PlayStation Plus: Thing of the Year in gaming?

Just over a year ago, before I left for Japan, I decided not to renew my Xbox Live subscription. With that move, I ended a seven-year relationship that began when I started my freshman year of college and had an original Xbox.

I canceled because my 360 was being packed up and stored. But for a long time before then, I’d been questioning the value of my yearly renewal. What was I getting from Xbox Live? I hardly played games online, partly due to habits and partly due to graduate school; what else was the service really granting me?

This spring, after some prodding from Tyler, I took the plunge and signed up for PlayStation Plus. For the same $60/year I was paying for Xbox Live, I now get new games every month, discounts on some new games, automatic cloud save storage and automated management of game and software updates. Talk about value.

I’m tempted to nominate PS+ for our Silicon Sasquatch Game of the Year discussions. I’m not joking. Providing a variety of games for subscribers every month, ranging from new downloadable games to older full-retail titles and PlayStation classics, is worth the money on its own. Are all the games perfect? No, far from it. But it convinced me I would have regretted spending $40 on Need for Speed Shift 2, and even if Just Cause 2 is a couple years old by now, it’s still goofy, stupid fun. They may not be new games, but if they are new to you and available for free, your perception of value shifts. And, of course, it’s not all crappy games, either: I’ve downloaded Virtua Fighter 5, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The King of Fighters XIII, Saints Row 2 and the first two episodes of Telltale’s The Walking Dead.

Of course, the other Internet features – cloud storage for saves and automatic downloads for game and system updates – are well worth the cost. I know there are complaints about how slow those updates are on PS3 versus on Xbox 360 or PC, but I haven’t noticed as many problems. It might partially be due to time zones (as I predominantly use my American account) but having those updates handled while I’m at work or asleep helps as well. The other day, I was greeted with a message that cloud saves for Dishonored had been uploaded and game and system updates downloaded. Compared to Xbox, that’s the future.

More important to me than the free games is what it means going forward. This current console generation has seen massive change in how games are bought and sold, and PS+ is another example of how much has changed. From a business standpoint, it’s fascinating to see what Sony can do with this platform. Even now, they’ve gone from trotting out old classics (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, anyone?) to seeding a market for a current episodic title (The Walking Dead). In other “first taste is free” business, there are also one-hour trial unlocks of full downloadable retail titles. It hurts to have to download the full title, but you do get one hour with the real deal.

Maybe it’s because I live abroad and some of my purchasing options are taken away. Maybe it’s because all I have access to right now is my PS3 and not my 360. Maybe it’s because I so rarely play games online anymore. But, for those reasons and the ones above, I’m finding myself getting much more value for my money from PS+ than I ever did from Xbox Live Gold. It comes recommended.