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“Approximately half of PS4 users are registered to the PlayStation Plus subscription service” according to Sony’s President and CEO, Kazuo ‘Riiiiidge Racer’ Hirai. It’s an incredible statistic, far higher than you might expect, especially considering digital console gaming is not as big as you think it is. It is no doubt boosted by PS4’s requirement to have a PS Plus subscription if you want to connect with other players online, as demonstarted by the rather excellent Watch Dogs. But it could be even bigger. And, looking at Sony as a whole, it needs to be bigger, too.
Why? Because Sony is in the middle of a massive financial crisis. Bigger than most recognise. Sure, we know various departments have been making losses for a while, but looking through Hirai's statement (as reported by CVG News) PS4 and PS Plus are winners in a company full of products that are losing money. So even though that 50% subscription rate is an incredible achievement, more is needed. That means while other areas of Sony's business are being shrunk down to maximise profitability, PS4's user base is being pegged to grow--massively--and network distribution with it.
We already know that PS Plus is invaluable for both Sony's and gamers’ interests. It's the perfect synergy between great rewards for membership and steady revenue for the provider. It’s exactly the sort of thing that charities try to do when they ask you to pledge £2 a month. It's a dependable stream of revenue for them, and in return you get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve potentially saved someone’s life. Or in this case, downloaded a bunch of free games. Hmmm… maybe I shouldn’t have used that as an example.
Kaz also revealed PS4 has sold 7 million units already, since its launch in November last year. That’s a massive success story. So if ‘approximately’ 3.5 million people have a PS Plus account, that means a heck of a lot of money for Sony. And, judging by the apologetic and humility-heavy nature of the rest of his speech, it sounds like that’s something Sony needs a lot of.
Ironically, the company’s financial woes are a really good thing for gamers, as Sony *needs* you on-board. With Xbox One stumbling out of the start gates, it's been easy for Sony to compete and offer a mouthwatering package to its customers. In fact, sometimes the sheer wealth of 'free' PS Plus content astonishes me. Indeed, I’ve personally enjoyed the free games on PlayStation Plus to the point where I could probably get by with only its output, if I was really strapped for cash. Sure, I’d want to play some more games that really push the system (like Watchdogs, or Wolfenstein or Battlefield 4), but Resogun and Outlast have high enough production values that I can stick those games on and comfortably expect people to be impressed when they ask to see what PS4 can do.
Of course, it isn’t all about production values, which is why Don’t Starve is another great example of why PS Plus works. It’s a game that didn’t initially appeal to me. But because it was free, I gave it a go and then got sucked into its world (figuratively, of course, otherwise I wouldn't be writing this, and instead be wondering whether my hat is strong enough to last the winter). It was great, until I accidentally set fire to the entire screen.
So basically I find myself asking the same question as Sony must be: ‘why aren’t the other 50% on PS Plus?’ There aren’t that many people with such a bad internet connection--or no internet connection--to make it purely a technical reason. Even if you don’t play games online, it’s becoming an essential part of PlayStation gaming. Yes, even on PS3 and Vita.
It’s no co-incidence that Microsoft has realigned its Games With Gold service to ape PS Plus. Microsoft’s free games are now tied to your subscription too, meaning you can’t just get in on a 3-day pass, download a load of full-size games and then get out again. It’s also telling that the latest Games with Gold additions are AAA games, namely Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition and Dark Souls. PS Plus has shown that free games don’t have to be ancient. Giving away quality and contemporary products for as-good-as-free is awesome and people will respect you for it. Microsoft needs some of that.
Both companies 'need' things right now. Sony as a whole just needs to generate profit for a change and sees PS4 as being one of the driving forces of that. According to Kaz, PS4 unit sales are already profitable on their own (unlike early sales of PS3, which actually lost Sony money despite costing hundreds and hundreds of dollarpounds). Add on the subscription price for PS Plus and there’s a lot of money that PS4 can bring in. Money that can't be damaged by second-hand markets.
Although there's a danger of echoing Microsoft's massively unpopular Xbox One business model, Sony sees PS4 as method of encouraging people to buy digital content and drive revenue for the rest of its business. So the more people who get on PS Plus, the more people might potentially be willing to pay for music or other entertainment. I would suggest the more cynical (and usual) method of attempting to leverage more money from the existing subscriber base is not the solution to Sony's current financial situation. Now is not the time to get greedy and push up prices; now is the time to get even more generous. Which means? It's a great time to be a gamer! Roll on, E3.