PlayStation Plus Vs. Xbox Games With Gold – Who Is Winning The Free Games War?

by Zak Wojnar on Mar 31, 2017 at 11:00 AM

In 2010, Sony launched PlayStation Plus, a $49.99 per year ($59.99 as of September 2016) premium subscription service which offered a variety of complimentary games to users. The number of games initially varied from month to month, but, starting in July 2014, they streamlined the process so that six games a month (two each for PS4, PS3, and Vita) are on offer for subscribers. If users add the game to their library before it is taken down the next month, then they can play the game for as long as they remain Plus members, even if they quit the service and then return at a later date.

In 2013, Microsoft followed suit, adding complimentary games to Xbox Live Gold members; Xbox One games follow the PS Plus model, being unavailable to play if your subscription lapses, but Xbox 360 titles remain in users’ libraries in perpetuity; they’re yours to keep forever.

With that in mind, which service has enjoyed a better selection of titles: Games With Gold or PlayStation Plus? We went through the painstaking process of finding numbers, putting them in charts, and analyzing the results in an effort to answer that very question.

We looked at the data from the past two years, comparing Plus and Gold across various metrics, including a game’s age, Metacritic score, and platform exclusivity. In the interest of fairness, we only factored in PS3, PS4, 360, and Xbox One games. We chose not to analyze Vita games, as Microsoft has no equivalent handheld. However, if a game is cross-buy across Vita and one of Sony’s home consoles, then we included it in our analysis.

Game Quantity
In 2015 and 2016, PlayStation Plus Subscribers received 118 games across PS3 and PS4. During that same period, Microsoft delivered 93 Xbox titles to Xbox Live Gold members. For those keeping count, that’s 25 fewer games than on PlayStation. In terms of sheer quantity, Sony has Microsoft beat by a wide margin.

Game Quality
Over the two-year period, the average Metacritic score for PlayStation Plus offerings was 74.6. The highest-scoring title was Mass Effect 2 (94), followed closely by Journey (92) and Limbo (90). Some of the lowest-scoring titles included Datura (57) and Pumped BMX+ (56). The dubious recognition for the lowest-scoring PlayStation Plus title is a tie between Medal of Honor Warfighter and Table Top Racing, which both scored a mere 55 at the critical aggregate site.

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On the Microsoft side, the average Metacritic score was nearly identical, clocking in at 74.8. The highest scoring games were Gears of War 2 and BioShock Infinite, which both landed lofty 93s. Runner-ups included The Walking Dead Season 1 (92) Rayman Legends (91), and Gears of War 3 (91). Of course, Microsoft also offered a handful of stinkers. The lowest-rated title was Goat Simulator, which sits at paltry 53 on Metacritic, even lower than Medal of Honor. Other underwhelming titles include the co-op shooter Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel (54), Zheroes (57), and Tron Evolution (58).

Next: more comparisons between the free games of PlayStation Plus and Xbox Games With Gold.

Looking at the highest-scoring games, one detail sticks out: they are old, which means the average user is more likely to have already purchased the game on their own by the time it was made available as a subscription title. The average age of a PlayStation Plus game when it is released on the service is 22.8 months, or a touch under two years. Its highest-rated game, Mass Effect 2, didn’t come out on Plus until November 2015, nearly five years after its original January 2011 release, which itself was a full year after the Xbox 360 version’s debut. ME2 isn’t the only outlier on PlayStation’s list: Super Stardust HD was nearly nine years old when it hit Plus, and had already received ports to Vita and PS4 by the time it hit the Instant Game Collection. Likewise, Locoroco Cocoreccho! was well over eight years old before it debuted on Plus.

