Sony Digs Its Own Grave, Then Tries to Fill it in

Last week, MTV Multiplayer had an interesting scoop about how Sony has been charging game publishers for content that users can download. According to this article, Sony started charging publishers a “network bandwidth fee” since Aug. 1 last year– 16 cents per Gigabyte. Because MTV is a publisher, the article did have a whiny tone, but it wasn’t making anything up and definitely put Sony in a tight spot.

Sony’s spokesman responded to the article saying that it still anticipates good content, but people are pointing out that the incentives for game makers to make games for the PS3 has dropped down even more because 1)Ps3 games are more difficult and pricier to make than xbox games and 2)ps3 has less users. Some blogs (Here and here) even suggested that developers avoided releasing PS3 demos because of this fee. Basically, it’s the vicious cycle theory: Xbox doesn’t charge publishers, so publishers will develop more Xbox games =>fewer ps3 games are developed=>people migrate to Xbox.

Interestingly enough, Sony announced today that it is going to make things easier for third-party developers– by lowering the price of development tools and offering technical support. Maybe it was thinking about this all along and the timing was a coincidence, or maybe it took this incident to point out its disadvantage. Who knows?

But I think this addresses a really important issue about content distribution- now that everything is digital, it’s very easy to distribute content. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Even if the distributor is willing to make the product free for marketing purposes, someone has to bear the cost of transmitting those bits. It’s interesting to see that in the game community, the end users are willing to pay, while in the news community, users are not. Is it because users wanting high-quality games have to receive them through an architecture that does not allow more flexibility? How come there isn’t a huge trend of migration from console to PC?

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