At a pre-launch PS4 event in New York City today, Eric Lempel, vice president of Sony Network Entertainment and head of global marketing, gave us an overview of what PlayStation Network and the PlayStation Store looks like on the new console. During the demo and other hardware overviews Sony presented to us, it was abundantly clear that Sony is putting PSN's community and social connectivity front-and-center on PS4.
While most of the PSN functionality remains free to use, one clear difference with PS3 is that you must be a paying PlayStation Plus subscriber to access online multiplayer. While Microsoft has always required a paid Xbox Live Gold account for online multiplayer, millions of PS3 players enjoyed online gaming free of charge. Lempel explained to GamesIndustry International that, quite frankly, Sony needs the revenues to maintain and continue to improve PSN.
"There's a ton of value in the network. We've built up the network over the years and made a significant investment... and it's quite honestly hard to keep everything [free]," he said. "The network's gotten so much better and it's completely redesigned on PS4. And the investment in Plus gives the user a ton of value, so putting multiplayer in there will continue to help us build the network up for our users. It's a massive infrastructure to run this thing, and now with some of these social features there's a lot going on."
"The network's gotten so much better and it's completely redesigned on PS4... It's a massive infrastructure to run this thing"
Lempel believes that Sony still has an edge over Xbox Live, however. "What I will say is we kept everything else free to the user. So for example, we've got 11 partner apps right off the bat... that are not gated at all. This is something our competition isn't doing," he noted, referencing apps like Netflix which do require Xbox Live Gold subscriptions to use.
Lempel thinks that the investment Sony has made into PSN and PlayStation Plus has really paid off with "significant growth" on PS3 and Vita in the past couple years, helping to boost PSN accounts to 150 million worldwide. PSN is now in 59 countries and there have been 3.2 billion "pieces of content" downloaded since the service kicked off in 2006. That said, when we pressed him on how many pay for Plus subscriptions, he simply said that Sony doesn't disclose that information.
For those who do pay to subscribe to Plus, Lempel thinks those gamers are basically getting their money back right away in the form of instant game collections. "If you really look at the value you get from the instant game collection, especially if you have multiple consoles, it's an unbelievable value. Right off the bat, these two games we're giving away on day one are over $30, so it's a great deal for the user," he stressed.
A one-year subscription to Plus costs $50 and Sony also offers a three-month option for $17.99 and a one-month option for $9.99. Contrast and Resogun will be available to download for free at PS4's launch for Plus members, and while Drive Club was originally going to be available for Plus users at launch, that game will still be offered on Plus when it releases, Lempel said.
Sony is definitely doing what it can to entice players to use its services. Each PS4 retail box is coming packed with a $10 Sony Entertainment Network wallet credit for PlayStation Store, a 30-day free PlayStation Plus membership trial, and a 30-day free Music Unlimited service trial. On top of that, there's a sense in which PS4 users automatically become evangelists and viral marketers for the platform as they hit the share button on the controller to broadcast live gameplay, share clips, screenshots and more, whether on Facebook, Twitch or Ustream. Lempel remarked that viral marketing wasn't the ultimate goal of all the sharing options, but he agreed that it certainly helps get users engaged with more content. Sometimes you can't beat the value of pure word-of-mouth marketing via the community.
"First and foremost we just want to help people discover content. It'll certainly help get the word out... but the intention is really to give gamers a place to show off their accomplishments, show people what they're doing, what they like, and get them talking," he said.