Grumpy Gurevitz: Playstation Plus Analysis

The PSN Network, free functional and with lots of unfulfilled potential

The PSN network is great because it’s free. It doesn’t matter how much you criticise it compared to Xbox Live, because at the end of the day it’s given away free and no charge is made to the end user. However that’s like saying that going to work on a donkey can’t be bad, when compared to a train or car, because a Donkey is possibly free too, except for food needed to feed the donkey, and the inevitable poo bags that you would have to carry to clean up after yourself (or after your donkey’s self) when in public. The point is, many of us commute by train or car and are happy to pay. It’s a given.

Hence it’s with that in mind that we find people are constantly criticising the PSN network for what it fails to deliver, often comparing it to Xbox Live. In all honesty PSN does now do most of what Xbox Live does (with some major omissions such as cross game chat, playing your own music, and some other features). It more than makes up for these though in terms of offering HOME which is possibly the ultimate social experience on a console, albeit one which needs to be tied into the overall PSN experience in a much more coordinated way. It also has an integrated Web Browser (which allows video on demand services access to the platform) and pretty good media server functionality. You can even edit videos on it now, with the latest firmware update.

However, for me, paying for Xbox Live delivers two major services. Firstly, it allows me to play games online. This, of course, is not a good thing, as I can do that for free on the PSN network. Secondly, though, Xbox Live seems more robust. Game updates are pushed to my console much faster and downloading any content seems quicker. Additionally online servers for games are more responsive and matchmaking quicker. I would suggest that some of my £40 a year to Microsoft helps to maintain that infrastructure.

Playstation Plus, it has stars, fireworks and everything! Just not things many people want. Yet.

Consequently I was excited when I heard about PlayStation Plus. Indeed I had already written about how I felt PSN needed a subscription tier offering a range of services from the cloud storage of saved games, to media services like Sky being included in the price. When Sony announced PlayStation Plus they even teased us by saying that following the initial feature set, more services would be launched.

Well Gamescom is coming up and I’m really hoping they use this to launch these new services for PlayStation Plus users, as right now I’m not exactly excited by the current offering. Has buying a Plus membership (for the year) solved the issues I raised above? Nope. Game updates are not quicker but they are overnight, sometimes, in some cases, possibly. I’m not too sure how the system works but I have still had some games which, once loaded, require an update that took close to an hour before the game would start. Perhaps this will decrease with time and Ill notice a difference over a longer period of being a member but at present this benefit is not apparent.

So what has Plus offered? Or to put it another, cringeworthy way, what ‘Pluses’ are to be gained by joining?!

We get demos for games 24 hours earlier, except that I’m at work, so I don’t know about it till at least 24 hours after the 24 hour exclusivity started. I get emails from Sony all the time about the PSN store, so how about notifying me of these demos? Even better, if you want to make me feel good, give them to me me a month before everyone else, not a pesky 24 hours. I also get time-limited trials of games, which I can then purchase online at a special price. Except that, we have had hardly any of these and in the case of Infamous, the ‘special price’ isn’t special when compared to the price of the ‘not so new’ Infamous I can get at Game or Amazon.

We get some games free though. That’s good! For signing up I got LittleBigPlanet free. Ok, I already had it, but now it’s on the hard drive, which for my liking is a better place for a game, which is as much a utility and alternative HOME as it is a platformer. I also got WipEout HD and have downloaded a couple of free PS1 games and some Minis. We also get wallpapers and themes for free if you are into that kind of stuff. The idea of ‘free’ stuff’ is not bad, it’s good and I’m fan of anything free, or which appears to be free. However what is bad is that I already owned a lot of the Minis and now just feel annoyed that I didn’t get a full or part rebate on them having signed up to Playstation Plus. I’m not saying I should have got one, I appreciate that wouldn’t work from a business perspective, but I’m still a bit annoyed. The end result is I have stopped buying Minis in case it is included in my Plus account in the future. That can’t be what Sony wanted, surely?

Value for money or an overheating box which eats up your money? Wait, wasn't that the first and second generation Xbox consoles?

It would make far more sense to give Plus users a discount on content all the time. It could vary from download to download, with every game, theme or film listing two prices; the Plus user price and the non Plus user price. This would make much more sense to me. Additionally, you’ll notice that I threw in the word film (movie for our US readers) there too. Why not give us a discount on the films or at least one rental free a month or similar?

