— Sony's new premium service for the PlayStation 3 offeris discounted and free games and other game-related treats, but is PlayStation Plus actually worth forking over $50 per year?
I've checked it out and the short answer I've arrived at is: Not yet.
PS3 owners can now purchase PlayStation Plus through the online PlayStation Store as either a one-year subscription for $49.99 or a three-month subscription for $17.99. (For a limited time, Sony is offering an extra three months free to those who pony up for the one-year subscription).
Right now, Plus mostly operates as a big coupon. That is, membership gets subscribers some pretty sweet discounts on various gaming items in the PlayStation Store. But the problem is, like most coupons, you may not really want or need the items that are discounted.
Each month, subscribers are given a selection of PlayStation Network, PS One Classic and PSP Mini games to download from the PSN Store for free. You will be able to download these games only during the month they are available. A new month means new selections replace them.
Additionally, each month subscribers will be able to download a selection of game add-ons, themes and avatars either for free or at a discount. Members will have access to various hour-long free game trials as well.
What does that mean here in Month One of PlayStation Plus? It means you get PSN game "Wipeout HD" for free (which costs everyone else $19.99), you get the PS One game "Rally Cross" for free (others pay $5.99) and you get the PSP Mini game "Age of Zombies" for free ($4.99 for everyone else).
Meanwhile, subscribers will pay $3.99 rather than $4.99 for the "Fat Princess: Fat Roles" add-on and you can download games like "Cuboid" and "Hamster Ball" for $7.99 rather than $9.99. Most interestingly, perhaps, subscribers get an hour-long free trial of the full game "inFamous." (Check out the complete list of this month's Plus benefits here.)
If you happen to want these items, then by all means, PlayStation Plus is something you should purchase right now. If "Wipeout HD," for example, has been on your list of games to buy, then the $20 savings on this game alone pays for a three-month subscription to Plus. And let me say that
I am a fan of "inFamous" and think that if you haven't tried this game, you definitely should.
But here's the thing ... "Wipeout HD" has been around since 2008. And "inFamous" launched more than a year ago. Meanwhile, "Age of Zombies" is so dreadful I can't even recommend playing it for free. What I'm saying is: I'm surprised that Sony didn't launch PlayStation Plus with a killer app of some sort — that is, offer up a top-notch new PSN game for free for example, or provide a free trial to a game that just arrived in stores (i.e. a game players are dying to check out right now).
I will say that what's nice about the full-game trials available through Plus is that if you decide to buy the full game after trying it, all of your progress and trophies will be saved and you can pick up right where you left off.
But be careful, because once you start your one-hour trial, you really do only have one hour. There's no pausing your game for dinner, for example. It seems an odd choice on Sony's part since nearly the entire casual gaming industry has had great success offering would-be buyers one free hour of true game-play. Apparently they realize that people need to take food breaks, phone breaks and pee breaks when they're gaming.
The other big catch with the Plus service is this: You can only access the games you've downloaded for free (games like "Rally Cross" and "Wipeout HD") as long as you remain a Plus subscriber. End your subscription and, poof, your games are no longer playable. Though if you do re-up your subscription, you'll get your access to those games back.
The other bit of bad news: PlayStation Plus does not give online players the cross-game chat they've been asking for.
"Cross-game voice chat is a feature we know our passionate user base has asked for and we'll continue to look at as a viable offering for the PlayStation Network," Susan Panico, Senior Director of the PlayStation Network,
wrote on the PlayStation blog.
Meanwhile, many PlayStation 3 owners have expressed concerns that the arrival of Plus will be the end of free access to the PlayStation Network and its services (something Sony has long touted as a boon of its online service over Microsoft's Xbox Live service).
"The current PSN features will remain free," Panico assured everyone. "We are still very committed to PSN as a free comprehensive entertainment service and are certainly not planning on reducing this service following the launch of PlayStation Plus."
For right now, PlayStation Plus is basically a coupon booklet that's only worth purchasing if you happen to be jonesing for the items currently offered within. I suspect, however, the service will soon become far more tempting. Sony has promised to give Plus members exclusive access to beta game tests and to let them buy some games before everyone else. Access to a hot game beta could be very compelling indeed and it will be interesting to see what other services Sony provides exclusively its Plus members.
After all, "PlayStation Plus is a continually evolving service," Panicio promises.
Speaking of evolving ... one thing that might convince PS3 owners to pony up for PlayStation Plus is the forthcoming Hulu Plus service — which will be available on PS3s and Xbox 360s in the coming months. Though Sony has not confirmed or denied this, it now seems likely that PS3 owners will need a PlayStation Plus membership to access Hulu's TV-on-demand service (which will itself cost $9.99 a month).
If the competition's any indication, it's worth noting Microsoft has said it will require Xbox 360 owners to have an Xbox Live Gold membership if they want to access Hulu Plus when it launches on the console in early 2011. Xbox Live Gold runs $49.99 a year as well.
(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal, a co-owner of Hulu.)