PS3 Online Thoughts

The PS3 launches next month, and with it, Sony's next generation online component - which they've decided not to brand separately from the console.  This makes it difficult to refer to directly, so I'll call it the PS3 Online here for clarity.

Sony has had an online component for the PS2 for years, but there's a big difference between what the PS2 had, which was basically the ability for the console to get on the Internet and talk to the game publisher's servers, and the PS3, which has a central service that all PS3 owners will subscribe to, similar to XBox Live.

Sony announced a while back that they were going to use the experience they have gained running the Everquest franchise to help them build the PS3 Online network, but there are a few potential gotchas there.

One of them is that EQ has a terrible downtime history.  The game involves regularly scheduled downtimes, something that users might tolerate for a single game, but when it pulls the rug out from all online gaming on the console, it becomes unacceptable. 

Designing a network to accommodate 10 million simultaneous online users is a difficult task, something that very few companies have had to do.  Microsoft is one of them; Sony is not.

Money can solve any problem, of course, but think about this:  Microsoft is charging $60/year for XBox Live Gold, to pay for running the network.  Sony's network is free.  Costs have to be covered somehow.  Consoles are selling at a loss, and will be for some time - and since there is no recurring revenue from PS3 Online the way there is for XBox Live, once there are 100 million PS3s on the market and 40 million of them are online, Sony is going to have a massive infrastructure to support, with no associated revenue stream.

My prediction is that when Sony launches the PS3 and they suddenly ramp up to hundreds of thousands of users online, things are going to fall over.  It's going to be a bumpy ride for a few months while they iron out the glitches, find bottlenecks, fix them, and find new ones.  I watched it happen with UO, EQ, EQ2, and almost every other massive online rollout. 

There is the potential that online transactions will pay for the network, or that games will have a portion of the sale price earmarked for maintenance of their online component.  Or maybe Sony will realize that they have to start charging.  However it plays out, keep in mind that there is no free lunch.