If you’re a console gamer who wants to play online, you’re going to have to pay a subscription. That’s just a fact.

Despite the fact that modern consoles are easily able to connect to the internet, it costs extra to play with friends online. This goes for all modern consoles including PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Even the Nintendo Switch is going to have an obligatory fee to play online from 2018.

So why do video-games companies charge extra for online services? Well, the answer is pretty much just because they can. In an interview with Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu, Shuhei Yoshida, boss of Sony Worldwide Studios, explained the reasoning behind their decision to charge gamers to play online:

“The main pillar for the PS4 will be online play. We’re developing many new ways to play and connect which requires a large investment of resources.”

“Considering the cost, to try to keep such a service free and consequently lower the quality would be absurd. We decided that if that’s the case, then it would be better to receive proper payment and continue to offer a good service.”

Asked to justify their own decision to start charging for online play, Nintendo said largely the same thing. In a separate interview with Famitsu, Nintendo executives Shinya Takahashi and Yoshiaki Koizumi explained:

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“We decided to charge for the service because we are concerned with customer satisfaction. We’ll be maintaining the online service and providing new services that we haven’t had up until now, and there are costs associated with those. We’d also like to maintain a stable playing experience and provide proper support. We are working to prepare all of the features until the service begins in the fall of 2017, and details on the service will be available at a later time.”

Microsoft, the first video-games producer to start charging for online play has never explained that decision. Additionally, considering Nintendo and Sony have had free online play up until this console generation, their explanations don’t exactly make a huge amount of sense. The most likely explanation then, is probably that these companies charge extra for online play simply because they can.

Making play pay:

Sony is pinning its hopes on its subscription-based PlayStation Network. The service. has more than 70m monthly active users and recorded a 43.2 percent bump in revenue for the first half of this year to $3.6bn. That includes all purchases made online including memberships to PlayStation Plus, and any premium software downloads.

Meanwhile, newly appointed president of Sony Interactive Entertainment John Kodera’s background is in online and network services, suggesting this is going to the focus for the company going forward.

According to Microsoft’s reports from January 2017, they have 55 million Xbox Live users. Unfortunately, they do not go into how many of those are premium Xbox Live Gold subscribers. Therefore, it’s difficult to work out exactly how much money they’re making from online play. Still, while it probably isn’t quite as healthy as Sony’s total, it’s likely in the billions.

Nintendo will be hoping to take a slice of the same pie in 2018 when they launch Nintendo Switch Online. However, while Sony and Microsoft charge $60 per year for their online services, Nintendo will be charging $20 a year.

Sweetening the deal:

Speaking of Nintendo’s online service, their announcement of it reveals a great deal about the culture around the issue. The company confirmed the move towards a paid subscription for online play at the launch of the Nintendo Switch in January. They promised the service would be accompanied by a game rental service. This would see players rewarded with a classic NES game updated with online compatibility, once per month. These games would be available for a month before disappearing forever.

However, what Nintendo didn’t anticipate was the backlash they would receive for this plan. After months of silently stewing in the annoyance of their fans, Nintendo’s plans changed. Now the online service will come with multiple classic games for players to keep.

All this belies an interesting point about online subscription services. Players will not pay for online services without something to sweeten the deal.

For PlayStation 4, the PS Plus service comes with a selection of free downloadable games every month. In addition, PS Plus subscribers get early access to upcoming games, beta trials, and regular store discounts. They also get access to the ‘Instant Games Collection’. This is a series of games made available on a rolling basis. However, while normal users will see games disappear from the service PS Plus users get to keep them indefinitely. A PS Plus user will gain access to a games library worth over $1,300 every year.

On Xbox One, the Xbox Live Gold service offers much the same. Everything from early access to games and betas as well as store discounts are accounted for. There is also a Games With Gold promotion where Xbox Live Gold subscribers get two games per month. This means a year’s Xbox Live Gold membership will get $500 players worth of games for their console.

What games are available this month? (November 2017)

Xbox One (Games With Gold):

  • Trackmania Turbo – 01/11-30/11
  • Nights into Dreams – 01/11-15/11
  • The Turing Test – 16/10-15/11
  • Tales From The Borderlands: A Telltale Games Series (Episodes 1-5) – 16/11-15/12
  • Deadfall Adventures (Xbox 360 re-release) – 16/11-30/11

PlayStation 4 (PS Plus):

All available from midday 7th November.

  • Worms Battlegrounds (PS4)
  • Bound (PS4/PS VR)
  • Until Dawn: Rush of Blood (PS Plus bonus – PS VR Required)
  • That’s You! (PS Plus bonus – PlayLink)
  • R-Type Dimensions (PS3)
  • Rag Doll Kung Fu: Fists of Plastic (PS3)
  • Dungeon Punks (PS Vita & PS4)
  • Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse [Ep. 1 & 2] (PS Vita)