June 30, 2010, 9:27 AM — Yesterday Sony's Playstation Plus program went live. Purely in the name of research, I signed up (the things I do for you readers) and thought I'd share my thoughts.
Playstation Plus costs $49.99 for 12 months (though for a limited time they're throwing in an extra three) or $17.99 for three months. For your money, you get a subscription to Qore, the online magazine (which is normally about $25/year), a "free" PSN game each month (and I put free in quotes because you only have access to the game while you're subscribed to the service), a 1 hour trial to a full PS3 game each month, automatic downloading of updates and "select demos and videos," discounts on Playstation store purchases, and a few other odds and ends. See full details here.
So that sounds like a lot of stuff for a tad less that $1/week, right? Someone did the math and figured out that in the first month alone you could save $85 by taking advantage of all the services. So on paper, a fair enough deal.
But what about in practice? It's hard to say for sure since we just have the first month's content, but after shelling out $50 am I feeling all warm and fuzzy about the service? No, I am not, and here's why. Your experience may differ.
The trial game this month is Infamous. It's a great game, and I loved it when I played through it a year ago. Long time Playstation 3 owners probably also played through it a year ago, since it was one of the best releases on the platform for 2009. For newer owners it's a great chance to get a taste of the game for free. But here're the problems. First, you have to download all 6+ gigs of the game before you can start the trial. That's going to take you a few hours. (And let me pause to acknowledge that download speeds last night were much faster than I've grown accustomed to on the Playstation network. I expected the download to have to run overnight at least, given my past experience with the Playstation Store. Whether I was just lucky last night or they've upgraded their servers/bandwidth, I don't know.) Then as soon as you first start the game, your 60 minutes starts ticking down and it's based purely on the clock. You don't get 60 minutes of playing the game. If you play for 15 minutes and have to take a break, the trial will still expire 45 minutes later even though your Playstation 3 is turned off. That was disappointing. The moral of the story: plan your trial usage carefully, and make sure you have a free hour before you start playing. Take the phone off the hook, send the kids to the in-laws, turn out the lights on the front porch and hang up a Do Not Disturb sign.
That's dumb. Games should conform to your schedule, not the other way around.
Second, let's talk about free stuff. This month's free game is WipeOut HD. This is a popular game on the service and its been out for a long time. So what's the problem? If you're really interested in WipeOut HD, you've probably already purchased it. Same deal as Infamous really. So once again, this is a good opportunity for newcomers to the Playstation ecosystem, but not as interesting to us old-timers. A lot of the other content is DLC (add-on content for existing games). If you happen to own the main game and haven't purchased the DLC then its a fine addition. But without the main game this free stuff is of no interest and yet again, enthusiasts will have already purchased the DLC.
It's also worth noting that you get access to these free games only for as long as you're subscribed to the service. If you sign up for a year then this doesn't seem like too big a deal today. By the time your year is up you'll probably be bored with WipeOut HD anyway. But what about the game they deliver next May? You only get access to that for a month, unless you renew your Playstation Plus account. Suddenly the fact that you're just renting these games becomes much more real.
Last I want to talk a bit about Automatic Downloads. This is a great idea in theory. Every time a patch comes out for a game my PS3 downloads it while I'm asleep. That bit I'm all for. But what about other content? Apparently these "select demos and videos" will be pushed to my PS3 whether I want them or not, and other demos and videos that I do want, I can't get automatically. What I'd like to see is some kind of scheduler that lets me tweak what gets automatically downloaded. I understand that demo release dates fluctuate all the time, but that's OK. This scheduler doesn't have to be exact. Let me indicate that whenever a demo for Game X comes out, the PS3 should automatically download it. It could be tonight or in two weeks. I'm just indicating that when it becomes available I want it. Let me control what content gets pushed to my system.
So this has been quite a screed about the shortcomings of Playstation Plus. Is there any hope for the service? Absolutely. This is month #1 and Sony has the opportunity to take feedback and tweak the offerings and turn it into a really worthwhile service. Right now, this month, I'd say its a disappointment; if I were you I'd wait on signing up, unless you really want to play WipeOut HD. Here's hoping July offers something that long-term Playstation 3 owners can get excited about.
Sony, three quick ways to make vast improvements to the service:
- Change the way the 1 hour trials count down. Give us an hour of actually running the game
- Pick your free content selections from newer titles that not everyone has played
- Let us control what gets pushed to us via automatic downloads