There is far more that Plus could and should be offering. It should be the gateway to a better performing, cloud computing supporting infrastructure, which makes the PS3 experience more reliable and charming. Additionally if Sony want to use Plus as a way of encouraging us to download and use content, then they need to do it in a way which is cleverer than their current strategy which is far to ‘bitty’.

Do I feel stupid for having purchased PlayStation Plus as an early adopter? Not really, as it didn’t cost the world and I have got some great, free games. I have already come near to mading my money back in terms of what it would have cost me to buy all of them. Of course, I accept that in reality I might never have bought all of them, and it certainly hasn’t cost Sony as much as their retail value to give them to me for free.

America has offered its Plus user access to Hulu Plus! What can SCEE bring to the UK or Europe as a whole?

Deep down though, I feel I’m being used by Sony to test whether there is a demand for an extra ‘paid’ service on the PSN. Even though Sony has carried out many questionnaires on what users want or would be prepared to pay for, it seems they were worried that not enough users would actually cough up the dough and spend the money. After all, they have had a pretty competent online service, which was free, for all this time. So, it seems that I’m being given a few handouts until there are enough subscribers to justify adding the other services Sony have hinted at, whether they be free or heavily discounted films and TV shows or extra online services which add to the PS3’s capabilities.

Of course, the problem Sony have built for themselves is that to convince enough users to join they need those of us who are early adopters to sing from the rooftops about how good PlayStation Plus is. I’ve yet to see an article or listen to a podcast where anyone is doing that. Everyone is playing the ‘lets wait and see game’ and based on my friends list on my PS3 I’m yet to see another Playstation Plus user on my rosta. Come on Sony, if treated correctly, PSN has the ability to become the future of the PlayStation and even of Sony. The PS4 might be more about the cloud than the hardware and now is the time to leapfrog Xbox Live and take the overall experience and value proposition to a new level. This is no time to be taking ‘baby steps’.

Limit the PLUS screen to items only for Plus users. All other items should just have two prices, come on Sony, it's obvious!

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Written by Steven G

Steven Gurevitz is the CEO of 2002 Studios Media LTD and a founder of gaming accessory company Asiiya. 2002 Studios started off as a music production company, but produces a range of content from videos to videogames. The company specialises in localizing content for global brands. He also owns the Urban Sound Label, a small niche e-label. He is a freelance music tech writer, having co-written the Music Technology Workbook and is a regular contributor and co-owner CriticalGamer.co.uk. He enjoys FPS, Third person 'free world', narrative driven and portable gaming. He is a freelance music tech writer, having co-written the Music Technology Workbook and is a regular contributor to CriticalGamer.co.uk.

10 comments

  1. KrazyFace /

    There’s no point in me listing all the reasons I’m not a Plus user coz you already got them all down! I’ll also admit that I’m playing the “wait and see” game.

    I have about 20-odd people on my PS3 list (you only get in if I like you!) and four of them are Plus subscribers. Recently I decided to do a little experiment to see if those with Plus also subscribed to XBL. Guess what? Three of them alredy paid for XBL. Going on this, I’d expect them to be already used to the idea of paying extra for (in my opinion) what should be a given.

    I honestly feel that the gaming comunity is one of the dumbest bunch of consumers around! We pay through the nose for a brand new game, we pay over the odds for add-ons that should have been in the finished product – repetedly – and worst of all, some of us pay the console manufacturer just to play with eachother! They say the gaming industry is worth more than the film industry, maybe the film industry needs to take a leaf out of our book and charge the cinemas their own rate for seating while their film was being shown. They’ve got their foot in-the-door with charging for 3-D specks you have to give back (or is that just the cinema?) so why stop there?

    “I see you’ve come to watch Shreck tonight sir?”

    “Yes, that’s right”

    “Well, Dreamworks are charging £9.50 for popcorn here, and there’s an additional seating charge of £12.60”

    “Sure, here, take my cash! Or would you like to hold me upside-down and just shake me really violently like gamer?”

  2. steven g /

    The scary thing is that if PSN doesn’t have extra services/functionality and is literally only ever going to become a subscription which gives you access to further paid content this is bad news for gaming altogether.

    This is what is rumoured might be the top tier to the call of duty franchise for example. The online is free but you pay to join a COD ‘club’ which will get you little else except access to download maps which you might STILL have to pay for.

