Gamasutra has already discussed initial information
on Sony Computer Entertainment president Ken Kutaragi speech on the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Network Platform, the Xbox Live-like service for the next-gen console, but consumer site GameSpot has received further information on what the service will entail.
Co-developed by Sony Online Entertainment, the company's MMORPG development arm, and GameSpy Networks, the PlayStation Network Platform will allow players to compete online even in its free iteration, unlike Xbox Live. Sony will enforce integrated online capabilities between games, but publishers will be free to run their own servers.
Sony released a full list of what the PSNP would be capable of. On the gameplay and communication side, according to the company, the system will include lobbies and matchmaking, ranked scores, content uploads and downloads, unique avatars, friends lists, voice and video chat, and instant messaging, a significantly larger set of features than some had presumed for the PlayStation 3, given the scant online infrastructure for the PlayStation 2.
On the commerce side, there will be in-game shops, premium content downloads, and some vaguer capabilities such as subscriptions, item-by-item sales, micropayments, and "entitlement management". It is unclear as of yet whether Xbox Live Arcade-style casual titles or even legacy titles will be a major part of Sony's tactics, although the PlayStation Network Platform is believed to allow downloads of game executables which will then be playable.
The first development kits for the PlayStation Network Platform are scheduled to be delivered to interested developers at the end of March, with an updated version in April. Sony is aiming to have a production environment available for game tests in September.