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PS Plus: Too Many Bad Games, Or Just Too Many Indies?

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Recently, I tried my hand on doing some reviews on PS Plus games for PS Asia’s Junior Reporter competition on my personal site. I needed to practice writing some reviews before committing on doing one here (which is on the PC city-builder Banished). For all the while, I noticed plenty of irksome comments on the Facebook page, regarding the list of *free games available for the month. (*Free as long as you subscribe, that is, for only RM120 a year)

After doing some digging, including traversing into the depths known as the YouTube comments, it is clear that there are very vocal voices out there concerning the unsatisfying lineup. Plenty of displeased PS Plus subscribers out there.

But here’s a question. Why are they not happy in the first place? Are the games offered for free terrible? Or is it just not suited to the taste of many? There are plenty of indie titles being offered for free.

Too Many Bad Games? Or Just Too Many Indies?

On the basic observation, most of the complaints boils down to the games offer being bad. How bad?

For that, I decided to compile a list of free PS Plus games offered from the months of November 2014 to February 2016, the current offers. This is list is for the Asia region, which has a slightly different offerings on certain months compared to the US and EU region.

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If you want the table in its excel form, here you go

From a quick glance, you may some observations:

PS4 has been mainly been offering indies. The last AAA title offered was Thief 2014. And we all know that the game bombed hard, due to terrible problems during development. A bad mark for developers Eidos Montreal, the guys that successfully rebooted Deus Ex with Human Revolution back in 2012.

PS3 has been offering a slew of strong AAA and niche titles too. SSX. Guilty Gear. Twisted Metal. God of War Ascension. If you dig the PS3 list from 3 years back (not listed in the table), they even had offered Battlefield 3 and Deus Ex Human Revolution.

And of course, the obvious. So many indie titles, especially on the PS4.

I would have done even more digging to point out the metacritic scores of each title, but by just glancing on the list, you can get a feel of how each game is accepted. Unless it’s one of those obscure indies you may never heard of before. They’re not all that terrible though.

On that note, let’s take a deep dive on how come indies are more prevalent in the PS Plus free games list.

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Having PS Plus games advertised upfront would do a huge deal of exposure for the games, which would benefit indies struggling for exposure.

Exposure, or Sales?

It’s really hard for Sony to bargain for a one-month free deal to AAA publishers, as this means for that one month, most gamers on Sony’s platform would not be buying their games. Instead, they sign a deal with Sony (which I assume involves money of some sorts. Could not find any reports on how Sony does their deals).

For AAA publishers, having their game for free would not do them a service when they can gain more by selling it outright. If people really want that one game that everyone is hyped for, that will for sure generate good sales. People make games that can make them money, at the end of the day. Unless Sony is giving away tons of cash upfront as compensation, or any deal in favour of the publishers.

For indies, these guys are usually a small team- sometimes even a one-man show. They may not have the name, the ability to generate hype, and may find it hard to make sales. For them, being offered a deal to make their title free to all PS Plus subscribers is huge. It’s a chance to get the game more exposed to the public. People can get access to it without a price barrier and can judge the game worthy of their time. Not worth it? Uninstall it, the indies got their money already (again, an assumption here), and surely, a percentage of those that gave the game a chance may like it, and start paying attention to the them.

In short, it makes a lot of sense that indies are much easier to get into a PS Plus free game deal.

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Not Enough AAAs on PS4

If you noticed, there isn’t a ton of choice when it comes to AAA games on the PS4 currently. On launch, in 2013, there is a handful of proper AAA games available. Killzone Shadow Fall, Knack, Infamous Second Son, the yearly sports titles, Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, Call of Duty Ghosts, Need For Speed Rivals are among them.

Most of these are not proper current-gen games yet, as they still have ports of them on the PS3 and 360. What this meant is that for the games to work on both current and old gen consoles to be running up par- compromises had to be made. Games like the 2014 The Crew was held back graphics wise to ensure the 360 version can keep up (The Wild Run expansion arrive in 2015, and massively overhauled the graphics to be on par of most current-gen titles, by leaving behind the 360 version of future updates). Others had to downgrade its graphics fidelity (Watch_Dogs) and even cutting out features (the critically acclaimed Nemesis system of Shadows of Mordor had to be cut for last gen).

Full on current-gen AAA games were limited to first-party offerings at launch. Full proper AAAs started coming out only by 2015. 2014 was filled with many remakes, ports of last-gen games, and, of course, indies.

