So you’re a gamer that can only have one “premium” gaming service active at any given time, and you want to know which has the most “BANG” for your buck, right? Fear not my intrepid readers, I’m going to break down the pros and cons of each service so you can decide for yourselves which to get. Obviously the preferred choice is to get both, but not everyone has the resources for that, so which should you leave as the standard free service, and which should you go ahead and upgrade?
Differences in the Free Versions:
Before we talk about the premium services each company offers, we need to talk about the baseline free services. With XBOX Live Silver, you are able to keep a list of your friends, share achievements, send messages, and download content from the Marketplace. Note that there is no online play, and services like Netflix and Hulu Plus aren’t available. With the basic level of the Playstation Network you also get your friend list, trophies, access to store content and messages, but you also get access to the apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus and you get online play included. Now that we know the benefits of the basic services, which provider is better behind the pay wall?
Even though the basic PSN gives you the ability to play online for free, it still needs to be talked about here. One of the reasons is for cross game chat – Live Gold has offered this for an extremely long time, and while it has been promised and promised by Sony to “be coming soon” since PSN Plus started, they have yet to actually deliver it. It isn’t a big deal to a lot of people to be sure, but I would love to be able to talk to friends playing different games on the PSN, and as a reviewer I utilize this to talk to other journalists on the 360 all the time. It is one of the reasons I actually use my 360 more than my PS3. Really, the pay service of PSN offers no discernible benefits yet to online play at this time. At E3 this year, Sony promised more revamps to the PSN service such as faster queuing for Plus members and access to Plus member only game lobbies in certain titles, but as of yet that hasn’t come to fruition. The benefits of Live Gold though are that you can play online any time you want, where as with the free service there you can only play online during designated free weekends.
Winner: XBOX Live Gold because you actually get a benefit here if you pay for it
While the interface might not change between either free or pay service, you can not talk about both providers without mentioning the UI. Before the latest XBOX dashboard update I would have probably thought it was the better UI – doubly so if you went back two dashboard updates, but as it stands the current UI is not intelligent at all. Microsoft spent so much time with Kinect integration that they forgot about those of us that really don’t like the Kinect. And even in there, yes it might work most of the time, but there are still a number of occasions where the Kinect just flat out fails. The PS3 interface though isn’t without it’s flaws either. On the 360, when an achievement pops just one touch of the guide button lets you know what you did, on the PS3 though you need to hit the Home button, move to the trophy information, wait for all your trophies to load, go to the game your playing, and then look for the trophy in a list. Definitely not the best way to handle things there. On the store front side of things though, the PSN is hands down the winner because the store is set up in a much more intuitive manner – you’re not blindly searching for things there.
Winner: PSN Plus – even though there is no difference between paying or not, the natural PSN features edge out the XBOX features slightly
Titles for Download:
One of the things that most everyone uses Live or the PSN for is the ability to download new titles – whether full games or just demos – on the fly to add to their libraries. Fortunately both systems have basically the same titles available, with the exception of a few exclusive titles. With the XBOX, there isn’t any difference between what Gold and Silver users get, but Silver users do have to wait a week longer to get the things Gold users do. You can also see this same business model in place for some titles on the PSN. Journey, one of the biggest releases on the PSN when it came out was available a whole two weeks earlier to PSN Plus members than basic members. There have been numerous times when being a Plus member entitled you to join a Beta (Uncharted 3, Battlefield 3) as well. While Call of Duty items go over to the 360 before hitting the PS3, unless that is all you play (and I know there are a lot of you out there that fit that bill), that might not be enough to convince someone to spend their money on the Gold treatment.
Winner: Tie – both services have exclusives and both services get some content to paying members first
Since the initial argument is that you only have money for ONE of these two services, cost should be a consideration as well. Sony charges you $49.99 for a year of access to PSN Plus, and Microsoft asks you to fork over $59.99 of your hard earned scrilla. These raw numbers might make you instantly say PSN Plus is better, but not so fast there bucko. While PSN Plus is cheaper on paper, in practice things can change. While Sony has yet to offer any discounts, you can almost always find a retailer out there selling a year of Live Gold for less. This past Christmas I bought three Live Gold subscriptions for $30 a piece and gave them as gifts. Until Sony figures out how to make some deals with retailers like Microsoft has, Live Gold wins out here.
Winner: Live Gold as you never have to pay full retail if you do some searching
Both services offer discounts to their paying members, but are any of those discounts worth writing home about? For starters, Microsoft always has weekly specials for their Gold members, amounting to 50% off of certain titles. They also have “Summer of This” or “Season of That” specials that reward you for buying multiple featured games. With PSN Plus though, Sony takes it a step farther. Members of the Plus service get all sorts of discounts on games (generally more games than Gold members as well), but they also get to download free games each month. Now prior to E3, the games weren’t the greatest – but now? Last month we got to download 13 fully functional games, including a number of full retail titles. This month is a bit smaller, but still good titles all around. As long as Sony keeps this pace up, every Plus member will need to buy a 1TB hard drive to store things.
Winner: PSN Plus because of all of the free games
Jumping through the pay wall from Silver to Gold opens up pretty much everything to you. Online play, NetFlix, Hulu Plus, and everything else (though you need subscriptions to some of those services naturally) are yours for the playing. With PSN Plus things are a little different. Since all of that is available for free on the PS3, they had to come up with some other benefits to lure people in. Cloud save space is one big one – no longer do you have to worry about how to get your saves to a friends house (or to other PS3s in your house) – just send it to the cloud and download it where you want it. This works out great if you are using a Vita game that supports cross platform play. Another big benefit that comes with PSN Plus is automatic downloading. When that is on, you don’t need to worry about updating any game or firmware, as all of that will download and install automatically.
Winner: PSN Plus has more interesting benefits
While in a perfect world, a gamer would have both of the services and enjoy all of the benefits therein, not everyone can afford the extra expense. While it really comes down to personal preference, in my opinion subscribing to PSN Plus is a much better option. My library has grown exponentially, and now I can play a bunch of things that I initially passed on when review copies came around (like Infamous 2). If I was a huge Call of Duty player maybe some of my opinions would change, but as it stands, my vote is definitely on spending the cash on PSN Plus.