Almost five months after it launched in the United States, Sony announced today that its Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) online store will be available in Japan from May 29.

The browser-based marketplace is somewhat similar to the Google Play store, enabling users to sign in with their existing SEN or PlayStation Network account and buy video games, television shows and films for any supported device that they own.

The argument is that consumers are more likely to purchase digital content when they can access the relevant store from a smartphone, tablet or PC. As soon as the content is paid for, it’s automatically added to the “My Downloads” section of the PlayStation Store for either their PS3, PS Vita or PSP.

It’s a sensible approach that caters to those who discover a new title while browsing the Web, or receive a recommendation from a friend on Twitter when they’re out of the house.

The response to the service has been muted in the United States, but it does provide a crucial umbrella for Sony’s on-demand streaming services, Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited. Sony has always pitched both of these as a superior alternative to the likes of Rdio, Xbox Music and Spotify, as well as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. Neither has really taken off, however, or become embedded in the public consciousness. Given the potential of both the PS3 and upcoming PS4 consoles to act as a set-top box and streaming media center, it’s important for Sony to win over new users as quickly as possible.

The launch of the SEN online store in Japan has been long overdue and surprising given that it’s Sony’s home turf. The country is one of the company’s strongest markets, particularly for the PS3 and aging PSP handheld. The company’s focus on cross-play, whereby a video game can be purchased on the PS3 and then resumed using a free copy for the PS Vita (or vice versa) is perfectly suited to the SEN online store.

Sony needs to explain to consumers that they’re now purchasing content for the entire Sony ecosystem, rather than one device, and this new store should help to embed that new approach.

All eyes are on Microsoft ahead of its reveal for the next Xbox later this week. Sony has managed to position itself as the system for gamers, however, and gained some vital support over the ‘always-on’ debacle currently surrounding Microsoft.

With E3 just round the corner, Sony needs to ensure that it has a digital distribution system that is effortless and intuitive to use. Rolling out the SEN online store in new markets – especially Japan – is only the first step to realizing this ambition.

 Image Credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images