With the Xbox One and PS4 headed straight into release this coming holiday, and both requiring a subscription-service for online multiplayer gaming, this console launch may rest entirely (or at least substantially) on what Sony and Microsoft are both willing to offer in their respective online premium services: Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus.
Since the infamous “Xbox 180″ this past summer, where Microsoft completely reversed its original plans for the Xbox One on the terms of DRM and its always-online policies, both consoles are now essentially on an even playing field. From the get-go, Sony has promised no limitations on playing games both online and offline with the PS4, allowing the use of used games while not imposing any restrictions on purchased games or in publishing games freely on the console. After the negative backlash Microsoft received with the Xbox One’s reveal in May 2013, the company followed suit by since lifting the Xbox One’s “always on” functionality, where the console needed a constant Internet check-in every 24 hours, and essentially making the Xbox One perform just like an Xbox 360 – used games will work on the console normally, and the console will play games and operate normally after a one-time Internet connection set-up needed for start-up. In addition, while Sony had originally planned for indie self-publishing on PS4 right from the start, Microsoft also responded to outcry by indie developers and communities by providing that indie game studios will also have the ability to create and self-publish their games on Xbox One, and changing the often-criticized submission and approval process that Microsoft has had previously on Xbox 360.
While the Xbox One has now lifted its limits and more-or-less put it on the same level as the PS4, the differences between Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus will truly be where both companies have the potential to shine and make their services unique and in the interest of their competing markets. While Microsoft has had Xbox Live as a requirement from the beginning with the original Xbox, Sony’s jump to making PlayStation Plus required for online play is going to be an interesting one as they head into launching the PS4. So, what exactly are Microsoft and Sony going to be offering on Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus for adopters of their new consoles?
We’re here to help break it all down for you.
First: Microsoft and Xbox One.
Since the launch of the original Xbox back in 2001 (the ORIGINAL Xbox One, if you will!), Microsoft created Xbox Live as the ultimate premium gaming service for online multiplayer, with its subscription fees going into maintaining high-quality servers for fast, seamless multiplayer and social features.
Since those days, Xbox Live has expanded immensely, and Microsoft’s strategy of making its Xbox One “the all-in-one” console is only solidified by this with its suite of services and features beyond just gaming, such as streaming through Netflix, Hulu+, HBO Go, ESPN, and tons of other multimedia content. As a gaming console and “all-in-one” media center, Xbox Live is stacked with extra features for those looking for more than just games, ensuring that even if you don’t have a ton of games on launch day with your new Xbox One, you’ll at least be able to access lots of other content to keep you busy.
Currently, Xbox Live Gold service retails for $60/year and comes in two flavors: Xbox Live Free (previously known as “Silver”) and Xbox Live Gold. Breaking down the two editions, Xbox Live Free provides the base-line service access for those with a console right out of the box, allowing for players to keep a friends list, access the Xbox Live Marketplace to download games and content (soon to be called the Xbox Games Store), send and receive text/voice messages, and share achievements. However, online multiplayer and access to apps like Netflix or Hulu+ is locked – only Xbox Live Gold service enables these apps to be used, even with many of them already having their own monthly subscription fees. With Xbox Live Gold service, the suite of apps opens up on Xbox One, offering online multiplayer for all games (MMO games will still need their own service fees, if applicable), and app availability also opens up for Netflix or any other service previously locked to Xbox Live Free users.
Since its original announcement in May with the Xbox One, Microsoft has also taken a play from Sony’s PlayStation Plus service by offering the “Games with Gold” program, announced in June at E3 2013, where they will be offering two free games per month until the end of 2013. With games previously offered such as Fable III, Assassin’s Creed II, Crackdown, and Dead Rising 2, Games with Gold provides free downloads every two weeks of back catalog titles for Xbox 360 until 2014, but also allows users to keep the games forever – even if they no longer opt for Xbox Live Gold service, the games will remain on the console. Likewise, each week the Marketplace has a selection of sales and specials on games and DLC, or price drops on its many Xbox Live Arcade titles or Games on Demand, with many of them themed by genre, developer sales, or etc.
Overall, the difference between Xbox Live Free and Xbox Live Gold service is certainly substantial, and as such Xbox Live Gold service will pretty much become a standard requirement if you’re looking to get the most of your Xbox One at launch and opening the console up to the full range of features that Microsoft has on offer.
Next up: Sony and PlayStation Plus.
While Microsoft was offering Xbox Live for well over ten years, Sony’s PlayStation Plus is a much more recent addition to the premium service space, having been announced and launched back in 2010 for the PS3 (and later extending onto the PS Vita when it released in 2012).
As more of an extension of PSN than the radical features listed between Xbox Live’s Free and Gold services, PlayStation Plus has since come into its own as a unique, and quite beneficial, addition to Sony’s line of consoles that provides a pretty great deal at a low price. While most of the PS3 and PS Vita’s services and apps are available for free right from the get-go and not locked behind a pay-wall like Microsoft’s Xbox Live flavors, the incentives for PS3 or Vita users to invest in PS+ are still very rewarding, and especially for those purchasing a new PS4, may prove incredibly beneficial in the long run.
While Sony is now making PlayStation Plus a requirement ($50/year) for online multiplayer for its games like Xbox Live Gold, making both services stand on equal ground, PlayStation Plus’s “Instant Game Collection” offerings, its expansive discounts, and its selection of early access downloads and other services (such as cloud save storage) make PlayStation Plus an incredibly detailed offer for new console owners with some added benefits that Xbox Live may lack.
With PlayStation Plus service, Sony offers its valuable “Instant Game Collection,” where every month users can download games from a rotating selection of both new and old titles that change, usually offering around a dozen games for both PS3 and PlayStation Vita (and soon, the PS4). From fan favorites like Gravity Rush or inFamous 2, to more recent titles like Assassin’s Creed III or Borderlands 2, PS+ offers a monthly opportunity for gamers to check out both old classics and new additions for the price of close to one retail game for a year, while also allowing players to add the games to their queue for later download even if they don’t plan to play it during the month a game is being offered. While PS4 will definitely come loaded with launch games at its release, PS+ is set to be a wise investment for those looking to expand their game collection, whether to catch up on old titles, check out new releases, or even just to find something to play for the lulls in between new game releases.
In addition to the value of Instant Game Collection, which already pays for itself just in the free game downloads alone, PS+ Plus also offers numerous discounts and savings on a selection of titles, both on downloadable PSN games or newly-released retail games. With PS+, users can get exclusive savings not available to free PSN users on a fairly expansive range of titles, including many of PSN’s gems like Journey or acclaimed titles like The Walking Dead.
After breaking it all down, both PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold have their strengths and weaknesses, whether it be in the suite of services or features offered or the benefits exclusive to each platform. While both will now be required for those looking to get into online games for their PS4 or Xbox One, both premium services have their differences – while Xbox Live Gold provides a more discernible change from Free to Gold users by offering online access and a generally more stable multiplayer service, the deep discounts and collections of free games offered monthly by PS+ (and selection of apps like Netflix that aren’t locked behind a pay wall like XBL Gold) might be more in favor of those looking to expand their game collections.
And, for those looking for the “TL;DR” version, we have a handy info-graphic to break down some of the features to expect for Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus on Xbox One and PS4: