How PlayStation Plus went from maybe to must-have

When PlayStation Plus was announced in 2010, it was difficult to understand why PlayStation 3 owners would feel motivated to pay for a premium tier to the service they had been enjoying for free. Four years later, the Instant Game Collection has provided plenty of incentive to pony up the annual PlayStation Plus fee, thanks largely to how the team behind the Collection decides what games are made available.

"There is a lot that goes into finding the right mix of titles for each month's Instant Game Collection, but the goal is to deliver a solid lineup that has something for all different types of gamers," John Koller, vice president of platforms marketing at Sony Computer Entertainment of America told Joystiq.

Koller says a major goal in determining the PlayStation Plus lineup is to retain current subscribers and grow new subscriptions through making the service a "no brainer" for owners of PlayStation platforms.

"We look at a variety of different things to deliver a lineup that will provide amazing shared experiences, including the most popular genres for our members and fan requests."

Another driving force for the Instant Game Collection, as it exists today, is creating a more communal experience for friends who own the same PlayStation systems, Koller added. "Our vision for PS Plus is to further encourage and enhance shared experiences on the platform, and games with strong multiplayer like Mercenary Kings and Resogun are advancing that vision," he explained. "We want friends to have the same great games to play together, and the Instant Game Collection certainly helps to accomplish that, as will Share Play when it comes to PS Plus members on PS4 this fall."

"As you can imagine with a new service like PlayStation Plus and the Instant Game Collection, we faced some challenges in getting everyone on board initially," Koller said. "However, once we were able to communicate the obvious value that the membership provides, everyone rallied behind the service and its powerful potential."

Early on, finding the correct mix of games to offer subscribers proved to be a challenge, as some publishers were apprehensive about giving away games as part of Sony's premium online tier. "In the very early days of PlayStation Plus, there were publishing partners who may have been more cautious in their support of the idea while other publishers were eager to push the envelope," Koller explained. "As PlayStation Plus and the Instant Game Collection have continued to garner support from the PlayStation community, our publishing partners have also seen the great benefits and opportunities for bringing their IP to members month after month, and we've seen them open up to the possibilities. [...] The result has a ripple effect, where games like Don't Starve and Outlast become two of our top broadcasted and spectated games on PS4, and the entire PS4 community, PS Plus members or not, are able to be a part of this viral gameplay experience. It generates a lot of interest around these titles, which ultimately is good for everyone."

"We've seen PS Plus memberships grow more than 200% since PS4 launched last year, and those gamers have been outspoken about the value that PlayStation Plus brings to their gaming experience," Koller said. [Ed. Note: PS4 is also the first system in the PlayStation ecosystem to require a PlayStation Plus membership to access online multiplayer, which may also be a major contributing factor in subscription growth.]

The prosperity has encouraged several other companies to attempt to bring their own premium subscription services to consumers. Despite this, Koller insists that the PlayStation Plus team remains inwardly focused. "Even as competitors are now emulating what we've been doing, our focus remains squarely on delivering the most compelling features and services to gamers," he said.

Since the emergence of the PlayStation Plus service both Microsoft and EA have joined in with similar initiatives. Last year, Microsoft has added free rotating games to its Xbox Live platform, a premium service which first launched in 2002, and has since extended the program to the Xbox One.

EA has launched its own version of the service: EA Access, which is only available on the Xbox One platform. For a monthly or annual fee, the service offers older titles as part of a growing "vault" while, in addition, provides players the opportunity to play digitally purchased games early.

Programs like EA Access and those offered by Microsoft and Sony work to build brand loyalty. With the successes of Sony's Instant Game Collection, Xbox Live's Games with Gold and the promise of what EA Access could deliver, it's possible other publishers will consider developing their own services. Ubisoft, makers of the Assassin's Creed series, has already shown interest.

The feature that most resonated with PlayStation Plus subscribers in the early days of the service was the ability to try games for free, Koller said. The popularity of this feature – allowing gamers to download select full version games and play them for up to an hour – was an essential stepping-stone for the conceptualization and eventual launch of the Instant Game Collection.

"Even in those early days, we saw tremendous value in that initial offering of exclusives, including full game trials, free themes, early access betas, discounts and some games," he told us. "Pretty early on, it became abundantly clear: Gamers loved getting access to free games in PlayStation Plus. From there, it was just about figuring out the best way to evolve the service and deliver an incredible value to gamers, which is how the Instant Game Collection was born. Many of those other features are still an important part of PlayStation Plus, along with cloud game saves, auto downloads, and online multiplayer for PS4, but the Instant Game Collection remains a key component of the membership."

Now that PlayStation Plus has grown a crucial component in the PlayStation formula, Koller hints at ways that the community may have a bigger say in how the service evolves and what it offers in the future. "We hear all the feedback and incorporate it as best we can in regards to the content and features we offer," he said. "One common request is for the community to have more direct control over the games that enter the Instant Game Collection. While there's nothing specific to announce about this right now, it's definitely an interesting idea and one we've been investigating."

"The Instant Game Collection ushered in a brand new model for the industry that really helped to define PS Plus as a premium service for gamers," he said. "PS Plus needs to continue this evolution as the industry changes, and you can be sure that we'll continue to anticipate gamers' wants and needs and find the best ways to serve them."

[Images: Sony, EA]

Brian Shea is the Editor-in-Chief of, as well as a freelance writer for several online and print publications.