July 29, 2013 at 3:13 PM ET
Sony revealed on Monday that it will not charge PlayStation 4 owners any additional fees to use online features like the console's chat features or popular third-party apps such as the video streaming services Hulu and Netflix.
Sony detailed the policy in a short online video, posted to field questions about the PlayStation 4. While the company said that playing online multiplayer will still require a yearly $50 PlayStation Plus subscription (a change in policy from the PlayStation 3, which offered multiplayer for free), the restriction would not apply to free-to-play games.
This PlayStation Network (PSN) news likely comes as a relief to PlayStation fans anxiously awaiting clarification. Gamers first got the news about multiplayer gameplay and premium PS Plus subscriptions via a short video meant to poke fun at Microsoft's controversial used games policy. The PlayStation 3's free online features have long been a selling point of the console, which offers basically all the same services as the Xbox 360 and Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) without the annual $60 "Gold Membership" fee that Microsoft charged to access any of the console's online tools.
By keeping the majority of its online features free, Sony positions itself as the more cost-efficient console developer. Gamers weighing the pros and cons of one console over another have often seen the difference between the PS3 and Xbox 360's online offerings as a trade-off between convenience (or frugality) of PSN and the slightly sleeker "premium" features of Xbox Live Gold — although having free access to online multiplayer and video streaming started to sound like much less of a bargain after the PlayStation Network suffered a massive security breach in 2011.
Security and privacy obviously remain open issues for both of the next-generation consoles, but Sony has now made the PlayStation 4 the cheaper alternative both in terms of the console's starting price ($399 versus the Xbox One's $499) and in terms of its online fees. In June, Microsoft said that it planned to keep Gold membership fees the same on the Xbox One as on the Xbox 360 — though if the Internet's ongoing popularity contest between the two consoles has anything to say about it, the company might be in store for another 180 sometime soon.
Sony also confirmed in today's video that that it has increased the cap on PSN friends to 2,000—up from the current-generation limit of 100 and double the amount Microsoft has promised for the Xbox One.
Watch the full PS4 Q&A below.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: Yannick.LeJacq@nbcuni.com.