Sony planning paid PSN subscriptions for 2010

[UPDATE] Kaz Hirai confirms premium level will be added on top of PS3 and PSP's online service, which will remain free to play online; PSN revenue expected to hit $563 million this fiscal year.

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One the biggest selling points of the PlayStation 3 is that gamers can use the console to play online at no additional charge. However, evidence has surfaced that the company is planning a two-tiered subscription model for the PlayStation Network similar to--but also fundamentally different from--Xbox Live.

Sony is mulling a premium version of PSN.
Sony is mulling a premium version of PSN.

Slides accompanying a Thursday presentation by Sony show that the company is planning a "new revenue stream from subscription" on PSN in 2010. [UPDATE] During the presentation, which emphasized Sony's plans to make its game business profitable in the next fiscal year, Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Kaz Hirai confirmed the plans. "We will be building upon our current free [PSN] service offering with premium content and services to start the subscription model," he told attendees.

Perhaps to assuage PS3 owners' fears that they would soon have to pay to play online, Hirai issued a subsequent statement indicating the present level of service would remain gratis.

"SCE will further increase sales by offering users new entertainment through the combination of hardware, software, peripheral, and PlayStation Network," Hirai said in a statement given to British outlets, such as CVG. "Especially in the online area, we are studying the possibility of introducing a subscription model, offering premium content and services, in addition to the current free services." (Emphasis added.)

As of press time, US Sony reps had not offered Hirai's statement or further clarification about its subscription plans for the PlayStation Network. Luckily, though, the "current free services" currently offered on PSN include online play, Facebook integration, and Netflix video streaming. On Xbox Live, both of those features are only accessible at the Gold membership level, which costs at least $50 per year.

[UPDATE] Even without subscriptions, PSN revenue is on the rise. For the current fiscal year, which ends on March 31, 2010, Sony expects ¥50 billion ($563 million) in earnings from the service, a threefold increase from the year prior. In addition to game-related content, the PSN's retail component--the PlayStation Store--offers video offerings, such as television shows and movies for both rental and sale.

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