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).

Conversely, Microsoft 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 3, Rainbow Six: Vegas, and Assassin's Creed II.

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 of choice.

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' default destination.