Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
We’re a couple of weeks into the bold new era of the revamped release of Sony’s PlayStation Plus service, the gaming company’s high-profile attempt to a) get people to shell out more money than they should for multiplayer access in their games, and b) try to compete with Microsoft’s GamePass, the premiere way to get brand new Peppa Pig games in 2022.
But we kid GamePass, which over the past few weeks has gone from looking like simply the best of the Big 3 console subscription services to being a minor miracle. Or to put it another way: That PlayStation Plus Premium lineup is pretty rough, huh? Woof!
Critics have been poking holes in Sony’s new Plus since the moment it was announced, with a plan to lure consumers to its “Premium” and “Extra” tiers by offering a free catalog of older games for the former plan, and much older games (curated from the company’s PS1, PS2, and PS3 vaults) for the latter. Leaving aside the whole issue with PS3 games only being available through cloud streaming (and the fairly anemic roster of classics on display), it’s very hard to figure out what Sony thought was going to get PlayStation users excited about this.
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The key appeal of Microsoft’s GamePass, after all, is that many of the games you get through it are new, with the company leveraging its powerful relationships with various studios in order to offer first-run free games to subscribers. It’s always been hard to overstate the psychological advantage that confers on the Xbox program—especially now that Sony has resolutely refused to follow suit, instead offering an expanded flow of the trickle of the older titles it’s always used to bribe Plus subscribers into ponying up some cash.
Because here’s the rub, as the Bard used to say (while talking about digital distribution models for large-scale video game companies): There are only two kinds of titles available in a collection that’s been curated from a catalog of older games in the way that PlayStation Plus Premium has been—crap you already own, and crap you didn’t want to buy in the first place.
That’s not to say there aren’t great games on Plus Premium—there are phenomenal games, which you already know, because you bought them seven years ago when they first came out, or four years ago when they went on sale, etc., etc. The value proposition of the whole service, then, becomes how many games it has that weren’t worth your buck at full price (or even at a discount), but which are worth tossing a couple bucks a month at for a subscription. It is, almost by definition, a buffet of leftovers; possibly tasty, but undeniably warmed over.
GamePass gets around this by never asking you to evaluate lower-tier games in the first place; they come out, they’re available, and you never really have to ask yourself “Is this worth it?” The difference is part psychological, part practical, but it leaves PlayStation Plus Premium a great way to catch up on, say, old Dynasty Warriors games, and a pretty lousy way to fill out a collection of high-quality titles. The decision to toss $10 at it in order to get Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age or Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon or any of a handful of other games you’d never buy, but might play, becomes less an act of excitement, and more of a resigned “Fuck it.” Not exactly the vote of confidence Sony was probably hoping to receive.