PSN Down – The Dark Side of Freemium

First, a fair warning that this post is pretty advanced (technical…)

I’m sure you have probably herd by now that the Sony PlayStation Network, which is the online service that allows people to play video games online against/with each other has been down for over two weeks.

In the past two weeks I’ve been following the tweets and blogs in the normal time I would be playing NHL11 online (part of my daily routine when I get home from work in the late hours.) There’s been just about every blog, news article, tweet, update, and gripe imaginable but to my shock there is a major underlying issue which I haven’t seen brought up so I figured it’s time to throw it in my blog.

To my knowledge, this is the first example of a service going down where ALL of the following are true:

  1. The service is free to users
  2. Users have paid over $100 for hardware that is required to use the service
    1. Specifically there is not a way to access the service without the required hardware
  3. The service is required for the hardware to work for certain products that a consumer has purchased
  4. The service is required and guaranteed which 3rd party product companies pay a licensing fee to the hardware provider to use
    1. These 3rd parties make their money from the sale of a product and some in product advertising

OK great, I just described PSN, so what?!?

What I see here is the first major incident (probably of many more to come) where consumers and 3rd party companies embark on a freemium service, purchasing hardware with a warranty, to enjoy products through the hardware.

Imagine if Google just decided one day to shut off gmail and all of their free business partners using the service. Sounds pretty bad right. I don’t think that’s even close to the “theoretical” bomb that went off with the PSN. For gmail, it would suck, but you would just change your email to another free service and let everyone know it’s changed, just like changing your phone number, or mailing address when you move.

Now think about what would happen if the internet stopped, what devices would cease to work and how would that affect your daily routine? Now take all of the devices you own and ask yourself which ones did you pay over $99 for? Think about your mobile phone, yes it’s $700 if you buy it without a plan, but you paid at most $200 for it with your contract. (Probably $99 or less with a rebate) Your cable box and cable modem were probably for free through your cable/sat provider,

Basically, all of the remaining “devices” you paid for that rely on the internet require that the manufacturer continues to support the operating system, the firmware, and the back end servers to operate. Companies will set their products up such that they do not need to have the servers running to operate, but functionality may be limited.

The big news with PSN is “is your data secure.” I think a bigger news item is asking manufacturers “What services must be maintained in order for your product to continue service.” I think this should be put on the box just like the calories printed on a box of Oreos.

With everything from cars to refrigerators adding web connectivity, this isn’t going to be the last time this issue comes up, but I think it will take time before these questions start coming up. I know it will be sometime in the next five years as older products reach end of live (and support.)

I hope end of life for the product happens before end of life for the companies that make them…