Sony, MS, OnLive Weigh In On Tiered Internet Pricing

The nation’s second-biggest cable company wants to change your Internet bill in a way that may make gaming a lot more expensive. But what do key gaming companies Sony, Microsoft and OnLive think? MTV Multiplayer asked them.


Time Warner Cable wants to start charging customers for the amount of Internet bandwidth they use. And despite a revision yesterday in how the company plans to charge consumers in some test markets this year, one thing hasn’t changed: it looks like it’s going to be getting more expensive to use broadband.

Gamers have expressed worry about being able to afford their hobby.

But game companies?

Three important players — Sony, Microsoft and OnLive — gave MTV Multiplayer three distinct answers. The common element: none of them sound like they’re panicking.

The Time Warner plans would force consumers to choose a set amount of bandwidth and then pay charges for anything in excess of that. According to yesterday’s plans, the two highest-end tiers would provide gamers with 60GB a month for $54.90 or 100GB a month for $75. Gamers exceeding those limits would pay an extra $1 per Gigabyte.

Sony: “For most average users the 60GB plan is more than suitable for their PlayStation Network download needs.”

Services like the Xbox 360’s Markeplace and Sony’s PlayStation Network have been designed to encourage users to download huge amounts of content: movies, game demos, game add-ons and even full games. These require a lot of bandwidth. Services like “Home” on the PS3 require frequent updates and streaming of video content. And upcoming gaming service OnLive is built entirely with the idea that high-end games will be playable on almost any computer or TV because the visuals of those games are getting streamed at high speeds over the Internet, using a lot of Internet bandwidth.

But Sony says fans shouldn’t worry about the Time Warner Cable plans. “For most average users the 60GB plan is more than suitable for their PlayStation Network download needs,” Abigail Murphy, a spokesperson for the company’s PlayStation division, Sony Computer Entertainment America, told MTV Multiplayer. Downloads of games, game demos and movies from the PSN store can add up to several GB. Online gaming with a title like “Killzone 2” won’t add a limit-bursting burden on consumers’ broadband. According to Murphy, SCEA calculated that “bandwidth per hour for playing a multiplayer game online using PS3 is roughly 25 to 55MB.” Using “Home,” requires “significantly less.”

Microsoft: “We’re watching these tiering proposals as they evolve.”

Sony says don’t worry. Microsoft says little at all. Microsoft’s Xbox Live service would also be subject to such usage and seemingly test the limits of Time Warner’s plans. But the company is refraining from taking a stance on the matter yet: “We’re watching these tiering proposals as they evolve,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement e-mailed to MTV Multiplayer yesterday before Time Warner Cable revised its pricing plan. “Microsoft supports an environment in which users can access the content, applications and services of their choice, provided their activities are lawful and fall within the scope of their user agreements.”

The recently-unveiled OnLive gaming service may be less prominent than the Xbox 360 or PS3 platforms, but it would be potentially more greatly affected by the kind of pricing structure that charges per Gigabyte.  OnLive’s core concept is that gamers would have either standard-definition or high-definition games streamed to their TV or PC, with no gaming hardware required. That process involves a lot of data transfer between the player and the servers where OnLive would be running its games. But OnLive founder Steve Perlman is not shaken.

OnLive: “Bandwidth caps will be bumped into by conventional movie/TV viewing WAY before we start seeing OnLive users bumping into them.”

Perlman estimated that high-definition gaming through OnLive service would use 950MB/hour. The standard-definition version would require 350MB/hour. While that would appear to limit a gamer who used, say, the Time Warner 60GB plan to little more than 60 hours of high-def gaming a month, Perlman thinks its premature to think that OnLive is going to made to suffer.

Simply, he thinks the plans Time Warner Cable propose will live or die with the market’s demand for video through services far more popular than his.

In an e-mail to MTV Multiplayer earlier this week, he wrote:

“Bandwidth caps will be bumped into by conventional movie/TV viewing WAY before we start seeing OnLive users bumping into them. And, no doubt users who exceed a minuscule 5GB monthly budget downloading one movie from Netflix, Amazon or iTunes, or who find themselves spending $200/month on broadband usage fees for 7 hours of TV viewing on YouTube or Hulu will (a) be rather incensed and (b) likely switch to an alternate broadband carrier. It will be a very long time before OnLive comes anywhere near the broadband penetration of YouTube, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, mtv, abc/nbc/cbs/fox/, etc., if ever. So, we won’t be the ones testing this issue.”

There are signs that Perlman is right. Time Warner is already revising its pricing plans, as seen yesterday.  Competitor Comcast is talking about a 250GB monthly plan.

Time Warner’s consumption-based pricing plans will be tested later this year in Austin, TX, San Antonio, TX, Rochester, NY, and Greensboro, NC.

Time Warner Cable has not announced what other parts of the U.S. the consumption-based model will be applied. The meter isn’t running yet. And if Sony and OnLive are correct, online gaming as we know it, is not about to change forever.

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