Sony Rolls Out Invitation-Only PlayStation Rewards Program

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PlayStation Rewards

Get paid to play. Sort of. Not actual money, but a kind of new Sony "currency" designed to pimp you PlayStation Network cachet.

That's the gist behind Sony's new PlayStation Rewards incentives program, which builds on the last half-decade shift in gaming toward meta-game achievements, trophies, social bragging rights, and micro-rewards.

And it's free. You know, sort of.

Launching today, though by invitation only, Sony's PlayStation Rewards beta will initially be offered to PlayStation Plus subscribers (the service costs $50 a year). The beta will focus on the PS3, but eventually expand to embrace the PSP. It's designed, according to Sony, "to give you the opportunity to gain exclusive status, recognition, and rewards as a thank you for your continued interest in PlayStation."

What do you have to do? Nothing you're not already. Play games, of course. Do you download movies? TV shows? Buy the occasional user avatar or XMB theme? Stuff like that.

As you do, you'll start climbing the ranks of Sony's new three-tier Rewards scale, from "Select" to "Pro" to "Legendary." The higher your rank, the more Sony pays out in freebies and social recognition tags.

What kinds of freebies? Exclusive avatars that apparently display your status in the program. Exclusive themes. Exclusive PlayStation Home content. I know, about that last, I'm shrugging too.

Or you can just hang out with Sony at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas as their guest. The new Rewards program gets you into the members-only sweepstakes for "experiences and merchandize," of which the CES trip's reportedly just the first. Okay, that's pretty cool.

How to get into the beta? You need to be a member of Sony's Gamer Advisory Panel, or a PlayStation Plus subscriber in the U.S. who opted into marketing "as of October 24th." If you don't make it into the beta, Sony says it's planning the public launch in April.

Give Sony a hand for knowing how to run a pay-wall with unique "gotta-haves," instead of riding another service's coattails. Unlike Microsoft, the company keeps the services you're already paying for--notably Netflix and now Hulu Plus--out in the open. Microsoft locks that stuff up, effectively charging consumers who only use Xbox Live to stream Netflix movies (I know several parents in this exact situation) to pay $50 on top of whatever they're already playing Netflix each month.

Update: I screwed that last part up. Not the part about Microsoft double-charging, but the part about PlayStation Rewards requiring PlayStation Plus. Forget the pay-wall altogether. When PlayStation Rewards launches in April to the general public, it'll be available to everyone, PlayStation Plus subscription or no.

Why isn't Sony launching the service in Europe simultaneously, or giving Europeans Xbox 360 gamers dibs? You'd think they would. The PlayStation 3 has a bigger install base across the pond, after all.

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