“Why now?” commented the chorus of critics following the announcement of Sony’s widely publicised PlayStation Store refresh earlier today. With the next-generation popularly predicted to kick-start in late 2013, the imminent arrival of the new storefront may seem somewhat mistimed – but it could also indicate that the PlayStation 4 isn’t nearly as close as we think.

Of the many failures Sony has succumbed to this generation, the PlayStation Network is not one of them. The online infrastructure may have started life as a bare-bones social network, but over the years it has blossomed into one of the most prominent online destinations in gaming. The company’s invested confidently in conquering the many features of Xbox Live – which for so long was the only serious option for console connectivity – and while there’s continued debate over whether Sony’s actually gazumped its closest competitor, the fact that the argument exists at all is a testament to the strides the platform holder’s made over the past couple of years.

In fact, the success of the PlayStation Network is so great that it’s been extended to other arms of Sony’s corporate structure, which is a rare sign of unity for the traditionally segmented conglomerate. The newly established Sony Entertainment Network not only covers PlayStation properties, but also those of Sony Pictures and Sony Music. Online content delivery is now one of the core components of the hardware manufacturer’s business. Times are changing.

Introducing the console’s refreshed storefront now may prove a shrewd move for Sony going forward

But while the PlayStation Network may represent many different things to consumers, there’s no doubt that its continued appeal to Sony is its ability to deliver a consistently reliable revenue stream. The weekly PlayStation Store update has become an anticipated event for PS3 and Vita owners, and so it makes sense for Sony to improve the actual shopping experience.

But, as people have already pondered, why make those improvements now? The PlayStation Store in its current guise is cluttered but competent, so there’s no real urgency to implement the overhaul.

In truth, there are a couple of conclusions to this question, but only executives within Sony will know the correct answers. However, if we are to speculate, the PlayStation Store refresh could be a test-bed for the PS4 – an indication of the interface improvements we can expect from the company’s currently unannounced home console. With the isolated, iron-fisted approach of Ken Kutaragi’s reign now in the past, Sony seems much more aware of the importance of consumer and developer feedback than ever before. Likes and dislikes from the upcoming redesign will no doubt be duly noted, and factored into the next system’s underlying design.

But it may also be that Sony sees a positive future for the PlayStation 3, beyond the contrary rumours. It’s not within the platform holder’s nature – or interests, for that matter – to drop its current console the minute its successor arrives, but that follow-up could be further away than we think. The increased pricing of the recently released Super Slim refresh means that Sony believes the PS3 still hasn’t hit critical mass, and it would be unusual for the platform to do so when its successor is waiting around the corner.

With investment in the PlayStation Network already at an all time high, Sony may be hoping that it can capitalise on the popularity of the PS3 for a few more years yet. And if that’s the intention, introducing the console’s refreshed storefront now may prove a shrewd move for the company going forward.

Whatever the intent, Sony’s success with the PlayStation Network proves that the company can achieve incredible things when it sets its mind to it. Even widely publicised hack attacks haven’t deterred the platform’s growth – in fact, if anything, it’s made the company even more determined to succeed. If only it would extend that same never-say-die attitude to all of its endeavours.

What do you think the PlayStation Store redesign says about the PS3’s future? Do you think it’s a welcome change, or an overdue waste of resources? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.