The Real Problem With PS Plus… Is Expectation.

Sony PS4 Controller

Sony isn’t getting much love with the PS Plus price hike. But it has no-one to blame but itself.


I understand the rational logic.

Over time, costs increase. The PS Network today is a very different and much more complex beast than the one we knew back in April of 2011, when the network went down for over four weeks following an intrusion – or hack – that lifted millions of consumer details, reportedly even credit card information. Sony had to change the network; radical improvements in infrastructure and security cannot have been cheap. Stacking the PS4 on top of the same network infrastructure cannot have helped; as we know, with PSN Is Down a running joke in some circles and instances of some games seeing their online capabilities disappear for days, weeks and in some instances – like Resident Evil: Revelations 2, months at a time. Despite all the money Sony makes from PS Plus subscriptions, the overall income of the PlayStation division has been low – overheads are high, and the need to have top-notch developers and security staff working on the system must be a huge expense. More than five years on from the PSN Takedown, it’s a surprise to me that it has taken this long for an increase in the basic PS Plus subscription fee. The costs have been stagnant for so long that I’d wager that the PS Network as a whole has been cutting deeply into the profit margins of the PlayStation 4.

Of course, the rational side gives way to a selfish side for many.

Look, can we cut to the chase here? There’s a reason why earlier this year we started hearing that customer satisfaction with PS Plus is down; and that isn’t because the network has a tendency to go AWOL. It’s not that the PS Store design has been the same for a decade and was terrible when it was launched, let alone today with much better examples from its rivals. It’s nothing to do with the disastrous launch of PS Now!, a streaming service which on launch practically face-planted the pavement from a great height. Nor that PS Vue, it’s television service, still has significant problems. All of these would be valid reasons to be frustrated or even angry at PS Plus. Terrible additional fees for half-arsed services, a network that you pay for that still doesn’t match up to its rivals, terrible design work… good reasons, but no. It’s not why so many are angry at PS Plus.

It’s that the free games Sony has been offering on PS Plus, via the PS4, haven’t been very strong.

At the beginning, it was understandable that Sony would pitch a few indie games. The PS4 was new, fresh and giving away brand-spanking new games like Killzone: Shadow Fall and Kna… no, I can’t do that with a straight face, I’m sorry. Haha haw-haw hee hee sigh… ahem. My apologies. My point is that Sony needed these games to perform at retail; giving them away was not an option, and so some cheaper fare from the indie space was an acceptable compromise at the time. But this is not December 2013. This is August 2016, and we’re almost three years on from the launch of the PlayStation 4, and the PS Plus service is still offering up indie fare – and sadly, not all of it solid.

Don’t get me wrong – there have been solid indie offerings through the PS4’s Plus service. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Rogue Legacy, Spelunky, Apotheon, even last month’s Furi – all really good games, even though a few of them were brand new on their offering on the PS4’s service, meaning Sony was paying the indie developers directly for each download (I can’t say if the developers get a good deal or not… but I’d suggest it may impact sales on other platforms in some cases). But compare this to the list of PS3 games – Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Demon’s Souls. Okami HD. Dead Space 2 (and 3). Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Saints Row the Third. Tomb Raider. Dragon’s Dogma, BioShock 2, Far Cry 3, Assassin’s Creed 3, Battlefield 3, Uncharted 3, Mass Effect 3… the list goes on and on. The PS3’s library of free games on PS Plus is a role-call of some of the biggest and brightest big-budget fare the PlayStation 3 had to offer; they were never brand new or fresh, but the distance from their newness was enough that it reinvigorated interest and in some cases, like Demon’s Souls, reignited interest and made the online multiplayer stronger and more nuanced than before.

Compare this to the PS4’s list of PS Plus games and it’s clear that PS4 owners have reason to feel short-changed. Sure, they’ve had a couple of big releases – Grim Fandango: Remastered (because after Tim Schafer opened his gaping maw at GDC 2015, many of us simply refused to buy it at retail. Great work there, Tim!) and The Walking Dead: Season 2 are great, but when you’re plucking two traditionally commercial releases out of a list of now 30 months worth of free games, the question does have to be asked – if the PS4 has Sony’s current market attention, why oh why oh why on D’endrrah’s sweet, supple chest dimples isn’t it getting anything like what the old console is getting.

