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Understanding PS3’s Online Service

Courtesy of yesterday’s news on the developments of the PlayStation 3’s online functions and some clips released by gameinformer of Resistance: Fall of Man’s online mode I think it’s about time to draw up an overview of how PS3 online will work.

Like the xbox360 and xbox the PS3 has been designed from the outset as an online console, whilst the PS2’s online mode came more as an after thought. This is evidenced by the standard built-in HDDs, ethernet ports and, in the case of the 60GB version, wi-fi. However, that is just the hardware side of things. As anyone will tell you, to have a good online service you need to have good software… Sony’s direction software-wise can be seen in the PSP, with its downloadable software updates and content, internet browser and rss features. Thankfully it does not end there though, and here’s how I see (some of this is reading between the lines) PS3 online working:

Turn on Your PS3
The first time you turn it on, create and register your user account. From that point on this is your account for the machine and the online network and you get logged in everytime you boot your internet connected PS3 up. This account covers everything- it is your ID for your friends list, gaming and the PlayStation Store. You can create more than one account per machine and give different users full or restricted privileges (particularly useful for parents seeking to control the content their children see). To my mind this implies you can have multiple online accounts for playing too. These settings are stored permanently, so no need to memorise log-ins. Your account is free. Each account will have its own buddy list and you can IM with buddies, send messages or have voice, or, voice and video chat.

The Web Browser
Not much to say here if you’ve seen the videos from the past few months. Unlike the “Walled Garden” that is xbox live, PS3 users will be able to surf the web as they can on PSP. This feature means that if you are stuck on a certain part of a game you can go back to the XMB level and check Gamefaqs, or you could read reviews on ign, post on your forum of choice and you might even read PS3blog :wink:. If you have a HDTV then this feature has the potential to be amazing, although those with SDTVs (like me) may have a bit of a struggle on their hands… errr… eyes even. To make things better though the PS3’s support of USB keyboards should make surfing very easy. It’s worth bearing in mind that the PS3 is the only console that offers this feature out of the box at the time of writing. The Wii requires a (temporarily) free download of Opera and the 360, as of now, has no browser.

The PlayStation Store
Here’s where it gets interesting. Firstly, the PS3’s marketplace is actually based around a similar layout to the web-browser. This means that when you go looking for game specific content your browser is skinned to look like the game in question. No need to insert or remove the disc. Navigation is apparently a doddle, based upon iTunes and Sony’s Connect music store design, and things should be easy to find. No “gamerpoints” here either- instead Sony gives it to you straight with your localisation’s currency telling you how much things cost. This could, however, mean prices in, say the UK, are higher than the United States, we need to wait and see here. Your funds are stored in a wallet and these funds can pay for anything from a massively multiplayer online game subscription to downloadable content, and that is not just for Sony games or content- it is for the whole system. In summary- here is where you buy content (gaming stuff at first, music and movies probably later), download demos, manage subscriptions and download PSOne, PS2 and PSP titles not to mention new PS3 titles like flOw (and almost certainly David Jaffe’s- God of War, Twisted Metal- next game).

Here’s where it gets REALLY interesting. The PS3, when you are playing a game, will inform you when a friend signs into the PS network and when you get a message. The problem right now is that there is no way to read or respond to messages while you are in game- I assume you can suspend if you want to and exit to the XMB (as you can with the PSP), but it is a bit cumbersome. Think of it as a bit like MSN messenger on the PC flashing you an alert when you are playing a full screen game. This may be something that is changed in the future based on user demand, so if you want it- say so. Now that’s where Eurogamer’s account pretty much ends… Which is why I was delighted to see the following videos from Gameinformer today where Insomniac COMPLETELY demonstrates how online works on Resistance. Watch these videos- they bode very well for what can be achieved.

This first video discusses the setup of the game. The front end presents you with Campaign, Co-operative, Multiplayer and Options. Upon entering Multiplayer you are given the choice of Online or Offline and more Options. Choosing Online takes you to another menu and offers ranked or unranked options. Ranked puts you into a (fully) competitive situation matched against similar players to you decided by 60 different levels, each with three sub ranks. Unranked is an option for those who want to play privately. Progression in ranked gaming allows greater character customisation. Ted also details how to create your own game.

The second video continues the set-up. Ted discusses clans and parties then goes on to discuss the help-menu side of things.

In a third video Ted discusses character stats which are tracked in both ranked and unranked games. The whole system is very detailed.

In the fourth video Ted finally gets into a game over the PlayStation network aginst 38 other opponents. The match is human versus Chimera. Sending messages to each other is done via the PS3’s predictive text input, familiar to PSP users. Ted also reveals you can use the USB headset to chat to opponents. Loading time appears to be around 15 seconds and the online game demoed is “Breach mode” whereby you have to shut down your opponent’s reactor whilst protecting yours.

A fifth video demonstrates Chimera gameplay, whilst a sixth shows more breach action. All in all, Resistance online looks very impressive and suggests great things for other PS3 online games!

In summary what we have here is a giant bound forward from PS2 online. It isn’t quite at the standard of xbox360 live yet (by the sounds of it- no simple cross game interaction will be possible- you need to back out of the game and check things)… but there again, you do not need to pay $50 a year here!

So what’s still up in the air?

  • Clearly this stuff has only been finished very recently, so do not expect full support from day one. What other problems will we see?
  • How individual games play online- how much depth there is to certain titles, and how well managed their servers are. We know Resistance is good, but it is the flagship launch title, it NEEDS to be good.
  • No mention of “Entitlements”- has this rumoured feature being quashed?
  • Who will charge for their service and how much? Will they get shunned for doing so?
  • What happens to people with PS2 accounts?
  • How much will the DLC cost us? It needs to be reasonable.
  • Does your profile display what you are currently doing (eg. “Playing: Resistance- Fall of Man”, “Watching: Layer Cake”, “Listening to: Do You Want To- Franz Ferdinand” when you are running a full-screen application)?
  • Linux- not strictly online, but still a great deal of questions there.

Just as an aside from confusion I am seeing on the internet- Xfire is separate to this- Xfire is a game specific thing that runs with certain titles and runs in partnership with PS3 online.

Eurogamer’s article on PS3 online.
GameInformer Resistance Interviews