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When did PlayStation Online Stop Being Free? A History of PSN and PS Plus

Hi friend! You‘re probably wondering, when exactly did Sony stop offering free online multiplayer gaming through PlayStation Network? Well, let me walk you through the history so you can get the full picture.

In the beginning, online multiplayer gaming was completely free for PlayStation 3 owners through the PlayStation Network (PSN) service that launched in 2006. You could jump into games of Call of Duty, sports games, racing games and more without paying a cent beyond the cost of internet access. Those were the good ol‘ days!

The Launch of PlayStation Plus in 2010 Ended Truly Free Online Gaming

That changed in 2010 when Sony introduced PlayStation Plus. This new optional subscription service launched in June 2010 costing $49.99 per year. Now, you could opt-in to get things like:

  • Access to exclusive discounts and early game demos before release
  • Automatic patch downloads and cloud game saves
  • Free monthly games to download and keep
  • Premium avatars, themes, and other exclusive content

So while you could still play games online without subscribing, PlayStation Plus started nudging players towards a premium service for extra perks.

According to official sales figures, by April 2016 over 20 million PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 owners had subscribed to PlayStation Plus worldwide. So the service was proving pretty popular!

PlayStation Plus Became Mandatory for Most PS4 Online Gaming in 2013

When the PlayStation 4 arrived in 2013, Sony made a big change that changed online multiplayer forever. Now a PlayStation Plus subscription was required to play the vast majority of PS4 games online.

This meant if you didn‘t pay the $9.99 monthly or $49.99 yearly fee, you were mostly locked out of online multiplayer gaming. Quite a difference from the totally free PSN on PS3!

Sony argued this helps fund ongoing costs like game servers and infrastructure. And to be fair, PlayStation Plus had expanded over the years to offer more benefits like:

  • A monthly Instant Game Collection to download
  • Exclusive discounts and early access to games
  • Cloud storage for save files

But ultimately this meant the era of free online gaming via PlayStation Network was over by the time the PS4 arrived.

How Many PlayStation Online Users Subscribe to PS Plus?

According to the latest figures from Sony…

  • There are over 102 million monthly active PSN users as of 2021
  • Of those, 47.4 million subscribe to PlayStation Plus as of April 2022

So while not every PSN user opts for the paid Plus service, the subscription is very popular, with almost 50 million members globally!

Sony also reported PlayStation Plus subscriptions:

  • Accounted for 21% of Sony Network Services revenue in FY2021
  • Generated $2.86 billion in subscription revenue that year

It‘s clearly become an important revenue stream for the company!

How Does PlayStation Plus Stack Up to Xbox Live Gold?

Sony isn‘t alone in charging for online gaming these days. When Xbox One launched in 2013, Microsoft also began requiring an Xbox Live Gold subscription for online multiplayer.

Here‘s how PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold stack up:

Service Monthly Price Annual Price
PlayStation Plus $9.99 $59.99
Xbox Live Gold $9.99 $59.99

As you can see, the pricing is identical today. The era of free online console gaming has given way to subscriptions across the board.

While that‘s a bummer, services like PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold do try to provide more value, like free monthly games and exclusive discounts. For avid gamers, the subscriptions can pay for themselves in savings and freebies.

What Does the Future Hold for Online Gaming and Subscriptions?

While paid subscriptions are likely here to stay, services like PlayStation Plus will continue to evolve.

Sony is investing heavily in new features and perks to bring value, such as:

  • Cloud streaming of games a la PlayStation Now
  • Retro classics from PS1/PS2/PS3 to download
  • Extended demos or timed full game access

And with cloud gaming on the horizon, our subscriptions may someday grant access to a Netflix-style library of freely playable games!

The Bottom Line

While the days of totally free online multiplayer gaming disappeared with the launch of PlayStation Plus back in 2010, services like PS Plus and Xbox Live Gold still aim to provide great bang for your buck.

With cool perks and growing libraries of free games, a subscription can actually save you money in the long run if you game a lot. But I do fondly remember those early PSN days of jumping into online matches completely free!

So in summary friend, while PlayStation Network began as a free online gaming service, the launch of PlayStation Plus in 2010 introduced the first paid premium tier. And when PS4 arrived in 2013, a Plus subscription became mandatory for most online multiplayer gaming.

Hopefully this little trip down memory lane was helpful! Let me know if you have any other PlayStation Network questions. Happy gaming!