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How Konami's MGS4 May Sneak Around PSN Charges
by Matt Matthews on 04/24/09 09:00:00 am   Expert Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

The revelation that Sony charges publishers for bandwidth on PSN explained what had, previously, been a puzzling part of Sony's PlayStation Network (PSN) business model.

In Invisible Engines by David S. Evans, Andrei Hagiu and Richard Schmalensee, the authors point out how various business models are built around software platforms. In particular, a software business model must choose carefully which groups that access the software (developers, end-users, among others) should pay fees for that access. (More on the book here.)

Console platforms charge developers for access to development software and distribution while end-users get the hardware for near cost.

The Xbox Live platform appears to be subsidized to a great extent by the subscription fees paid by the top-tier users. Since Sony doesn't charge users for access to PSN, the publishers are getting charged.

Long before the public was made aware of Sony's fees, Konami's Metal Gear Online beta was made available to PlayStation 3 users. The small installer client that the user initially downloaded was used to obtain the full beta game via a direct HTTP download or a peer-to-peer BitTorrent client. 

These methods of distribution appear to provide Konami with an end-run around Sony's distribution fees. Given the tremendous interest in Konami's Metal Gear series, they must have known they would face a staggering bill just for a beta test they were giving away for free.

Even now, it appears that patches can be downloaded from within the Metal Gear Online client that comes with Metal Gear Solid 4 using either HTTP or BitTorrent. So even as Konami's software has sold by the millions around the world, it may have minimized the fees owed to Sony.

Which leads us to the creation of the Konami ID system. Metal Gear Online owners are required to have a PlayStation Network ID and a separate Konami ID for playing online. Disgust at this dual-login system is universal. It seems reasonable that Sony required the creation of a system like Konami ID in return for letting Konami work outside the PSN system.

Konami's extra-PSN dabbling may also be a key reason that Metal Gear Solid 4 hasn't received a trophy patch.

The irony here is that Sony has often touted its open PSN model as a desirable alternative to Microsoft's more rigid Xbox Live model. The institution of network bandwidth fees is just one unattractive consequence of Sony's choice.

And, in the case of Metal Gear Online and Metal Gear Solid 4, the publisher may be working around those fees at the expense of convenience and enjoyment of the end-users.


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Comments


Michael Hess
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That's quite a lot of speculation without any sources. The bittorrent/http seems logical, but the part where it breaks down is where you suggest (completely unsubstantiated) "Sony required the creation of a system like Konami ID in return for letting Konami work outside the PSN system."



Compare this with Unreal Tournament 3. UT3 now features a mod browser that downloads files from a community site called UT3mod.com. The game features a standard PSN login AND trophies. So I don't think your speculation carries much weight at all. Also, the MTV blog that broke this story said the PSN fees didn't go into effect until October 2008, 4 months after MGS4 released, and 6 months after the MGO beta.



Without some source, the only logical conclusion is the one we've already been presented with: Konami wanted people to sign up for their online community at the expense of the user experience. Frankly, I've come to expect better than this from Gamasutra's reporting.

Bob McIntyre
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It was clear from the start that Konami was deliberately avoiding using the PSN for business reasons. Bad move! MGS4 is a pain in the butt to play, the "friends list" features are practically non-existent, the whole thing is just sloppy and clunky. As a result, I didn't buy their expansion pack when it came out, and haven't even played it since about a week or two after I finished the single-player game.



Also, it's not a "dual-login" system. That would indicate two IDs. There are actually three IDs. PSN ID, cross-game Konami ID, and MGS4 ID. Then you have your character profile under that, but that doesn't count because it doesn't require a password.



MGS4's online mode plays great when you're actually in the game with your friends sneaking and shooting and putting people in choke holds. Getting to that point, though, is an abysmal wasteland that starkly contrasts with the polished gameplay of the intended experience.

Simon Carless
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Michael, this is a blog - albeit from someone who writes on Gamasutra sometimes, but it's specifically not 'our reporting'. Just clarifying that. But not hanging Matt out to dry either - I'm sure he can comment to rebutt your comments.

Matt Matthews
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Michael: You have a point that the known fees appear to antedate the beta test. As far as I know, that does not imply that there weren't some kind of fees, specifically for special circumstances, prior to that. I believe it's likely that fees were known to be coming well in advance of the date cited in Totilo's piece, that companies like Konami were aware of it, and have been preparing for that for a while. Also before the known date Capcom declined to run a beta test of Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix specifically citing money and resources as an issue. I think the phrasing "downloadable content" used in Totilo's reporting is vague enough that there could have been some special-case bandwidth fees prior to 1 October 2008.



Regardless, if Konami knew that fees were coming -- and I think it quite likely -- what better way to shield themselves from those fees by deploying their own extra-PSN distribution system early?



You also brought up Unreal Tournament, which is a very special case, I believe. My recollection is that Epic is a key middleware partner with Sony on the PlayStation 3, and Sony has invested resources to work with Epic and optimize the Unreal Engine for games on that system. Moreover, there is the issue of UT3 exclusivity on the PlayStation 3 for the first few months of release. All of which is to say that it's not as if some random, mid-level developer came up and did their own thing outside of PSN and Sony simply nodded happily.



Finally, as Simon points out, this is a blog -- not the news page. I submitted it on this side of the site because it was mostly speculative.

Michael Hess
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@Simon I didn't see this is a blog post until after my post, so apologies there.



@Matt I considered ignoring the timeline point because I expected you'd make a similar response.



You didn't address the substance of my point with UT3. Epic does the exact same thing as MGS4 (downloading content outside Sony's servers), while also using PSN features properly. Are you seriously suggesting UT3's timed (console-only) exclusivity bought Epic more leeway than the single biggest Playstation3 3rd party exclusive? I'm sorry but that strikes me as completely ridiculous. I have a hard time believing that Konami couldn't effectively dictate terms to Sony in exchange for MGS4 exclusivity. It's more believable in my opinion that Konami was ALLOWED to use their busted login system because it's such an important game to Playstation3.



But I'm more inclined to reject any conspiracy in this. My belief is that Sony announced their network as an "open platform", and Konami chose to go their own way. No shadowy terms on either side.

Matt Matthews
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Michael: As I said, having the Unreal Engine on the system has been important to Sony. I think the short timed-exclusivity is a smaller part. Without UE as a Sony-blessed, SOE-adopted, Sony-assisted middleware the system might well be in a poorer software position now, and going forward. That to me is far more significant.

Michael Hess
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I'm not talking about the middleware. I'm talking specifically about the implementation of mod support in UT3. This has nothing whatsoever to do with Sony's contributions to Unreal Engine 3.



It has been pointed out elsewhere that Konami games Winning Eleven and Pro Baseball Spirits also use the separate konami ID for online play, and do not contain external downloadable content. I can't speak to this personally, but if true it seems to bury your speculation.

Kevin Reilly
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Konami ID existed prior to MGO Beta. It wasn't widely used outside Japan and it was primarily designed for implementation with E-Amusement for Konami arcade games. No one actually tried to use it until the MGO debacle.


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