Sony's 50% PS Plus uptake level is amazing, but it needs more

“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.

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  • FoxdenRacing - May 28, 2014 10:35 a.m.

    Port cross-game chat to PS3 and I'll sign up for Plus the same day the patch comes out. It's literally the only reason I keep Live right now...I can party up over there, then chat with friends also on PS3 no matter what we're playing. Sad as I am to say it, Sony's non-abusive policies and venerable refusal to put stuff behind a paywall that has no reason to be behind a paywall [Netflix, Youtube, etc] are winning them fans, but losing them dollars.
  • ManWithSword - May 28, 2014 9 a.m.

    I think what might encourage more PS4 owners to join PS Plus would be the porting of those PSN titles already available on PS3 (for example Limbo), and for those who already own those titles, to make them free. Those joining PS4 and PS Plus for the first time would have to buy those titles, but perhaps at a PS Plus reduced price. Porting PS3's PSN games would increase the number of titles available on PS4 (and PS Plus) and it would give PS3 owners with PS Plus even more reason to make the jump to PS4. It's all about making PS Plus as compelling as possible. The most obvious other way of doing this is to make PS Now (gaikai) a part of PS Plus. This, I think, would capture that other 50 % of PS4 owners not yet subscribed to PS Plus. Not combining the two might confuse things, and reduce both the uptake of both options. PS Plus is amazing value for money for consumers, and an amazing revenue stream for Sony. If Sony could reach an install base of 100 million PS4s, and 100% of PS4 (and PS3 and PS Vita) owners subscribed to PS Plus, it could generate for Sony an income of more than £4 billion per year. And for consumers, the cost of one single AAA game per year, gives them free AAA and indie games every month, discounts, multiplayer gaming, and (hopefully) backwards compatibility through PS Now).
  • nick-stancato - May 27, 2014 8:43 p.m.

    PS+ on PS4 needs to improve (and Vita's sorely needs to be better). The offerings mostly suck - I rarely find an Indie that holds my attention for more than 1 or 2 play sessions. We need more variety and diversity on them. PS3's is fantastic on the other hand - a good mix of both AAA and Indie
  • garnsr - May 27, 2014 8:26 p.m.

    I've had Plus for a while for my PS3, but I've been adding the free Vita games as they came along, just in case I ever got a Vita. I got a Vita a couple months ago, and still haven't paid for any games, I've filled the whole 16 GB card with free games just from Plus. Along with the handful of PS4 games it's certainly been worth the $50 a year, even if I don't play online.
  • grendelxii - May 27, 2014 5:09 p.m.

    I'm not too surprised at the number of people that use PS plus. Take the console my family uses. My wife has PS plus and we use that account for the games and discounts. The four other psn accounts on the PS3 can use all the software that was downloaded from the PS plus account. So what need is there for the rest of us to have PS plus, so that is four psn accounts that use basic accounts with out the need for the paid service.
  • Redeater - May 27, 2014 10 a.m.

    Hmm. I didn't realize that Gold was now required to play free Xbox games. Maybe this will finally shut up all those "Pony fanboys are only renting their free games". It's rather strange how, in the 80's and early 90's, Sony was known for creating cheap yet quality electronics. Now most people know them as the company who sells electronics that are expensive as fuck. Here's a few things they can do to get out of debt. 1. Sell Spiderman back to Marvel. 2. ???????? 3. Sony becomes most valuable company in the world.
  • archnite - May 27, 2014 8:26 p.m.

    no they should sell spiderman to warner brothers.
  • GOD - May 27, 2014 9 p.m.

    By the time they sell Spider-Man back to Marvel, they'll have dragged him through the mud so much he'll be the Brown Widow.
  • Divine Paladin - May 27, 2014 9:56 a.m.

    Sony's only in a financial crisis because of their horrible TV sales performance. Cut Vaio, cut your losses, and you're fine. Easier said than done, of course.
  • Redeater - May 27, 2014 10:04 a.m.

    I believe they did sell off Vaio. (Correct me if I'm wrong). It's also no fucking wonder that they are doing terrible with TV's. Who in their right might is going to spend $1000 -$2000 more on a TV just because it says Sony on it?? They have always been way overpriced.
  • Divine Paladin - May 27, 2014 10:14 a.m.

    Plus they jumped on 3D early and started charging even more. And I believe they still own Vaio. For now.
  • Redeater - May 27, 2014 11:15 a.m.

    I had a friend that spent around $3000 to $4000 last year or so on a 42 inch Sony TV. He was so proud that it was 3D capable. I didn't have the heart to tell him what a retarded purchase he had just made. Keep in mind, I bought my LG 10809 42 inch for $1400. I believe that was 6-8 years ago. To this day he has never used the 3D once.
  • Redeater - May 27, 2014 11:17 a.m.

    That should read 1080P
  • Cyberninja - May 27, 2014 9:45 a.m.

    Its pretty ironic that people always say Nintendo needs to worry most when everyone else has to deal with this kinda of stuff. I don't see why people wouldn't want to have PS+ I currently don't have a PS4 but for my PS3 and Vita it provides wonderful games I didn't plan on buying anyway and now I have a nice varied backlog. Also I don't play online anyway but it still doesn't hurt to have the feature.