Yes SingStar is going free-to-play: Sony has confirmed it and I've interviewed the senior producer.
The free SingStar XMB application will appear in the next PS3 firmware update. This should hit either today or tomorrow.
SingStar will be a free download but won't come with any songs - those you buy at the SingStore (prices won't change). Any songs you've already bought will be imported and added to your free-to-play SingStar song selection.
A selection of minute-long demo songs will be available to try for free.
You can play your old PS2 and PS3 SingStar discs through the game - those catalogues of songs aren't lost to you.
Support for PlayStation Eye as a microphone has been added, so you won't need a traditional microphone peripheral to play. But if you do have those they will still work. As will official PlayStation Bluetooth headsets and non-SingStar branded USB microphones.
It's Sony's way of opening SingStar up to the masses. "It's really just the next step to broaden the audience and to get it out to everyone and get everyone singing again," senior producer Chris Bruce told Eurogamer.
SingStar, along with games like Buzz!, opened PlayStation 2 to the masses and sold by the bucket load. But it didn't have the same impact on PlayStation 3, and karaoke was usurped by dancing games as the nation's favourite party pursuit.
"We want to go back and recreate the success that we had on PlayStation 2, for sure," Bruce said. "It was stronger on PlayStation 2 I guess it's fair to say."
So is this the end of SingStar in a box in a shop?
"Nope," stated Bruce. "We'll always be looking at opportunities that come along, and if we think we've got a great opportunity to bring something to market then we'll definitely be doing that." But there is "nothing I could possibly mention at the moment" in development now.
"It was stronger on PlayStation 2 I guess it's fair to say."Chris Bruce, senior producer
Shops are essential for shifting SingStar microphones, and inviting other devices to the party doesn't mean Sony has given up iterating on official SingStar kit. "But there's nothing in the immediate future that's going to change there," Bruce said.
You'll still want to use a microphone if you're fussy about getting accurate SingStar scores. The Eye is further from your mouth and is meant for groups of people to collectively bellow into rather than as a focused input device.
"Obviously it's not the two-player, two microphone experience," Bruce told me, "but people can have a go and get singing and see if they like it. It's really great for those party experiences when there's loads of people around and loads of people are playing at the end of the night and everyone's just singing - it might be described as singing, others may describe it as shouting - into the camera."
Every owner of a PlayStation Move owns a PlayStation Eye out of necessity, so Sony's broadened its SingStar horizons with one stroke.
Sony tried tapping into the Move market before with SingStar Dance, which combined the singing game with Move dancing. It was fun (if you had a massive room with space for people to sing and dance) but the crossover doesn't have a future. Well, it does as Dance Star Party, but not as SingStar Dance. "There's no plans to do another SingStar Dance in the immediate future, no," stated Bruce.
SingStar free-to-play doesn't look any different to SingStar now, really. Some things have been tweaked such as buying songs quicker and with less faff, and the the disc-swap option (use old SingStar discs) is now in the carousel. There's a simple recommendations feature to flag songs up for friends, and the SingStar Community video sharing area will remain a focal part of the whole experience.
"Hopefully you and I will be sitting here in another seven years time and talking about 15 years of SingStar on all kinds of platforms. Who knows - who knows what the future holds?" mulled Bruce in answer to a question about transitioning onto PlayStation 4. "We'll definitely be continuing to refine that experience as we see how people are using it, as we've continued to do over the last five years on PS3."
There may be some PlayStation Plus-led promotions in the future.