I currently have two theories, and neither of them speak well of the PS4.

The first is with dwindling PS4 software sales, Sony can’t afford to give away these games on a commercial standpoint. Currently, Sony’s exhaustive list of million-selling PS4 exclusives is… six. Compare this to the ailing Wii U, which to date has fourteen, and you begin to see an issue – particularly that despite its low hardware sell-through, Nintendo’s biggest-selling exclusive has sold more than three times the PS4’s biggest-selling exclusive. Sony would always have to start with its own games before third parties chip in with their older big-budget games, and right now, Sony cannot afford to put its own titles on the PS Plus service except to bolster sales figures in a slightly dishonest fashion – let alone the additional costs involved putting up games which aren’t selling very well on the PS4.

The second is perhaps harsher – that being, that there’s little on the PS4 that’s worth giving away. Despite its market dominance, the PS4’s software library is deeply marred with a range of over-hyped, under-delivered big-budget nonsense, games that either didn’t live up to the promises made or games which were fundamentally broken on their release. That the Wii U still maintains a score average above that of its rivals speaks volumes about the current state of the PlayStation 4, and perhaps offers an additional insight into the dwindling satisfaction in Sony’s product – that this generation, there’s been nothing remotely close to the stream of solid game releases we got during the last generation.

And yet, consumers have been patiently awaiting some kind of miracle from the dark depths of Cthulu’s underpants drawer. They’ve waited for the day that Sony would start offering some of those early, big-budget releases, to start to build up a stronger library on the PS4’s Plus side. And now, with the PS Neo close to its reveal next month and a whole new batch of consoles coming during the next year and a bit, it may be perhaps dawning on some that this miracle… isn’t likely to happen, and even if it does, it’s kind of late to the party. When you have a new console on the horizon, you’ve really left it desperately late to reignite consumer confidence.

We’ve simply expected more from Sony – and whatever reason it has for not giving the PS4 stronger, big-budget fare as the norm (even though it continues to do so on the PS3 – go figure, eh?), it’s simply not washing with some people. They bought a console on promises of 1080p, 60 frames a second gaming – and the hardware was found wanting for the most part. They wanted a string of top-notch games, and got a sea of beige – an endless ocean of average. And Sony hasn’t even been able to offer much of note through the PS Plus on PS4 – and now it wants to put that price up?

And let’s circle back. Yes, I know. Yes, I get that costs have risen on Sony’s end. I understand that, and fully appreciate that it cannot cover those costs on hardware and software sales alone. But the Internet in recent years has proven the average consumer is quite selfish – selfish enough to insult and belittle good developers to the point of getting to death threats. Consumers have been riding the Sony Hype Train for almost three years, and now it’s time to get off… the sensation may be creeping in that the ride wasn’t really as good as it was in the dying embers of the PS3’s lifespan.

People expected better. And frankly, after the Herculean effort put into recovering the PS3’s dignity, I think Sony has no-one to blame but themselves. And yes, people could still use their PS3’s… except, they won’t, will they? Nor can they play these games on the PS4, as PS3 stuff is gated behind the £12.99 a month PS Now! service. Sony has had every opportunity, even as far as seeing its competition fall over its shoelaces as they darted out of the generational 4-year hurdles.

And this close to a new console cycle (after a ‘non-generation’ as people are calling it now), Sony really should be worried about that. It needs us to want to stay with the PlayStation brand, but the early days of the PS3 showed us that brand loyalty isn’t always enough. If Microsoft and Nintendo come out of the gates with solid consoles and good deals… Sony could find itself back in the position it found itself in last generation. Chasing the market.

But maybe that’s for the best. After all… look at how the PS3 ended up. If Sony falling over gets us back to that… will someone please tie its shoelaces together?

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