Plenty in PS Store for Sony digital denizens

Sony Online Entertainment thinks the doorway to widespread digital distribution can be found in the PlayStation Store.

The leader in the massively multiplayer online gaming space, SOE has teamed with Sony Computer Entertainment's Tokyo network systems unit to create the back-end infrastructure that powers the store, where gamers can download free content and buy new and classic games from a variety of publishers, including SOE.

"The PlayStation Network Platform was built to be the hub of PlayStation 3, so digital distribution was something that they wanted to support from the very beginning," SOE president John Smedley said at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. "A lot of emphasis was put into the store. It's feature-proof, which means it can handle games, movies, music. It's all built in there and ready to go."

Sony has a global installed base of more than 100 million PS2s, and Smedley says that in three to five years, there could easily be 70 million-90 million PS3s in homes. With that potential, he says downloadable movies and music will be as ubiquitous as downloadable games.

Microsoft, which got a full-year head start with its Xbox 360, already has begun offering HD movie rentals and high-definition program purchases through its own online store, Xbox Live Marketplace (HR 1/10).

Smedley says that Sony, which owns movie and TV studios and music labels, inherently thinks about media as a huge priority for PS3. "That's why the movie, TV and music capabilities are going to be announced so close to launch," Smedley said. "We're not waiting a year to put that content up."

Outside of traditional entertainment, Smedley sees PS3 opening up the MMO space, which SOE helped forge with its "EverQuest" franchise and looks to continue with the upcoming "Vanguard: Saga of Heroes."

"Digital distribution allows us to get games into people's hands that might not otherwise go out there and buy them," Smedley said. "Console buyers aren't used to buying MMOs. This gives them a chance to try them for free. There are a lot of people out there that play console games exclusively and don't play on PCs, and these games will appeal to them."

In addition to new PC MMOs like "Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising," SOE is developing three MMOs that will be released for PC and PS3, a first for the company. While the one game, a shooter, will close any online doors between PS3 and PC gamers, Smedley says the other two likely will allow console and PC gamers to join forces in the same virtual universe.

SOE is not about to abandon the core PC gamers. Blizzard Entertainment has proved with its MMO, "World of Warcraft," which has 8 million subscribers worldwide, that there's a huge PC audience out there.

In keeping with the synergy approach within Sony, Smedley says he sees the possibility of MMO games being developed in tandem with a movie based on the game.

"That's something that's interesting," he said. "The space is getting so large now that even Sony Pictures itself is looking and saying, 'Hey, maybe a movie makes sense.' 'World of Warcraft' has a movie in development."

On the flip side of convergence, Smedley thinks big Hollywood licenses will lure new gamers to the MMO space. SOE has "The Matrix Online" and "Star Wars Galaxies" on its MMO service,

SOE also is supporting its PlayStation Portable and PS3 with new games like "Untold Legends," which originated on the PSP with two titles and migrated to PS3. Smedley would like to take the franchise in the MMO direction.