E3: Playstation+

Well there’s certainly no shortage of hot topics to discuss now Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have each left the rather large (large enough to drive an ice cream van onto even) stages of E3. The unveiling of the 3DS! Halo Reach! New Zelda, Donkey Kong, Kirby and Metroid! Ratchet & Clank teaming up with Jak & Daxter, who’d have thought!? Playstation Move! Gears of War 3! Dead Space 2! Valve finally hopping aboard the Playstation ship! Portal 2! Gran Turismo 5 actually getting a release date! No seriously, it’s November 2nd! Kirby! A new, quieter, uglier 360 console! Killzone 3! Exclusive HD remakes! All exciting affairs. Oh and who could forget Kinect… ahem.

But I don’t want to talk about any of those, they can wait, rather lets look at the announcement of Playstation Plus.

Playstation Plus is Sony’s first venture into the premium online service market, costing $49.99 a year, or $14.99 per quarter (which will probably translate as £39.99 and £11.99 respectively) and boasting an assortment of benefits.Benefits such as “hundreds of dollars” worth of free content, exclusive demo and beta access, special offers, a changing roster of free to play PSOne, Mini and PSN releases as well as the ability to set up your console to automatically download patches, updates and demos. Worryingly no mention was made of whether the latter would be made unavailable to non Playstation Plus patrons, although the logic behind saving firmware updates and game patches for the adopters simply isn’t there.

Supposedly nothing that is currently free is being shifted into the premium category and most importantly for skeptics, games will remain free to play online.

“Own for the duration of your subscription” was the phrase repeated twice by Jack Tretton. Ah. So it’s a glorified rental service then? One where you have little control over the content you’re renting. And when you end your subscription, everything disappears. For me that’s a massive issue. Wipeout HD was the first game announced and being a long-term Playstation 3 owner I already own it. I imagine the likes of Flower, Fat Princess and Joe Danger will make appearances in due course. Field Runners has already been announced, I own that too.

And yet this is being targeted at me, at core gamers because the casual market aren’t likely to be caught paying £40 a year for Plus when they’ve got access to everything else free.

With Xbox Live Gold membership I know exactly what I’m paying for: online gaming predominantly, with exclusive offers and early access to demos as a little on-the-side bonus. With Playstation Plus it seems, from first impression at least, more like a lottery of content. How do I know the first three months of content aren’t going to be made up of games I’ve previously bought? Like LittleBigPlanet. Or games that suck hard. It’s difficult to believe Sony are going to be handing out month-long rentals of brand new games to Plus customers.

The idea behind Playstation Plus is quite nice but in execution seems like it will straddle a middle ground where players will be renting content dictated by Sony. There’s always going to be that risk for the Playstation Plus adoptee that the choices commanded by Sony simply won’t be to their taste. And that “Own for the duration of your subscription” could become a real itch when you decide enough is enough and you’re left with nothing.

It will be interesting to see whether Playstation Plus takes off or not. If it’s aimed at core gamers, they’re precisely the crowd who will have already invested a chunk of money in the Playstation Store and probably spend enough time playing the games they love that they’ll be first in line to purchase brand spanking new content, not pining for last years smash hits. And the casual aren’t going to be coughing up cash for a subscription.

Speaking at Sony’s E3 conference, Tretton said Playstation Plus would launch on the 29th of June, so we’ll see whether or not it becomes a roaring success (like Home) around that time.

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