Sony Computer Entertainment announced at the Game Developers Conference on Wednesday that it will offer a new online service debuting with its PlayStation 3 console in early November.
The service, which lets users buy games and communicate and compete with other players via the Web, The basic level of Sony's online service, known internally as PlayStation Network Platform, will be free, said Phil Harrison, president of Worldwide Studios for Sony Computer Entertainment.
Users will only pay for subscriptions to game services and premium content. Sony will also charge for the music and film libraries.
Harrison also made several other announcements at the Game Developers Conference during his speech. He revealed that Sony's upcoming Playstation would be region free for gaming. This will allow game makers to launch worldwide products since the upcoming optical storage formats will permit the storage of a multtude of languages on each disc. It is also an attempt from Sony to fight piracy.
Harrison also confirmed the rumor that the PS3 controller will be redesigned. Its new shape is to be unveiled at E3 in May.
Sony's online service move puts the company in competition with Microsoft's Xbox 360 for the next-generation leading video game console.
Rival Microsoft introduced its next-generation Xbox 360 game console in November of last year. The company's Xbox Live subscription service, which offers game downloads and online play, has been a hit on the new machine and Sony had been widely expected to offer a similar service.
"This can provide a tremendous revenue stream for our industry," Harrison said. Video game makers, who have seen sales fall as gamers wait and save for new consoles, have been under pressure to find new ways to offset rising game development costs.
Downloads appeal to many game makers, who can lower prices by selling directly to consumers. Online distribution also gives them a certain control of piracy and used game sales as it is a means to verify that the player of a game is also its owner.