As you should know, Sony’s PlayStation Plus Service is coming to PS Vita, bringing discounts, cloud storage and, of course, a library of ever-changing games. The service has taken off rather well on the PS3, and could help sales of the Vita, which hasn’t brought in the figures Sony expected since launch. PlayStation Plus is an interesting idea, and one that the public at large may not be completely aware of, but I wonder if this next generation of consoles will see Microsoft adopting a similar service for their Xbox.
Sony aren’t the first company to release a subscription service that provides a library of games. No, that would be Sega, whose Sega Channel ran from 1994 to 1998, and was broadcast over existing television lines. It’s strange that it took well over a decade for another company to pick up where Sega left off, especially with the adoption rates of high speed internet in the mid-2000s.
In fact, Microsoft were really the ones who envisioned an online future for their console. When the Xbox first arrived in 2001, it shipped with a built in hard drive, as well as high speed modem for online play. Xbox Live was the first unified online service for consoles, and other companies are still trying hard to emulate its features and success. Meanwhile, Sony were slow to bring their hard drive and network adapter to North America, and even when they did, they were not supported to nearly the same degree that Microsoft’s were.
It’s only been in this current generation that PlayStation really came online. It could be argued that Xbox Live is still superior to PlayStation Network in terms of online play, but PlayStation Plus now puts Sony ahead in terms of value for money. The very fact that a company could sell a paid online service after years of offering it for free shows that it’s something worth spending money on. Now that the service is coming to Vita, it’s twice as attractive for fans of Sony, and something that most players will at least consider.
A service like PlayStation Plus would have been a dream come true to myself as a child. Living in the UK, Sega Channel was hard to come by, but something I longed for. Games are expensive, especially when you’re young, so the idea of having a constantly-updated library of free titles to download would have given me something to play all the time. No more waiting for birthdays or Christmas to roll around; I’d have new games sitting on my system every month. I suppose I should be a little thankful, though. After all, if I’d had access to so many games, I doubt I wouldn’t have done much else during my youth.
I suppose, in a discussion about subscription game services, it would only be fair to mention OnLive. OnLive certainly didn’t take off like its creators were hoping, but I would bet that many of its users subscribe to the PlayPack, bringing unlimited access to hundreds of older titles. We’ve become accustomed to buying re-released versions of classic games over the last few years, so paying a small monthly fee for a large number of them seems like a no-brainer.
It’s clear that people are happy to subscribe so a service that enables them to play older titles, so will this become a part of Xbox 720, or maybe even a late addition to the Xbox 360? By this point, Microsoft has a substantial library of older titles, including Xbox 1 and Xbox Live Arcade games, so there’s plenty for the service to work with. The yearly cost for Xbox Live has always been justifiable because of the fantastic service they provide, but ever since Sony offered even more, it’s become a little harder to accept. To be fair, many of the aspects of PlayStation Plus already exist for Xbox Live Gold members, such as early demo access and cloud storage, but those free games and discounts are really what make PlayStation Plus so attractive.
So how about Nintendo? Honestly, if there’s one company that should be introducing a service like this, it should be Nintendo. They’ve been in the console business far longer than Sony or Microsoft, and have a back catalog of many of history’s finest titles. Could you imagine paying a small fee to access so many classic games, ranging from 8-bit all the way up to the current generation? It could also be an attractive proposition for parents, looking for an inexpensive way to give new games to their kids without shelling out full retail prices on a regular basis. Unfortunately, with Nintendo’s slow adoption of online services, I highly doubt we’ll be seeing Nintendo Plus any time soon.
No, I think it’s Microsoft we should look to for the next subscription game service. If PlayStation Plus becomes really popular, Xbox Live Gold subscribers will begin to question their subscription fees, wondering why they don’t get the same benefits as their PlayStation-owning friends. It could also increase sales of new titles if used correctly. For instance, if you make the first game in a series available shortly before the retail launch of the second one, it would give people a chance to catch up on the story, and therefore, more likely to buy the new game. There are many benefits for both the consumer and console manufacturer, so I really hope we see Xbox Plus arrive in the next generation.
So the question is, would you pay for such a service? We’re already paying for Xbox Live Gold, but if Microsoft tacked on another small fee for a back catalog of games and discounts on XBLA titles, would you shell out the extra money? Let us know in the comments below.
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