How so? There were speculations of a new console generation not be selling huge at the time. This has likely made big-name publishers to be wary to push on for developing new titles for the consoles. But surprise, surprise, both are selling well, with Sony getting the upper hand with 35.9 million sold. (link is in Malay)

It’s why we don’t see many AAA titles appearing out of the gate. Those that did made the gamble, like Ubisoft, suffered terribly as they overexpected the specs of the new consoles. The PS4 and Xbox One are in parity of most mid-range PCs instead of having flagship level components. It’s why trailers of games announce earlier than the launch of both consoles looked to good to be true. It was. And it’s not Ubisoft alone, CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher III did suffer the same fate, albeit still able to look spectacular in a different way, not to mention good game design.

Since there isn’t enough AAAs to go around, and plenty of new PS4 users every day, thus more potential buyers willing to spend some cash, it all makes sense in a way .

It’s also justify the abundance of indies. Smaller teams working on smaller titles can ship faster, compared to the million dollar-budget games that takes a lot of man-power and time to produce. Indies have been thriving on PC with salesfront like Steam, and Sony wants a piece of that too.

But what about Microsoft? Well..

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The line-up of free games on the 360 and the Xbox One. 360 games offered can also be played on the One due to the recent backwards compatibility support.

Microsoft is Offering Better Free Games

While Sony is busy courting the indies, Microsoft focused to bring a different, better offering for subscribers of Xbox Live Gold (the equivalent of PS Plus on the Xbox). Indeed, Microsoft was the first to make online multiplayer gated by a subscription, which Sony follow suit, whereas Sony one-upped them by having monthly free games for active subscribers, where Microsoft is now playing catch-up.

And in my opinion, they have overtaken Sony on this.

Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold with Gold have consistently been giving out plenty of AAA titles for both the 360 and Xbox One. Take a look at this list. Plus, with the introduction of backwards compability of 360 games on the One, they are offering 360 games playable on the One as well, which is a strong deal. Note that not everyone have all platforms at the same time.

Plus, Microsoft managed to get some strong AAA titles on the One for free, most evidently Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag. The PS4 lineup is still mostly indies, which makes Microsoft to be the better deal. Do note that Microsoft also have a list of interest indie titles up for free, like Massive Chalice and Hand of Fate. That said, their AAA offering seems to be much stronger.

This is really needed for them to keep up with the massive popularity of the PS4. But for some reason they have yet to open official channels on the Asian market. You can buy Xbox One and its games here, but all are imported from US or Europe, no customer service support and no localised content and market for us over here. This is a barrier to those unhappy with the PS Plus deals here and wanted to jump ship but simply cannot.

So there are many frustrated with Sony not offering good games that they wanted. But maybe if we look it at the other way, maybe we can be more reasonable with wanting better games..

It’s Not Really ‘Free’

Remember, the free games offered are only for ACTIVE subscribers of PS Plus. Those games aren’t for us to own and play whenever we want, it’s there as long as we keep paying for the subscription. If you buy a physical copy, for instance, there’s always the chance to sell it back. We have a strong community of reselling used games now and then, and it is a cheaper way to enjoy games.

Compared to the cost of paying RM120 a year for random selection of games you might not enjoy is a gamble, when you can buy about the same amount of a specific game you want, and sell it back once done, and see which is a better deal if you’re seriously looking for a game to play.

So if it’s not for the games? Why bother subscribing PS Plus at all?

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Looking It In Another Way

Sony tried to give online multiplayer for free. But they are not able to keep up with the demands. Plus, their networking services were not at snuff either, evident on the massive hacking that occured in 2012. Moving forward, Sony decided to go like on the Xbox, and charge fees for using their networking services by gating online multiplayer for a fee. No free multiplayer on the PS4.

Before this, PS Plus is aptly name. A Plus, an optional feature. Other than the ‘free’ games, the cloud save and other features exclusive to Plus subscribers are not exactly something normal joe players would really want. But now there is one: online multiplayer.

So look at it this way, subscribe for PS Plus if you really want to commit to playing online multiplayer for a decent length of time, a month, three months, or even a year. Treat those free games as some goodies being thrown away for your commitment to continue subscribing, rather than something world-changing that entices you to keep on paying. With low expectations comes in less disappointment, I always say.

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Summary & The Future of PS Plus

However, despite all this, I am not calling out on those that moan and complain about the free games lineup. It is a reasonable thing to convey what you like and dislike, since, presumably, those complaining are unsatisfied with what they are paying.

And it looks like it is paying off. February’s lineup is super strong in my view. PS3 has GRID Autosport and Persona 4 Ultimax! PS4 has Helldivers! (which I highly recommend as a great couch multiplayer game)

But instead, if you ever wonder why that there are too many indies, now you know. There aren’t many AAAs on hand to begin with, and Microsoft can offer a better deal with more AAAs, which makes the offering relatively worse. At least let the complaints arrive from an informed mind, rather than from raw emotions.

I for one am looking forward on how the line-up will continue to be in the future. It’s going to be fun to write reviews of any that tickles my fancy.

 [This article originally appeared on the author’s personal site, meckronos.wordpress.com]