PS Plus vs XBox Games with Gold: Or How I Learned To Love Paying To Play Online

I watched the swirling patterns and warning messages disappear behind the Playstation 4’s login screen. Hopefully the store would load a little quicker today. Living with an ADSL line made any foray onto the internet a gamble in free time. The latest batch of PS Plus games were due and I was hoping one of the offerings would be another Rocket League. Another part of me hoped there wouldn’t be. I couldn’t cope with another distraction from Witcher 3.

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When Playstation Plus arrived in June 2010 I was tentatively excited. A subscription service for a selection of games each month, that you could keep as long as you were paying? This was either going to be so expensive my wallet would try and sew itself into my pocket or the games would be the ‘My First Flash’ attempts plaguing the Nintendo DS’s library.
I had been on Xbox the previous few years, so had grown used to the idea of paying for playing with friends. “Used to” might be too strong a description. I sucked it up and paid. I never felt that I was getting much for my money, however, which only worsened when I began playing on a PS3 as well. From a player’s standpoint I appeared to be paying for a fancier chat system and frankly, Sony’s awkward party system was a boon for an anti-social player such as myself. But now, now I could get some extra games included!

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The tabbed highlights slowly jumped down the menu. I knew I should probably wait for the internet to catch up but gamers are nothing if not impatient. The month’s game selection appeared. I shrugged at the screen, forgetting I hadn’t bought the PlayStation Eye and Sony wasn’t able to spy on me. The choice was as underwhelming as the toys inside a Kinder Egg Surprise.
But I was just being a snob. I’d done this a month before when I saw Rocket League and now I banged on about how great it was to anyone who vaguely mentioned games. This was why I’d chosen a PS4 over the Xbox One. Games I wouldn’t normally play.

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Sony developed PlayStation Plus into an indie showcase and advertisement platform for sequels. Seeing the success PlayStation Plus was blossoming into, Microsoft introduced Xbox Games with Gold in July 2013. Microsoft were letting you keep the games even if you cancelled your subscription, which seemed nice. These games were older than those on Playstation Plus but were AAA titles. If a game you had wanted for ages appeared on there you could pay for a subscription, get your game for free and play online for less than it would probably cost to travel to, and collect it from, the shops. Microsoft weren’t as generous with the Xbox One selections, meaning you could only play them while you still had a subscription. I’d call them tight gits but in the same way that Sony wasn’t offering larger titles on their new system, Microsoft were now offering smaller budget titles and this meant these smaller developers didn’t risk completely losing any future income. But this is where, for myself at least, Microsoft fell down.

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Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris stood out. Crystal Dynamics had done a sequel to Guardian of Light? That game was amazing. I prepared a mental checklist. Rousing orchestral score? Check. Daft pulp fiction premise? Check. Dubiously conducting archaeological research? Check. As I always did, I played for about 20 minutes before going on to try the next game.

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Having access to some AAA titles I may have missed on the Xbox 360 in the past appeared great at first. Until I saw the selection. The original copies of some of these games were so old that they had become an asthmatic’s nightmare landscape of dust on my shelf. The Xbox One selections focused more generally on indie titles, with a few that were just HD remakes of old games, already brought out on Games with Gold for the Xbox 360. Sometimes it’s time to give a game the boot out the door. Let them remember their good old days and rest in peace.
Even the indie titles had issues. There weren’t the risky, experimental games that occasionally appeared on the Playstation Store, such as the atmospherically beautiful Proteus. This wasn’t inherently a bad thing, but it did mean that Xbox Games with Gold looked like an unplanned copy of Playstation Plus. Now Sony is copying Microsoft back, by forcing you to pay to play online on the Playstation 4. This I also blame on Microsoft, such is the brand loyalty I now have thanks to the shinier game selections.

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I turned the Playstation 4 off having gone through the month’s games. They had all been OK. None of them felt interesting or unique, nor had they kept my attention for more than a few minutes. A bad month, something that felt like it had happened a few times recently. However the next month was looking good, with Super Meat Boy and Broken Age becoming available. Overall I was happy paying £39.99 a year. The games were generally great or different and made me think, as Thomas Was Alone had done. It was worth it for what I received.
But then, I said that about Xbox Live before somebody came along and did it better.