PlayStation Network LogoAs far as consoles go, Sony's PlayStation 3 offers up the most bang for no money spent on getting online. Microsoft charges a nominal fee for premium membership, but Sony's PSN service is free for the most essential gaming elements (like only play and demo downloading, for instance).

In an article about the future of Sony's gaming division on, the notion that the PlayStation Network's free factor may be stripped down quite a bit was tossed out by  several analysts. Most famous among them would be Michael Pacther from Wedbush Securities:

"I think it's unlikely that they will require a fee, but think they will strip down the free version to multiplayer and not much else in order to encourage people to pay the fee…"

Multiplayer services on a free network would keep Sony's online play one step ahead of Microsoft's. The Xbox 360 requires users be of Gold level, something that costs money, in order to engage in games with friends and strangers over the Internet.

Billy Pidgeon, analyst for M2 Research, furthered Pachter's opinion:

"Providing networked services for online gaming is not inexpensive, and charging for these services would help Sony defray those costs. I think Sony would best benefit by continuing to build out on the currently employed freemium model, charging for enhanced, tiered and incremental items, services and add-ons to add value to the online gaming experience…

…The PlayStation Plus program provides great incentives for subscribers, and Sony can get more revenue from advertising, item transactions and specialized services to enhance specific aspects of online gameplay such as custom content and rules for use for individuals, guilds and other groups. Sony should also move quickly to shift paid content other than gaming to the network."

This discussion comes after Sony recently announced their expected loss for 2011. It's massive.

Right now, the PlayStation Plus program offers up discounts and free content to those willing to buy in. While the benefits are there for users, PlayStation Plus absolutely does not feel like a necessary service. Sony could do a lot more to make it attractive.

But that would come at the cost of their free offerings.

Analyst opinion is just that: opinion. It does not necessarily reflect the true thought held by the companies in question. It does, however, suggest that these ideas might already be on the table for Sony.

For now, let these points serve as a launchpad for discussion. Would you pay for Sony's network if they started removing perks from free accounts and adding them to the PlayStation Plus side of the fence?