Talking Point: Why PS4's Social Features Probably Won't Be Free
Posted by Sammy Barker
Pay, create, share
The current goodwill surrounding the PlayStation 4 will almost certainly come to an end at some point. There comes a moment in every system’s build-up where the early enthusiasm is replaced by a wave of negativity. This onset of scepticism typically stems from the hardware in question’s price – or, in the PlayStation Vita’s case, the cost of its memory cards – but it almost always comes after a swell of world-beating positivity. Before long, the initial optimism is replaced by a chorus of cynicism, complaints, and the distant chant of a few loyal soldiers desperately trying to reassure everyone that everything’s going to be okay.
Sony’s done everything right with its next generation platform thus far. It’s announced some generally impressive looking software, proved that it has learned a number of lessons from the abysmal launch of the PlayStation 3, and invited smaller, independent developers to be a part of its production pipeline. But there’s still a long way to go until launch, and past experience dictates that there’s destined to be plenty of tears, tantrums, and over-reactions before the system finally nestles on store shelves later this year.
While the cost of the console is the likeliest candidate for that rush of negativity, we can’t help but feel that the backlash could come from other sources instead. Sony has underhandedly hinted that it’s not going to overprice its impending platform in various interviews, and given its attitude to the PS4 in general, we genuinely believe that the manufacturer has a palatable price point in mind. But having jealously eyed Microsoft’s success with Xbox Live over the past decade and a bit, we can’t help but feel that the firm may want a bigger piece of the pie. And that’s where the oft-discussed ‘Share’ functionality comes in.
The promise of on-demand live streaming, screenshot uploads, and video editing played a big part during the organisation’s PlayStation Meeting press conference, but there was never any mention of cost. While you’ll be able to export footage to external domains such as Facebook and YouTube, early user interface images of the PS4 show that you’ll be able to peruse content on the console’s dashboard, too. That’s going to result in one gigantic bandwidth bill for a manufacturer that still doesn’t charge consumers to pay online. It’s an expense that we don’t expect the company to waive.
While we suspect that the core of the PlayStation Network is going to remain free – online gaming, messaging, and so forth – we have a hunch that the aforementioned features are going to form a large part of a beefed up subscription service. We’re speculating on the specifics, but we wouldn’t be shocked if the sugary social centre of the next generation system demanded additional payment, with Sony perhaps allowing vanilla members to upload a set number of screenshots or videos before having to pay for unlimited access. Streaming, meanwhile, is almost certain to sit on a separate tier, as the costs associated are likely to be far too high for the feature to be doled out for free.
The company’s already confirmed that PlayStation Plus will play a big role on the PS4, so it stands to reason that such functionality will be bundled into the publisher’s premium service. It’s no coincidence that the manufacturer’s been promoting the package prominently in multiple media channels throughout the course of 2013, presumably with the hope of locking consumers into the platform ahead of the next generation. But it stands to reason that price models will need to change if our assumptions are accurate, with the addition of a third system and new functionality probably proving a strain on the membership’s current $49.99 price point. We’re not sure how the platform holder’s going to navigate the transition, but we’re sure that it’s got something in mind.
Whether that will be enough to prompt the abovementioned backlash, we’re not entirely sure, but we do think that it’s worth getting ready for the inevitable onslaught of invisible costs. The vision that Sony showed for the PS4 earlier in the year was undeniably impressive, but it’s also unfeasible without the implementation of subscriptions, memberships, and additional expenses. Gaikai streaming will almost certainly not be free, and we wouldn’t be surprised if that all-important ‘Share’ button joined it under the pay-to-play heading. If we’re correct, the biggest challenge for the platform holder will be justifying the segmentation of such important features from the initial outlay of the hardware itself.
Would you be willing to pay extra for access to the PS4’s social features? What do you think would be a reasonable price for unlimited streaming and video and screenshot uploads? Let us know in the comments section and poll below.