    Lets hope PSN Plus matures into something which adds functionality.

    • KrazyFace /

      Absolutley, I’d have no problem paying for exclusive stuff, early demos (and I mean like a month early) and a good integration of Plus and PSN. But, much like Home and the PSP, I feel Plus will be another missed oppertunity for Sony.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think what they’ve brought us is ok, but could be better. I guess there’s no point in complaining that the donkey smells though eh?

  3. jon-e /

    you know i wou7ld buy it for 50 bucks a year if it had cross game chat.I’m so sick of people telling me “why do you need cross game chat i dont even use the regular chat”.Well for one i hate going in the regular chat cause all it is some dumb little kid yellin and screaming yellin at you.It makes my irrate im sure we all have been there and thats why we need it not want it NEED IT. look at the xbox great online play ps3 great single player games maybe if playstation would get the hint i like talkin to my friends while i play games not while i’m idle at thier stupid home page

  4. From Krazyface “I honestly feel that the gaming comunity is one of the dumbest bunch of consumers around!”

    I tend to agree with that. There is something about the tech led nature of the hobby that means we are far more inclined to suck up new developments or even the mirage of developments for a premium. The obsessive ‘hardcore’ will always be ready to hand over cash for the next big thing and very quickly accept that its just the way it has to be – like DLC chopped from the main game or DLC designed alongside the main game that was even included on the disc.

    If playstation Plus was a club that simply offered attractive discounts on any game rather than a menu of titles and add-ons chosen for you then I’d be more inclined to take a second look at it but the idea of paying for something and then hoping a title I want to play is included seems a bit odd. Some of the other ‘benefits’ are so lame, 24hrs earlier demos? Is this kind of OCD impatience really worth money? I presume they went for 24hrs so as not to alienate the non-subscribers and also the devs who want people to try their next release while the marketing iron is still hot. Ultimately the model just doesn’t work.

    From the main article – “The end result is I have stopped buying Minis in case it is included in my Plus account in the future. That can’t be what Sony wanted, surely?” This is spot on, and not just for the minis – how would I dare buy anything if there was a chance that it would be delivered to me free eventually?

    Great article 🙂

  5. half_empty80 /

    What’s kept me away from Plus is that you only own the content you get while you subscribe. So I believe if you cancel your subscription you cannot access the games you put on your hdd through Plus.

    • KrazyFace /

      That’s the way I hear it. Which is a bit of an elephant in the room really, why would you subscribe to it if the content you paid for is taken away from you when you stop the subscription?! It just makes no sense!

      Unless I’m getting my wires crossed here, but that’s the way the small print reads to me.

      • steven g /

        It doesn’t apply to content you paid for, i.e. you buy something with a discount. it only applies to the content they give you for ‘free’. In the same way that you don’t technically own an ongoing license to content you get from Sky when you pay them a subscription.

        Most people will get Plus for a year and in that context should you then not rejoin after 12 months I think thats enough time to get value from a Mini or PS1 title, but I do see how that would annoy as console owners are not used to ‘renting’ games, but that is in effect what we are doing through Plus. If you think of it as a ‘rental service’ suddenly it makes sense, the problem is, as with the PS3 Sony are still not too sure what Plus is and how to communicate what it is and how it should be perceived to the masses.

        • KrazyFace /

          Aaaaahh. Okay, THAT makes a lot more sense now. I’m still not sure I’ll be going for it though, like you said, Sony are still kinda ‘humming and hawing’ about what kind of service it should be.

  6. Oni-Samurai /

    I’m not getting it. All the DLC, minis, free ps1 games, doesn’t interest me. The only DLC I’ve brought is the level kits for LittleBig Planet a few costumes. I did buy the AC2 DLC, battle of forli was okay and the other was rubbish (can’t even remember its name) the only good bit was the extra prince of persia-esque tombs. PlaystationPlus does offer relatively good value for money for new consumers, but I just can’t see any benefit and downloading in the background? I never cared about it, my content has always downloaded quickly (only 10mb connection) whilst waiting for it just go to the toilet or make a cup of tea. One other negative thing I’ve heard or read somewhere is that you lose access to the trophies that you’ve unlocked from the free games if your subscription runs out.

    There is a way to get a discount on the subscription though, zavvi is selling £20 PSN vouchers for £18, I brought one last year for £16 but its gone up. 2of those and thats 10% saved right away.

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