do the same.

Sony could renegotiate the agreements regarding third-parties charging for online content and have the individual companies do the dirty work while collecting from the back end. No one blamed Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft when EA Sports started demanding extra from used game purchasers, and few, if any, would ever point to the console creators as more third-parties jump aboard.

Sony certainly can charge for online content access, but there has to be a smarter way than directly crippling its software.
Photo courtesy of dullhunk CC 2.0
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