According to a report entitled "Console and Handheld Online Gaming: Overshadowing the PC" authored by market analysts at In-Stat, video game consoles have helped to significantly expand the market for online games, with worldwide console online gaming subscribers predicted to exceed 30 million by 2009, from a figure of 3.4 million in 2004.
Analyst Brian O’Rourke suggests that the release of the Xbox 360 will see average annual subscriber growth for Xbox Live rise to just under 50 percent between 2004 and 2009.
Although Xbox Live is currently the only paid subscription service for consoles, In-Stat suggests that Sony’s decision as to whether to try and compete directly with Microsoft with its own PlayStation 3 subscription service will have the largest impact on subscriber growth and revenues over the next few years.
The reports notes though that Sony currently believes a paid service is too large a barrier to console online gaming, instead using free online play to reinforce customer loyalty – essentially the same route taken by Nintendo with the DS’s popular new Wi-Fi service.
Sony has previously indicated that it will unveil its online plans for the PlayStation 3 before E3 in May, although it is unclear whether this is still to be the case.