The lights are on
While gamers have grown increasingly wary of being nickeled
and dimed by microtransactions and season passes, Sony and Microsoft have been
hard at work trying to lure players to their respective platforms with free
content and digital rewards. This new trend is certainly a welcome one, but
some rewards are better than others.
Over the months, a quality gap has emerged in the free games
Sony and Microsoft offer to consumers who pay for the companies' online services.
In December, Sony
is giving PlayStation Plus subscribers Borderlands 2, Grid 2, and Dyad for
PlayStation 3, along with Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed and Urban
Trial Freestyle for PlayStation Vita. All five of these titles were released in
the past two years and have received generally positive reviews (Urban Trial
Freestyle being the lowest-reviewed title, with a Metacritic of 71).
is offering Xbox Live Gold subscribers two games this month: the original
Gears of War, released back in 2006, and 2012's Shoot Many Robots (available starting today), which has a
67 rating on Metacritic. Previous months have followed a similar pattern, with
Sony delivering more recent heavy hitters like XCOM:
Enemy Unknown, Saints
Row: The Third, and Dragon's
Dogma: Dark Arisen, while Microsoft has chosen well-worn classics like Halo
Six: Vegas, and Assassin's
Getting free games is always nice, but PlayStation Plus members
are clearly getting the better deal, receiving not only more games than Xbox
Live Gold subscribers, but newer ones as well. Part of the impetus behind Sony's
Instant Game Collection is undoubtedly the company's transition to charging for
online multiplayer, but the quality of the titles on offer makes it easy to
justify the new cost. Players were already content paying for Xbox Live Gold
(presumably, anyway), so perhaps Microsoft isn't as invested in its Games With
Gold initiative – but it should be.
Sony's Instant Game Collection doesn't only help justify the
cost of PlayStation Plus. It's also building the company's online community and
ensuring players spend more time on Sony's systems. For players who haven't
delved into Borderlands 2 yet, teaming up with their friends in the PlayStation
3 version of the game is now a no-brainer. This will lead some players to
purchase Borderlands 2's DLC from PSN (one of the reasons 2K and other publishers
participate in the program) and possibly purchase other games or make new
PlayStation 3 buddies online. For many gamers, their platform of choice comes down to which
system their friends are playing on. If Sony can keep players logged in with a
stream of free games, it might change which system gamers consider their platform
Microsoft has also tried to win over players with rewards for attaining certain Gamerscores,
but the program is lackluster to say the least. The lowest reward tier, which
is activated when you have earned 3,000 Gamerscore, gives you back five cents
when you spend a minimum of ten dollars on Xbox Live. The highest tier, which
requires racking up a whopping 75,000 points, gives you back just 30 cents (again on purchases of ten dollars or more), which is only deposited in your account after you earn five dollars worth of rewards.
Achieving a Gamerscore of 75,000 requires a massive commitment of both time and
money – getting an extra quarter back for your trouble is more of an insult
than an incentive.
Thanks to the recent releases of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox
One, winning over gamers is more important than ever. Both systems are new to
the market, have considerably smaller online communities than last-gen systems,
and sport a slew of social features that aren't worth much if your friends aren't
using them. Many gamers still haven't chosen which system they want to buy, and
those who already own both probably don't have a favorite yet. It's now in Sony's
and Microsoft's best interest to give players meaningful incentives for buying
and playing games on their respective platforms, whether through free games,
discounts, or cash back on purchases. Not only would doing so sell more systems
and online service subscriptions, it might influence which console becomes gamers'
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.