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The online PSN service has long been heralded as one of the PlayStation 3’s greatest assets, principally because, unlike its arch-rival the Xbox 360, it is available without the need to pay for the privilege of online gaming. Imagine, then, the faces of bewilderment as SCEA President Jack Tretton announced with enforced enthusiasm PlayStation Plus, a new premium service available exclusively for the charge of a subscription fee.

The idea is that hardcore PSN users will be showered with a stupendous supply of freebies, discounts and early demo and beta privileges, which sounds jolly spiffing on internet paper. But is it such a tantalising prospect in practice?

You have two choices when it comes to purchasing PlayStation Plus: for £11.99/$17.99 you can sample the service for three months, or you can commit for a whole year for a modest sum of £39.99/$49.99.

From here, you will gain access to a stash of content on a monthly basis, comprised of a free PSN game, minis and a PSOne game, along with various discounts and the promise of early access to game demos and betas in the future. A free DLC pack is also included, along with dynamic themes and avatars, full game trials and even an automated download service that allows the lazy man within us all to set the console to automatically download game patches and firmware updates without ever having to stretch your stubby fingers.

Sony insists that this accumulates into a package that is terrific value for money, and it is…sort of. It’s true to say that, if you are a compulsive user of the PSN who frequently makes irrational impulse purchases, there are plenty of discounts and freebies to take advantage of. But what if I don’t actually own Killzone 2 in order to utilise the DLC that Sony so generously supplied or have no interest whatsoever in the free PSOne game during a particular month?

It’s this grating lack of user choice that causes a bit of a downpour on the service. As I mentioned, there is some potential for hardcore users to save some monies, but the ability to choose your own free games and discounts would make PlayStation Plus a substantially more worthwhile and endearing venture – what they should have done is make it akin to a discount card that allows you to select a predetermined number of free games and special offers of your own free choice each month.

Without any forecast of the quality of future titles on offer, it simply doesn’t seem beneficial at this point to make the commitment, and if Sony fails to maintain a consistent standard of quality for the next few months then they could well see some users lose interest and not bother to renew their subscription. Again, some choice on the user’s part would eradicate this completely.

To blindly fork out £40 is a tall order for a selection of games that you a) might already own, b) never wanted in the first place and c) have no direct choice over, which is why more casual PSN users aren’t as likely to reap the benefits and will end up with a waste bin of leftover gaming gruel. As for the more hardcore audience the service really wants to cater for, at this point the chances are you already own most of the free content anyway since the majority of releases thus far have been available for quite some time.

As for the full game trials, you are allotted one hour’s access to a full game (first up is inFamous), before being given the opportunity to purchase it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily equate to a full hours slot of play time as the 60 minutes is allocated via your system clock. What this therefore means is that idle breaks are not taken into consideration even if the console is switched off, so you will have to ensure you have a full, uninterrupted hour available – having your schedule dictated by Sony certainly isn’t appreciated.

To me, playable demos are just as sufficient for sampling a game on a try before you buy basis, and also have the advantage of being re-playable and don’t require you to download the full, space-hogging game in advance. Oh, and they also happen to be free, which raises a cause for concern if Sony start to favour “Plus” game trials that are restricted to paying subscribers over free playable demos accessible to everyone.

Then there’s the lack of unification between our neighbouring continents. In what has sadly become a common occurrence in the weekly PSN updates, the US Store has so far been bestowed with a significantly more generous helping of content compared to that of the European PSN Store, particularly with the amount of discounts on offer. What’s more, the content for the US Store is currently being periodically distributed every week to coincide with the standard PSN update, whereas Europeans receive all of their Plus content up front at the start of each month. It’s a bizarre contrast, and one that even the official PlayStation Blog struggled to explain.

A free subscription to digital magazine Quore was even included, yet Europeans received no such offer for their FirstPlay counterpart. Then again, early European adopters of a full year’s subscription did receive a digital copy of the charming LittleBigPlanet for free, but anyone who openly admits to not already owning one of the console’s mascot games in the first place deserves to be mortally mutilated by Sackboy himself.

