Call me a fanboy, but one of the major reasons I have always played online console games on my PS3 over my 360 is that it is free. Money talks and FREE has Axl Rose's vocal chords and a bullhorn. The arguments rage on between people over which online service is "better" and both sides usually rely on sheer ignorance of the opposition's services to construct their compelling cases. Bottom line is that while not as feature-rich, and maybe a little more convoluted to use, the PlayStation Network offers a comparable minute by minute experience to Xbox Live in multiplayer games without charging a subscription. I have always said if the multiplayer is part of the game being sold, then you should be able to play it for free out of the box. As I publicly proclaimed this view I silently worried about how Sony and other publishers could afford to keep servers running for their free-to-play PSN. Then about a year ago Sony announced PlayStation Plus, their pay subscription online service, and while I didn't adopt immediately, I look at this as an encouraging future for the way an online service should be ran.
Aptly named the Plus makes me think I'm getting extra stuff... I AM getting extra stuff right?
Essentially PSN is nothing more than a glorified Costco membership of sorts. You pay your yearly fee, and are treated to discounted prices on games, themes, and DLC. It pays off if you spend a shit ton, but the deals are on very select items. On top of this you get early access to Betas, demos, and every month get a couple free games that you can play as long as you have a PSN+ subscription. IGN recently (ish) posted a detailed article breaking down the cost savings associated with having a PSN+ account, and spending frequently. This was all well and good, but none of this really seemed that appealing to me. It wasn't until they added cloud saving that I really decided that I'd give PSN+ a go. I signed up for a year, as a way to say "ok you're sort of getting it right Sony".
Now I know that Microsoft and Xbox Live have really revolutionized online console gaming. I will give them that. Unfortunately in doing so they have also trained an entire generation into thinking perhaps incorrectly about what should be a premium service, and what should be a free service. There are games released that are solely online games. When we fork out the money for these, part of the cost should be considered going to the ability to actually play the game. By agreeing with the mantra of Xbox Live, we are saying that online play is a privilege we feel we should have to pay extra for. Juxtapose this next to the idea that demos and betas should be a right to all of us, and free, and we can see that perhaps priorities have become askew. In the days of old if you wanted the demo, you had to buy the magazine to get the disc...sort of. Fast forward to today where there seems to be an outcry when people are required to pre-order a game, or buy the special edition to have early access to the beta or demo. "This should be free for all of us!!This is a fucking OUTRAGE!!!!!" we piously decry as we go buy Man vs Wild: The Bear Grylls Consortium just to get early access to the Uncharted 4 demo. Even if we say demos are a way of advertising a product, it still means developers have to do extra work to make them, and publishers pay to host them so they can be downloaded by us, the entitled critics. Somewhere along the way we have gotten our values mixed up. It's totally acceptable to pay extra to fully take advantage of a game we already bought, and completely unacceptable to pay for hours of free gaming experiences.
Raise your hand if you ever boosted one of these from your local grocer's magazine rack.
This is why I can really get behind PSN and PSN+ as a way of differentiating user experience without forcing it down our throats. Play online for free. If you want some other cool features, pony up. Your call. In fact I would even take it further. Make sure all games are free to play online right out of the box. However, if you want to play new demos (before a game comes out), or get into betas, you will need the paid subscription. I'm not saying you'll have to pay for all demos, you will simply be paying to play them earlier than the non paying peoples. I know Xbox Live Gold members get earlier access to demos, but again the pay just to play the online is a serious point of contention for me. With the combo of cloud saving, store discounts, and eventually (c'mon Sony) cross game chat and perhaps a version of Live's excellent party system, PSN+ could be a service that will feel worth the price of admission without screwing over the guy who just wants to hop on and play Xbox UNO online when he has some free time....and an erection.
I guess in the long run even with all my evangelism, I don't mind paying, as long as you trick me into thinking that I'm paying because I WANT to, not because I NEED to. I also think EA's Online Pass is a great idea, but I'll save that for another day. What say you NODJ faithful?