Does PlayStation Plus Trump Xbox Live And Games With Gold? Yes…For Now

It’s official. On Playstation Plus in February, PS3 players will receive the award-winning, massively popular FPS Bioshock Infinite, and PS4 players will get the critically acclaimed, not even released new horror title Outlast for free. This is probably one of the best months for consumer content in the service’s history.

But is the timing of this unprecedented offering random? Is there no ulterior motive, no political gambit in play? I like to think, possibly there is: PlayStation’s killer offer comes the month after Xbox Live Gold’s “best month yet” hit the store. I’m not disputing the fact that it was Live’s best month yet. I’m a vocal fan of Xbox Live Gold, and I have to admit, that was the service’s best offering- but PlayStation Plus for February has definitely killed it.

Games With Gold offered Sleeping Dogs until the 16th, then Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Both games I love but don’t touch Bioshock Inifinite or Outlast.

Gamasutra’s Mike Rose argued several months ago that, for the “next gen” to stay relevant, the most important factors to a console’s success are the prices on offer and what games are on offer. Rather obviously. In terms of console price, he concedes that Nintendo may be in the lead here, with the Wii U being a significantly cheaper option than either the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4, but if we think about the price of games and content that players receive, a different image emerges. Nintendo games perennially stay expensive.

Indeed, PlayStation skeptics often boast that the free titles on PlayStation Plus (the winner of the “price on offer” argument) are little more than glorified rental titles, and that if your subscription lapses or the PlayStation network goes offline temporarily- or, God forbid, permanently- you lose all the games you’ve been “given.”

This is true. It’s a fact: you’re “leasing” these games. But let’s do some mathematics! You’re paying £40 a year for a subscription service. You get (at least) 45 “free” games a in that year. In my case, I was planning on paying £40 anyway for Outlast in February. But now? I’m pay what’s ultimately a few pence to rent the game, new as download, for as long as I’ll need it to finish it. I pay £40 for a year’s online service. I get tens of game rentals included in that. And even counting these games alone, it costs me far less than £1 to “rent” the game for a year.

Compare this to to a similar game rental service, like LoveFilm, where you pay say a minimum of £6 a month. That adds up to at least £60 a year- more than for PlayStation Plus. And with a traditional rental system, you’re best only holding each game for a month or so.

Arguably, indeed, this is besides the point. I’m just saying that PlayStation Plus is a glorified rental service- just one that is an incredibly good value.

Xbox Live, as of July 2013, came up with their own service for Xbox Live Gold gamers, called Games With Gold.

Games With Gold gives you a free game. To keep. Unequivocally. Which is good! I like it. Me and my girlfriend are currently enjoying the brilliant Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light for free.

However, these games are old. If you were to go on Amazon and look for them, or their current equivalent in online credit, they would be pretty cheap used. Occasionally as little as a fiver, or a few bucks. Rainbow Six Vegas was on Games With Gold a few months backon Amazon you can find tens of copies for 1 penny. Not exactly a stellar deal for it’s market value, especially when you compare this to Outlast being worth £50 or so. Sleeping Dogs is the closest to a great deal we’ve had from the service, and that is a good deal, although it’s taken six months to get here to the service’s best month: January.

Next month, with PlayStation Plus, we’re getting a game worth £50 at release, for free, and a game much bigger, more popular, and from a more recent release window than Sleeping Dogs. Not a five-or-more-year-old game which we could get for pence anyway. In the same Gamasutra article as above, independent developer and contributor Brandon Sheffield said that PlayStation Plus was the one thing which, after a year of his PlayStation being switched off, brought him back to it time and time again.

This is what Sony have succeeded at with such an intense, indeed relentless, schedule of releasing premium (not aged and near-worthless) content on their online service. Nintendo, rather notoriously, keep prices on their first party titles at the highest price point indefinitely. They fly in the face of modern sale-culture, much like our beloved Jason Roher and his game The Castle Doctrine– and they do fine.

But Microsoft and Sony are in a different kind of headlock. Sony, seeing what Valve do with their cultivation of sale-obsessed fans, pushed it one step further and began giving games away for free as part of their own promotions, rather than third party ones, many years ago. Xbox Live definitely joined the free-content party late; and more importantly, I think it’s going to take years before publishers take up the promotion enough to match PlayStation Plus’ newly-released content deals.

February marks an incredible step-up in in Sony’s corner, and I reckon they might just have put Microsoft down for the count this quarter. For the rest of the year, though? Who knows how both companies will pull their weight. Perhaps Microsoft will put a ton more funding and advertising into Games With Gold, and maybe that’ll give their selection the boost to catch up with PlayStation Plus. But GWG is so far behind, I think it’s unlikely.