But that’s not my biggest gripe. Criminally, it turns out that all of the free games you will have collected over the course of the year will abruptly cease to exist once your subscription comes to an end unless you renew it.  Because of this, it’s hard not to shake off the nagging notion that PlayStation Plus has all the merits of a glorified rental service: come on Sony, this is just obscenely tight-fisted.

On the plus side (no pun intended), purchasers of the service are rewarded with a most prestigious “+” badge beside your username, allowing you to reign superior amongst your fellow poverty stricken peers. It’s Sony’s way of granting you a glistening gold star for conforming.

Still, the real plus point (pun intended this time) is that the core PSN online facility remains free and you are of course under no obligation to subscribe to Plus, so it will be interesting to see how many users will board the bandwagon. Once the planned early access to beta trials start to roll out then there might be more incentive for me to give it a trial, but for now the benefits of Plus seem too few and far between.

Sony should really start to focus their attentions on improving the PSN for everyone: cross-game chat, anyone? Oh wait, you’ll probably have to be a Plus subscriber for that. Nevermind.

  1. I suppose I can expect Sackboy to show up at my door with an axe sometime soon?

    Seriously though, one of the reasons why I chose a PS3 versus a 360 was PSN and the free online service. While there is an obvious disparity between what both services offer, I think its nice that Sony is once again offering free access to certain games while providing a similar experience to XBL.

    Sony could just emulate Microsoft and decide to charge for something that should probably be free (I already have a monthly bill for my internet connection…I don’t want another one), but they’re offering something to make it worth your while.

    • avatar Stefano

      You have a good point there. But that wasn’t the only reason I satyed up, though. I’ve been full up with a cold all week as well, and last night it prevented me from sleeping a wink (more so than waiting for the game to come out, to be truthful). I didn’t know until this morning that it had been delayed until tomorrow, and I’m not proud of the way I reacted then to the news. I know it wasn’t the right thing, Axx, and for that I apologise.

  2. avatar A.W.

    Yeah plus is leaving me pretty cold so far.

    First, you get free early access to demos. Which kind of annoys me. I am sorry, but playing a demo is a privilege I should have to pay for? Um, no. a demo is a game company’s advertisement for a game. I am doing them a favor by playing it; they are not doing me a favor by offering it.

    Plus, oh boy, then you can play infamous for an hour. First, I wonder if you can fool your game clock. ;-)

    But more importantly, I have the frickin’ game so I can play it all the time.

    Oh and you get minis, like age of zombies.

    Except I already have age of zombies.

    Now if Sony said, “okay look, we see that this kind of sucks for you, so how about this, we’ll give you discounts. If you own age of zombies, we’ll take $2 off the subscription charge. If you own infamous we’ll take $5 off” maybe then that would make this make sense to me. but right now all it is doing is annoying me.

    By the way the right metaphor is that its like a coupon book you are buying. Or more like renting. Okay no metaphor quite works for this suckatude.

  3. I shelled out the cash and got a good $40 of content back for my 15 month investment of fifty bucks within the first two weeks. Sure, some of it is in the form of themes, avatars, and expansions, but since I’ve been somewhat wary of downloadable titles that friends aren’t playing, I don’t have most of these free games they’re offering.

    And things like Qore, betas, demos, etc just make the money seem more worth it. I shelled out the same amount for LIVE and about the only thing I use it for is multiplayer and the occasional sale. For the money spent, PSN+ is far more worth it to me.

    When it comes time to redo my LIVE membership, I’ll be dropping to Silver unless Microsoft offers me something more like PSN+.

  4. avatar ExPresident

    PSN+ has only been out one month and people are already losing their minds. Thats great that you already have LBP or maybe already had Wipeout HD but I’m sure there’s plenty of people who didn’t.