The average age of a Game With Gold is 33.7 months, an 11-month disadvantage compared to Sony’s service. As previously mentioned, one of the highest-scoring Xbox 360 titles on the Games With Gold roster is Gears of War 2, which released all the way back in November 2008. Seven years and three months later, it finally released on Games With Gold. To Microsoft’s credit, the other highest-scoring Xbox game was BioShock Infinite, which made its Games With Gold a comparatively quick two years after its initial launch. However, it’s worth noting that the PS3 version of BioShock Infinite was made part of the Instant Game Collection more than a year earlier than the Xbox version. Burnout Paradise was nearly nine years old by the time it hit Games With Gold in December 2016, and Rainbow Six Vegas 2 was sitting on shelves for eight years and four months before it came to Games With Gold.

Both PS Plus and Games With Gold have had a handful of games debut day-and-date with their formal release. The most high-profile of these titles is Rocket League, which took the world by storm when it released as a free PlayStation Plus game on launch day in 2015. It came to Xbox One the following year, but has yet to be offered as part of Games With Gold. Rocket League remains one of the most popular competitive games of the current generation of consoles, and its dominance shows no signs of stopping. Other notable debuts on PlayStation include the adorable PS4 Tetris-clone Tricky Towers, Broforce, Grow Home, and the PlayStation 3 port of the innovative first person shooter, Duke Nukem 3D.

The highly-rated Xbox One version of The Banner Saga 2 is probably the most notable Games With Gold debut, although the service also shone its spotlight on games as varied as Double Fine's Massive Chalice, Knight Squad, and Tumblestone. All told, PlayStation had 19 brand-new titles on Plus, while Xbox had 11; a respectable number, but well behind its rival.

Next: we compare the exclusive titles on both services and lay down our final thoughts on the matter.

Many fans determine the value of a console by the strength of its exclusives; PlayStation has God of War, Uncharted, and LittleBigPlanet, while Xbox has Gears of War, Halo, and Killer Instinct. On the PlayStation front, 50 out of the 118 games tracked over the last two years are unavailable on Xbox, representing 42.3 percent of all PS Plus games. Of these 50 games, 20 are exclusive to PlayStation platforms, and they run the gamut from indies (Entwined, The Unfinished Swan) to high-profile blockbusters (Yakuza 4 and 5, God of War Ascension).

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Of the 93 Xbox Games With Gold titles, 17 of them are unavailable on PlayStation, or just 18.2 percent. Of these, a scant five titles are only available on Xbox. At least they are all high-profile titles, even if three of them are from the Gears of War series: Gears 2, 3, and Judgment, Forza Horizon, and Sunset Overdrive.

Financial Value
To determine this metric, we looked at the price of each game on the digital storefront at the time it was made available for Plus/Gold subscribers. For people who like to put a dollar value on everything, the average price of a PlayStation Plus game is $17.34. The total value of all 118 games amounted to a whopping $2046.32. Only two PlayStation titles carried the full $59.99 price point; NBA 2K16 and Tropico 5 on PlayStation 4 (which were nine and twelve months old, respectively). Other high-priced titles included the PlayStation 3 version of Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments, which retailed for $49.99 in March 2015. A year later, the Xbox One version, retailing for $29.99, was offered on Games With Gold.

Xbox was several dollars ahead of the competition, with the average Game With Gold costing $21.32. Thanks to that higher average, the total value of the 93 titles was $1,983.09, surprisingly close to PlayStation’s total. Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate on Xbox One was the only Xbox title to carry a full $60 dollar price tag, somehow lasting for 23 months without permanently dropping in price. In a reverse of PlayStation’s Sherlock Holmes situation, the Xbox One version of Lords of the Fallen, retailing for $39.99, was made part of Games With Gold in March 2016, but was down to $19.99 by the time the PS4 version hit Plus that September.

Final Verdict
Looking at the data for games across 2015 and 2016, most of the numbers skew toward Sony, but the truth is that these numbers, while obstinately objective, are only part of the story. Everybody’s experience with Plus or Gold is different; after all, if you already own Yakuza 5 or Gears of War 3, then you don’t care if those games get released to subscribers. Sure, one can make a final judgment based on our in-depth analysis, but to whichever console you swear your allegiance and to whichever service you subscribe, you’re still getting a good deal, even if you only play a handful of the free games each year.