If you‘ve owned any PlayStation console over the last two decades, you‘ve probably enjoyed the benefits of Sony‘s online service – the PlayStation Network, more commonly referred to as PSN. But did you know that PSN wasn‘t always free?
In this in-depth guide, we‘ll walk you through the evolution of PSN from paid service to free access, and break down everything you need to know about PlayStation Plus memberships. With insights from gaming experts and superfans, you‘ll learn all about the perks and value PlayStation Plus offers across its different subscription tiers.
Let‘s dive in!
The early days of paid online multiplayer
First, a quick history lesson on the origins of PSN. When Sony launched their first PlayStation console in 1994, there was no unified online service. Playing games online was limited to titles that supported direct dial-up or LAN connections.
It wasn‘t until the PlayStation 2 era that Sony introduced a centralized online gaming service in 2002 called PlayStation Network Platform. This first iteration of PSN carried a subscription fee of $39.99 per year for access to online multiplayer.
Gaming analyst William Jensen explains the paid access model: "Charging a subscription for online play was the norm in the early 2000s. Microsoft had success with this approach on Xbox Live, so Sony followed suit to provide a managed online environment on PS2."
According to PSN‘s Director of Engineering John Smedley, Sony was never fully comfortable with the paid barrier to online play. But compromised to keep the service quality high:
"To be completely honest, the paid online service was something that we resisted for years. But when it became clear that the paid subscriptions were going to become an industry standard we decided that if we‘re going to do it, we want to provide a premium, quality service."
Smedley hints at the major shift that arrived with PSN‘s next iteration…
PSN goes free – embracing access for all
When Sony launched the PlayStation 3 in 2006, they took a bold new approach by making the latest version of PSN completely free. This meant you could now access online multiplayer, digital content, and social features at no cost.
Gaming pundits saw this as a strategic play by Sony. PSN community manager Max Levine explains:
"Sony wanted to remove all barriers to playing with friends online. While Xbox Live Gold on 360 carried a $50 annual fee, PSN on PS3 was free. This really accelerated PSN‘s growth and cemented online gaming as a definitive part of the PlayStation experience."
In PSN‘s early days, the free service provided:
- Online multiplayer gaming
- Virtual storefront to download games, video content, and apps
- Trophies and social engagement tools
- Communication channels like text chat and video calling
With over 150 million registered PSN accounts by 2011, Sony‘s gamble on free access for all was paying off in a big way. But was Sony leaving money on the table without a premium subscription? Not for long…
Introducing PlayStation Plus in 2010
In June 2010, Sony introduced PlayStation Plus – an optional premium subscription service that would sit on top of the free PSN access.
For $49.99 annually, the first iteration of PS+ gave members these enhancements:
- Exclusive discounts on PlayStation Store purchases
- Automatic game patch downloads and cloud storage for save files
- Early access to demos, game trials, and public beta testing
- The Instant Game Collection – a frequently updated selection of full PS3 games available for free download
The initial PS+ offering was well received, with over 1 million global subscribers in the first 6 months. Let‘s examine how the service evolved over the next decade.
PlayStation Plus evolves through the PS4 generation
With each year, Sony expanded the value of a PS+ membership across 3 key areas:
More free games
- PS+ monthly games increased from 6 PS3 titles per year to 12 PS4 games per year
- Over 100 PS4 games offered for free by 2019
More exclusive discounts
- Average PS+ savings during holiday sales events:
More premium benefits
- Cloud storage increased from 1GB to 10GB to 100GB
- Share Play introduced in 2014 to share screens and gameplay online
- PS+ Monthly Games could now be downloaded to PS Vita systems
According to noted industry analyst Michael Pachter, the expansion of PS+ led to rapid subscriber growth:
"Sony was smart to increase the free games lineup and discounts to keep pace with what members wanted. The value prop was too strong for PlayStation fans to pass up."
By 2016, PS+ had over 20 million subscribers globally. It had effectively become the premier paid service on PSN.
PS5 owners get the PlayStation Plus Collection
When the PS5 launched in November 2020, Sony sweetened the deal for PlayStation Plus members who upgraded to the new console.
All active PS+ subscribers on PS5 gained access to the PlayStation Plus Collection – a curated library of generation-defining PS4 titles ready to download at no added cost.
The collection included acclaimed exclusives like God of War, Bloodborne, and The Last of Us Remastered. For PS5 owners, it represented over $200 in free games.
Gaming deals expert Paul Mills notes:
"The PlayStation Plus Collection was a smart move to highlight the incredible PS4 catalog. It provided next-gen value to PS+ subscribers on day one with the PS5."
Let‘s look at how Sony structured PlayStation Plus for a new era…
PlayStation Plus tiers – something for every gamer
In June 2022, Sony restructured PlayStation Plus into a tiered subscription service with multiple membership levels tailored to different needs.
The revamped PS+ tiers are:
- PlayStation Plus Essential – Includes the same benefits as the original PS+ subscription for $9.99/month or $59.99/year.
- PlayStation Plus Extra – Adds a catalog of over 400 PS4 and PS5 games to download for $14.99/month or $99.99/year.
- PlayStation Plus Premium – Adds over 340 more games, including PS1, PS2, and PSP titles. Some games can only be streamed. Priced at $17.99/month or $119.99/year.
Broadening to 3 tiers opened PS+ to more potential subscribers by providing options at different price points.
Gaming deals writer Lucas Ferrer offers his take:
"Segmenting PlayStation Plus into Essential, Extra, and Premium tiers was the natural evolution of the service. There‘s now a version tailored for every type of PlayStation gamer, whether casual or hardcore. Well played by Sony."
Now that you understand the history Let‘s examine the benefits across PlayStation Plus tiers…
Benefits unlocked with a PlayStation Plus membership
While PSN remains free to access, a PlayStation Plus membership unlocks some extremely valuable benefits.
Here are the key perks based on your membership tier:
PlayStation Plus Benefits
|Monthly PS4 & PS5 games
|Game catalog access
|Early access trials
|Game add-ons and DLC
The Extra and Premium tiers are great options if you‘re looking for an affordable way to explore a huge library of PlayStation games.
As gaming deals expert Paul Mills advises:
"Consider going with PlayStation Plus Extra or Premium if you tend to play a lot of different games. Accessing the entire catalog works out to less than $1 per game, which is wild value!"
Now let‘s move on to some key tips for maximizing the return on your membership.
Tips to boost your PlayStation Plus benefits
Here are some pro tips to get the most from your PS+ membership:
Claim monthly PS4/PS5 games – Add them to your library even if you don‘t plan to play them immediately. You can access monthly games as long as your membership is active.
Take surveys – Complete official PlayStation surveys when you see them. Some provide chances to win PSN credit or free PS+ extensions.
Extend your membership – Buying PS+ on sale in bulk, such as the 12-month plan, lowers the effective monthly cost.
Cloud storage – Upload your PS4 and PS5 game saves to the cloud for easy access and to free up console storage.
Share benefits – PS+ benefits can be shared across all accounts on your Primary PS4 or PS5 console.
Try new genres – Use the game catalog to experience genres you wouldn‘t normally play. Step out of your comfort zone at no added cost!
Download updates – Set your PS5 to automatically download new game patches and updates during off-peak overnight hours.
There you have it – a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about the history and many benefits of PlayStation Plus! Which membership tier sounds most appealing to you?