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            Can you handle it?
by Ethos

Worse than February: Paying for Online Multiplayer

Friday, February 5th, 2010
Me in February.

Me in February.

Yeah, it’s definitely February. The weather is cold, rainy, and foreboding. Like always, Time feels like it has nearly halted in place.

For the next twenty-three days, it’ll be inching along at an excruciating pace.

It’s currently 1:57 a.m. CST on a Friday. I should be in bed, but for some reason I feel like discussing something that’s arguably worse than this soul-crushing month.

That something is paying for online multiplayer.

The desire to write this editorial actually hit me a few days ago, after reading IGN’s interview with Peter Dille, Sony’s vice president of marketing. Readers might recall that I brought up a few of the interview’s key points in my last Hey! Look! Listen! column. One of them was the possibility that, in the future, Sony might charge for their PlayStation Network services – much as Microsoft charges for an Xbox Live Gold subscription.

I reacted with disgust, naturally. I have no interest in paying console manufacturers for the basic function of online play – and I don’t think I should have to. This is why I don’t have an Xbox Live Gold subscription. And that’s why I really hope Sony takes an alternative route if they do introduce some sort of premium version of PlayStation Network.

Something that’s easy to forget is that online play has been around for years. People were playing Diablo online over Blizzard’s BattleNet network almost 15 years ago. The technology isn’t even close to being novel; however, it was some time before we saw it properly integrated into console gaming.

xbox-live1When Microsoft first launched Xbox Live, it was the first online service that was both stable and incredibly easy to use. Taking the PS2 online was a whole bitch, and few games had any real support anyway. The GameCube’s online support was even more of a joke. But Xbox Live offered reliability, ease of use, and a ton of people to play with.

And that hasn’t changed. Xbox Live is still a fantastic service, with a massive community that continues to grow. But Microsoft shouldn’t charge $50 for online play.

I’ve always praised Sony for providing PSN for free. Perhaps the service isn’t as “streamlined,” per se, as Xbox Live. But in terms of functionality, the two services are practically identical. If the service was buggy or unreliable, Microsoft might be vindicated – but as it stands, the difference is negligible, if it exists at all.

free-playstation-networkAnd, remember, it’s not just the PS3 that offers free online play – it’s every single gaming device aside from the 360: PS3, Wii, iPod Touch, PSP, DS, and of course, the PC. Sure, the Wii’s online functionality is a bit of a joke, but Mario Kart online is pretty fantastic. And guess what? It’s free.

So how, exactly, does Microsoft justify making gamers pay for online play? And why on earth is Sony considering adopting the same business model?

I have a simple solution that I believe would satisfy all parties involved: provide simple necessities such as online play for free, and offer extra, “premium” content to subscribers. By “premium” content I mean original programming like Qore, services like Netflix, and perhaps even exclusive game demos. Y’know, stuff that actually feels like it’s worth paying a little extra for.

IGN doesn’t require an Insider subscription to watch video reviews, but only subscribers can watch them in HD. It’s a business model that Microsoft should adopt, and I sincerely hope that it’s the route Sony takes if they do decide to begin charging for PlayStation Network service.

Oh, and $50 is too damned much. It’s significantly more expensive than the average magazine subscription. And seeing that most of the content on Xbox Live (TV shows, movies, services like Netflix) cost extra money, I’m unsure why I should be forced to pay a royalty just so I can… pay more later.

But hey, this is all just personal opinion, and a bit of a gut reaction. It’s probably worth noting that I’ve never had an Xbox Live Gold subscription, so I haven’t experienced the wonders that fifty extra dollars supposedly brings.

What are your thoughts, people? Do you Xbox Live Gold subscribers feel that your $50 was well spent? Do you think that console manufacturers should continue to charge for online play? Sound off!