Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices reporting division has steadily grown in the past decade, thanks in part to the growing Xbox 360 business. In the last quarter of calendar 2012, Xbox 360 sales fell hard year-on-year, but those losses were mitigated by the surprisingly stable Xbox Live. Microsoft’s online gaming network, with its 46 million Xbox Live Gold premium subscribers paying as much as $60 per year for service, continues to fuel the Entertainment and Devices division even as its growth slows during the console transition. Microsoft pulled off an impressive feat: It’s got people paying for services like online multiplayer gaming when they’re free everywhere else, like on Sony’s PlayStation Network. No wonder Sony is considering, after seven years of free PlayStation Network service, borrowing Xbox Live’s pricing structure on the PlayStation 4.
“As more and more services and contents become available digitally, we’ll have more of an option to create attractive packages. So hypothetically we can look at different models, like a cable TV company,” Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida told The Guardian, “We could have gold, silver, or platinum levels of membership, something like that. We can do subscription services when we have more content, especially now that we have the Gaikai technology available. With one subscription you have access to thousands of games—that’s our dream.”
Sony does already have a pay service for the PlayStation Network, the nearly three-year-old PlayStation Plus service. But between 2010 and 2012, Sony had trouble conveying the value of its $50 per year service. At E3 2012 though, Sony announced a massive overhaul of PlayStation Plus that provides a better look at what the PlayStation 4’s membership tiers may include. Now Sony offers a selection of downloadable retail and PlayStation Network-only games for free alongside a PlayStation Plus subscription. There are a limited number available at any given time, but one they’re downloaded, they remain playable for as long as a PlayStation Plus membership lasts.
Sony could feasibly offer Silver PlayStation Network members limited or no access to Gaikai streaming, Gold members full access to streaming, and Platinum members access to both streaming and free downloadable games that could be locally stored and supported by the PS Vita local Remote Play that streams those games to the handheld.
The big question is whether Sony will, like Microsoft, charge for basic services like online multiplayer.