    The service is a lot like Netflix. I enjoy the ability to watch a large quantity of movies (albeit some not great) at any time I wish and get three movies at time in the mail yet lose all those features if I cancel my membership. Sony is rewarding customers who stick with them and are loyal to their service. While I may not get to pick every title I want I accept that, knowing that in the first month I’ve already gotten almost $50 worth of content back and got to play a few gems I’d have never bought or tried without the service.

    Is Sony supporting only the hardcore store users with this program? Maybe, maybe they are but how often has the hardcore player been complaining lately that they are getting left behind by companies seeking to reach the ‘casual’ market. Honestly I’m loving the fact that PSN remains free and this additional content is offered to me as a choice if I WISH to get it. I got it, I love it.

  5. avatar Louie92801

    The simple fact is the service pays for itself. I got about $40 worth of content for free. And most of it I can keep cause I payed for it.

  6. avatar psn screwedup

    its better then live yes u do get granted access to alot of stuff through the year is it worth the cash maybe automatic dl sounds nice but no cross chat yet?why dont they just give us what we want and then work on home,and playstation plus.we been screeming cross game chat since ps3 launched and you still cant play ur music on every single game.what about using ur pics for avatars or sending small video clips to ur friends.but as for content you cant beat sony and thats what it is all about

  7. avatar Axe99

    I think all this whinin’ about PSN plus is crazy. If you don’t like it, don’t get it – if you don’t like the idea of a subscription model, don’t pay it and buy individual games as they come out, if you do like it, pay up and get what is provided. Sure, this won’t be for everyone, but it was never marketed for everyone.

    All these articles complaining about Plus are a bit like complaining about only having a certain set of premium options when you buy a car. Sure, you can only upgrade your in-car entertainment system in so many ways through the dealer, but you don’t _have_ to, and you can always do it yourself.

    From my angle, these kind of articles just make it looks like gamers don’t have anything better to do than complain! There’s no logic to the argument presented above once the broader context is taken into account. With more AAA games coming out now than ever before, why are we bothering writing articles like this?

  8. avatar wtfwtfwtfwtf

    @ A.W.

    Just because you purchased those things already it doesn’t mean crap. You should have looked to see what Plus offered before getting it. Next month and in the coming months their will be plenty of games and content you will get for free as long as you stay subscribed so don’t doubt it. You just got unlucky and already had some of the content.

    It would also be dumb for Sony to take money off the price because you already owned some of those things. People could find a way to make Plus practically free if they happened to have the content offered by Plus and if Sony would take money off for them for having purchased those things already.

  9. avatar lololol

    Why not include the Euro pricing? You do know that pretty much everywhere in Europe except Shitain uses it right? So why only list the price in the obsolete pound currency?

  10. avatar LBDz

    The PS + service needs updating weekly, NOT monthly in the UK. This has to happen A.S.A.P.

  11. avatar D.Vader

    It’s a great deal. I am sick of gaming primadonnas who just look for shit to bitch about.

    You don’t like the service? Don’t subscribe — you don’t need to cry, piss and moan about it.

    Change your diaper and get back to gaming. Save the news for real writers who can actually string a real thought together.

  12. avatar A.W.

    Wtf

    > Just because you purchased those things already it doesn’t mean crap. You should have looked to see what Plus offered before getting it.

    I keep a pretty close eye on gaming news, and PS+ was not even a known idea when I bought them.

    > It would also be dumb for Sony to take money off the price because you already owned some of those things.

    I would consider it good customer service, myself, but let’s face it I am biased.

    And giving you free PS+ because you bought a lot of their stuff isn’t stupid or even bad business. Lots of organizations reward customers will cool free stuff if you show brand loyalty. How is that different than Auntie Anne’s pretzels giving me one free pretzel when I buy 12.

    I mean ultimately you are right, don’t like it, don’t buy it. but there is nothing wrong here with talking about the merits of it n a forum like this.

  13. avatar psn screwedup

    a month after release i still see nothing that screems buy me but like eveything else on ps3 it always get better so well see with in a years time

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