Sony’s Playstation Plus is in a sticky spot, and it has been for a while. The free games every month for almost a year now have largely been made up of games most people either don’t want to play or curios. Whilst there is an argument for giving away games that people likely wouldn’t ever have played, I think, for the most part, that PS4 owners would like to see the odd ‘AAA’ game given away as part of the rewards program.
Every month, a quick look through the comments’ sections on various different sites reporting on the Playstation Plus offerings tells you that Playstation owners are getting fed up with what Sony is offering them, especially in the light of Microsoft’s Games With Gold for Xbox. Games With Gold started much later than Playstation Plus, and with the Xbox One selling at a much lower rate than the PS4, Microsoft obviously feel like they need something to one-up Sony. Games With Gold typically gives users at least one ‘big’ AAA game a month but as of writing, the latest Games With Gold offers up The Wolf Among Us Season One, Saints Row IV, Dead Space and Sunset Overdrive. No matter your taste in games, you have to admit that’s a grand selection of games.
The games on offer for Playstation Plus users in April are… not as good. Playstation owners are being treated to Ubisoft’s Zombi (a worse port of a Wii U launch title), Deadstar, Shutsumi, I am Alive, A Virus Named Tom and Salvage Moon To be fair, that is actually a decent lineup of titles, and April’s lineup showcases something of an improvement for the service in recent months. There are six games on offer for Playstation Plus users: two for PS4, two for PS3 and two for PS Vita. In the past, there have been cross-platform games in Playstation Plus’s lineup, but that trend seemed short-lived, and for those who only own one of three platforms, two games seems paltry – especially for the PS4.
Typically Sony seems to give away AAA games with Playstation Plus for the PS3, but for many, who have now moved onto the PS4, this is not good enough. The PS3 has a lot more games to choose from for Playstation Plus, as it has been around for a lot longer than the PS4 and developers are less concerned with giving older games away for free. The PS4 is the main console for many people, and for some, they feel like the PS3 and PS Vita are holding back the quality PS4 Playstation Plus releases as Sony count all three consoles as equals. For many, a move away from the PS3 would be seen as a positive one, allowing for an increased emphasis on the PS4. Personally, I only own a PS4, so when I see that the PS3 and Vita are getting a great game on Playstation Plus, it slightly winds me up. Take the Christmas lineup for example, something I was eagerly anticipating, but finding out that I was getting Episode One (yes, only one) of King’s Quest and some Gauntlet game I didn’t care about came as a nasty surprise, one that was only made worse seeing that the PS3 got Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and SSX whilst the Vita got Freedom Wars.
A lot of people were annoyed at that month’s lineup, with the disparity between the three console’s lineups being larger and more frustrating than ever. If Playstation Plus was equal across all three consoles, there would be no disparity, but for that to happen, the PS4 would have to be backwards compatible, and that is never going to happen. For some though, who own all three consoles, the monthly lineup is usually decent, with a good selection available for at least one of the three Sony devices – typically the PS3. If Sony stopped supporting the PS3 with Playstation Plus, there would be something of an uproar against them, but I think it could help the PS4’s monthly lineup as Sony would no longer be able to fall back on the excuse that across the three consoles, the lineup offers a diverse list of niche, AAA and new games. The truth of the matter is though, for the most part the PS4 is left with the niche games.
I think what has annoyed people is that Playstation Plus is pretty much essential on the PS4, as you cannot play games online without coughing up the £40 (or equivalent) required. Over the course of a year, you will likely download enough games to make up for the initial £40 expenditure, but that’s not the point. You shouldn’t have to pay to play games online, and for many, the Playstation Plus games each month go someway in making up for the forced spending. Now, Microsoft have charged for online gaming with Xbox Live for years now, back with the original Xbox. After seeing the earlier success of Playstation Plus, Microsoft decided that they should follow suit and adopt something similar. The trouble is, Games With Gold is consistently beating Sony’s Playstation Plus, offering far more interesting games for the mainstream audience by including a few AAA games each month – games that a lot of people would consider are of a higher quality than indie games.
Playstation Plus, meanwhile, seems content with offering mostly smaller, independent games each month – games that the majority likely would never even consider purchasing. In my own opinion, independent games are fine, as long as that is not what we are always given. The mainstream audience isn’t interested in independent games, no matter how much they are forced down our throats. However, I do like the independent games, and many others do too, as Playstation Plus can unearth a gem every now and then (Rocket League anyone?) It’s good to go out of your comfort-zone every now and then, pushing the boat out a little bit and playing a game you wouldn’t have thought twice about if you had to buy it. Who knows? Deadstar could be the new Rocket League, and I like that Playstation Plus has given me the chance to play it. But I know what I’d rather be playing – Sunset Overdrive, Dead Space, The Wolf Among Us or Saints Row IV.
For the most part, people will want to play AAA games for free instead of indies, but Sony shouldn’t neglect those who want to try out something a little bit different. On the flip-side, there are those who argue vehemently against the inclusion of AAA games on Playstation Plus, as for many, they would’ve already played said AAA game. Indeed, putting ‘bigger games’ on Playstation Plus would push aside those who already own the game, or have just bought it, for full price. Sony have definitely lost some trust from their fans after months of mediocre Playstation Plus content, and they will find it difficult to rebuild some of this trust, but I think there are steps they can make to improve the service.
As it stands, people are annoyed that they have to pay a yearly subscription service in order to play the games they payed for online – especially in an age where the online modes and offerings are intrinsic aspects of so many games. Sony could let people play online for free, taking Playstation Plus back to the optional extra it was when it started on the PS3 all those years ago. Of course this will most likely never happen, so if Sony won’t offer ‘better’ games, they could reduce the price of Playstation Plus, even knocking off a tenner would improve the experience for many. However, there were reports that Sony were actually going to increase the price of Playstation Plus.
As I said above, there are parties that want and love the indie games, and there are parties that want more AAA offerings, so focussing too heavily on either could alienate large proportions of Playstation users. I think realistically, the only thing Sony can really do is settle for the middle ground, offering a AAA game and indie game every month. This might not sit well with large publishers, who would effectively be giving away their games for nothing, but in the long run, I think this is where Playstation Plus needs to be – making the enforced expenditure seem altogether not too bad. For now though, I think it would be wise for Sony to start listening to their fans, as Playstation Plus has been flagging for months, largely offering mediocre games that no one really cares about. There are of course the odd exceptions, but one or two exceptions aren’t enough it seems.
The most consistent comment you see online about Playstation Plus is one of exasperation, people just want something a little bigger every now and then. Sony should start rolling out some bigger games, every couple of months, just to keep the noise down in the comments sections. No harm could be done on Sony’s part by giving a game like Knack or Killzone: Shadow Fall away with Plus, hell, they should be giving away some classics. If Sony started offering PS2 games with Playstation Plus, fans would eat that up, at least they would for a while. I’m not sure Sony can ever get it spot-on with their Playstation Plus offerings, but they can certainly improve the service; it’s been pretty bad these last few months.
Toby Saunders is sometimes opinionated, and you’ll find him posting garbage about games, films and his beloved Spurs and Bath City FC on Twitter.