PC online gaming at one point, used to be paid.
The early days of online gaming was indeed monetized through subscription service ^ like TEN for example. This is because they can provide less latency than the common dialup connections of the time.
FYI Ten’s very 1990s website is STILL up and able to be visited ^
But then what happened was…
That’s right, Blizzard released Diablo and bundled http://Battle.Net for FREE. Blizzard found that if you bundle free online gaming with PC games, then they tend to sell more of the game. Other PC companies quickly followed suit with their own free online gaming services. TEN died a quick death after that, and nobody has been able to monetize online PC gaming (well not totally – there’s still services like
which promises lower latency much like TEN did all the way back then) – but for the most part, companies wouldn’t dare charge for online gaming because PC gamers would revolt, they’ve been used to free online gaming for so long.
For console users however
SegaNet was probably one of the first console online gaming services and it was a paid subscription service from the get go, promising again lower latency.
Then of course, we got Xbox Live
Which was the first truly successful console online gaming service. Xbox Live was monetized from the beginning as well.
Now PS3 actually came with free online gaming and was a major reason to get a PS3 over an Xbox 360, but Sony quickly realized that they were missing out on potential profits and Playstation Plus too, became a paid subscription service once the PS4 generation came out.
Nintendo of course, jumped in with paid subscription service as well with Nintendo Switch Online.
So basically what happened is that for PCs, free online gaming became the norm once Battle Net came online, but for consoles, free online gaming (except for PS3) never really existed and thus console users always had to pay for online gaming because that is just what the norm became. Monetizing PC online play would result in huge backlash from gamers, and not monetizing console online play would lose the companies too much money, so this is basically the status quo now.