One of the most immediate differences between Microsoft's Xbox Live online platform and Sony's PlayStation Network is that one is free to console owners and the other is not. For Xbox 360 owners to receive the full benefits of Microsoft's online service, including networked play and guaranteed day-one content downloads, Xbox Live users pay a minimum of $50 annually. On the other hand, PSN users receive full access to the system's online service free of charge.
However, that free experience changed on October 1, 2008--though it wasn't consumers who suddenly found themselves footing the bill. Citing a number of publisher sources, MTV reports today that Sony began charging companies $0.16 per gigabyte for paid and free content distributed through the PSN.
Reportedly, the surcharge is dropped for free content such as demos after the first 60 days, but paid DLC will be subject to the fee permanently. As one publishing source told MTV, "It's like leaving your phone off the hook for a long-distance call. The meter is still running."
By and large, MTV found that publishers were understandably irked by the change. "It definitely makes us think about how we view the distribution of content related to our games when it is free for us to do it on the Web, on Xbox Live, or any other way--including broadcast--than on Sony's platform," a source told MTV under condition of anonymity. "It's a new thing we have to budget. It's not cool. It sucks."
In a statement also issued to GameSpot, a Sony representative was unwilling to explicitly confirm the new policy, though he did note that the console maker remains committed to delivering third-party content to the PSN.
"We respect the confidentiality of our business agreements with our publishing partners," said the Sony representative. "Of course we work closely with them to bring their amazing content to our growing audience, and we are focused on ensuring [that] we, and our publishing partners, have a viable platform for digital distribution. We foresee no change in the high quality or quantity of demos and games available on PSN."
As noted by MTV, publishers currently pay a licensing fee to have their content appear on both Microsoft's and Sony's online platforms. And though Microsoft reportedly eats the bandwidth charges associated with distributing that content, Sony's new policy could potentially amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional costs to publishers. For instance, were the 4 million Resident Evil 5 demos announced last week split evenly between Xbox Live and PSN users, Capcom would have been charged more than $300,000 for distributing the 942MB download.