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When Did PSN Stop Being Free?

PlayStation Network (PSN) launched in 2006 as a free online service for PlayStation 3. This changed in 2010 with the launch of PlayStation Plus premium subscription, and then in 2013 when the PS4 required Plus for online multiplayer gaming.

The Launch of PSN in 2006 as a Free Service

Hey friend! Let me walk you through the history of PSN. Sony first launched PlayStation Network in November 2006 as a completely free online service for PlayStation 3. This allowed PS3 owners like us to play multiplayer games online, download games and demos, chat with friends, and more without paying anything.

Having free online gameplay was a huge selling point for PlayStation 3 compared to Xbox 360 which required an Xbox Live subscription for online multiplayer gaming. PSN being free made the PS3 much more appealing to budget-conscious gamers.

PlayStation Plus Launched in 2010 as a Premium Subscription

In June 2010, Sony introduced PlayStation Plus, a new premium subscription service on top of the existing free PSN. For either a quarterly or annual fee, Plus offered members some cool benefits including:

  • Exclusive discounts on games and DLC
  • Free monthly game downloads
  • Early access to new game trials
  • Cloud storage for saves
  • Automatic patch downloads
  • Exclusive avatars, themes, and other content

Importantly though, PlayStation Plus did not originally include online multiplayer access. That remained 100% free for all PSN members on PS3. Sony positioned Plus as an optional subscription for extra perks rather than a requirement for online play.

Number of PlayStation Plus Subscribers:

2010 1 million
2011 3.6 million
2012 10 million
2019 36.4 million

As you can see, Plus grew rapidly in popularity during the PS3 era. But Sony kept multiplayer gaming free for all PSN members until the launch of the PS4.

The PSN Outage in 2011

Trouble struck in April 2011 when the PlayStation Network suffered a major security breach that took PSN offline for 23 days. Sony confirmed that personal data from 77 million PSN accounts was potentially exposed by hackers during this incident.

This was a serious issue that led to class action lawsuits against Sony. As PSN users, we were upset about the long outage and data breach. Ultimately Sony got PSN back online in May 2011 after improving their security. But this outage highlighted growing pains as PSN rapidly expanded.

PS4 in 2013 Required PlayStation Plus for Multiplayer

On November 15, 2013, Sony launched the PlayStation 4. This new console generation marked a major shift – a PlayStation Plus subscription was now required for online multiplayer gaming on PS4.

This change meant non-Plus members on PS4 were restricted to only single-player offline games. Free online multiplayer access was gone. Sony had shifted to match the paid subscription model used by Xbox Live on Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

Sony‘s Rationale for Requiring Plus

Sony justified the change by saying the costs of running robust online networks had increased dramatically since the free PSN launch in 2006. As online services grow, expenses rise for improving infrastructure, bandwidth, security, and maintaining servers.

With a paid subscription like Plus, Sony generated revenue to help cover these rising expenses and sustain PSN‘s expansion. The shift to paid online aligned with an industry-wide trend toward subscription services.

Ongoing Support for PSN on PS4 and PS5

While no longer free, PlayStation Plus still provides excellent value to us PlayStation gamers through its subscriptions. Sony is continuously updating PSN with great new features and improvements.

Today PSN seamlessly spans across both PS4 and PS5 consoles. This allows us to easily play online multiplayer games together and stay connected no matter which system we‘re on. Sony remains committed to operating PSN as a premier online gaming network.

The Many Benefits of PlayStation Plus

For the Plus subscription fee, members receive a bunch of great benefits:

  • Online multiplayer gaming access
  • 2-3 free monthly game downloads
  • Exclusive discounts on games and add-ons
  • Cloud storage for game saves
  • Early access to new game trials
  • Free in-game content and skins

Plus really does provide a lot of value. That‘s why most PlayStation gamers happily subscribe to keep accessing these perks. PSN still has over 100 million active monthly users across PS4 and PS5 systems.

Limited Exceptions for Free Access

While Plus is required for most PS4 and PS5 online multiplayer gaming, there are some exceptions where it‘s not needed:

  • Free-to-play (F2P) games like Fortnite
  • Subscription-based games like EVE Online
  • Select PlayStation partner game trials

Games like these allow online access without a Plus subscription since they are either F2P or use their own subscription model.

Is Free PSN Access Possible on PS4 or PS5?

PlayStation 3 access remains free – you can still play free online multiplayer by sticking with a PS3 system and not subscribing to Plus.

However, there is no way currently to access multiplayer gaming for free on PS4 or PS5 without a Plus subscription. Sony has fully transitioned PSN to be a premium service for current PlayStation console owners.

While unfortunate for gamers like us who enjoyed free access back in the day, paid subscriptions have become the industry norm today across Xbox, Nintendo, and PlayStation platforms.

The Future of PSN

While PSN is now a paid service, it provides excellent online gaming features and strong value through PlayStation Plus memberships. Sony will likely continue enhancing PSN with new functionality and improvements in the future.

The days of free access are probably gone for good. But with careful stewardship by Sony, PlayStation Network can keep evolving as a top-tier online gaming ecosystem for PS4 and PS5 gamers.

Let me know if you have any other questions! Happy gaming.