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Flipping through the titles in the Playstation Store, I couldn’t help notice some downloadable games with the word “FREE” written beneath them. Each of these titles had a tiny gold plus symbol hovering just above their right sides. I realized that these offers were only for Playstation Plus subscribers and found myself oddly drawn to useless content I had never wanted or cared about before. For fifty dollars I could secure a twelve month subscription. As an added incentive for early adopters, an additional three months would be tacked on for taking the plunge from the outset of the service. During a weak moment of greed and acute heat exhaustion, I had become a Playstation Plus member.
Arguably the best feature of the service was the highly touted sixty-minute free trial on new PS3 releases. Imagine my shock when the only game available with this feature was InFamous—a game I had already purchased and beaten several times over a year ago. In order to redeem the free trial, you have to download the game in its entirety. This means downloads of several gigabytes, which last hours if you are stuck with DSL like some people. If you decide to purchase the full game you then have to download the full game once again! This is needed to unlock any trophies you may have earned during your free hour. This also means several more hours of waiting. The potential of a try-before-you-buy downloadable system for games is still very intriguing. When Sony allows Plus members to access the latest games for free the appeal grows exponentially, especially when you figure one sixty-minute trial could prevent you from spending sixty dollars on a bad game. In that scenario the service has theoretically paid for itself. It is also a feature that Microsoft has never offered with their LIVE Gold service.
Speaking of LIVE Gold, people will now make open comparisons between both services. Microsoft has an advantage with a sophisticated, online gaming architecture that allows all players to easily communicate and interact with one another. Plus doesn’t pave the way for a massive online gaming network improvement. Instead, it acts as a buffet for new PS3 owners offering free samples and discounts on a variety of content. Some avatars, like the MAG factions and sackboy are now free. They were originally fifty cents which makes you wonder why Sony even bothered to charge money for these static images in the first place. As an exclusive only for Plus subscribers, avatars of both the pink and blue fat princess are available. I accidentally downloaded the blue princess by mistake three times because I failed to find her sitting in the avatar selection screen. Naturally I thought the service was acting up; never considering that I was doing something wrong. Eventually I downloaded the pink fat princess because it was free and I didn’t want the blue fat princess to be lonely.
Some games and add-ons like Super Stardust HD and the Resistance 2: Aftermath multiplayer map packs are available for half-price. I originally thought that all add-on content would retroactively become half- price. This was not the case, but Sony could lower prices for select content in the future similar to the way Steam on the PC and Mac offer crazy discounts for a limited time. Strangely, the Fat Princess: Fat Rol expansion content was only twenty percent off which would suggest that half- price may not always be the norm.You can also download free episodes of Sony’s Qore digital magazine for free. Qore has been available for a little over two years and I had never watched it before getting Plus, mainly because Sony charged three dollars per issue of what is really just an extended advertisement of Sony products. After watching episode 26 however, I found Qore to be a competent, informative source for PS3 games I’m interested in playing and I’m looking forward to seeing more episodes—as long as I’m not paying three dollars a pop.
Plus also shed some light on Minis, tiny fun-sized morsels of independent gaming that are quick to download and offer a reasonable amount of enjoyment. Plus members are granted free copies of Fieldrunners and Age of Zombies. I downloaded Zombies and when I started it for the first time the game froze before the title screen appeared. Horrified, I quickly reset my system and was able to play without any further issues. Yes the game was short, but it was also amusing if not a bit tedious. I could see myself transferring Zombies onto my PSP and playing it on the go. I probably would have never considered playing a Minis game if it wasn’t for free and now I might pay money for future releases. In addition to the Free Minis, Plus members get free copies of Wipeout HD and PS1 classic Rally Cross. Not being a huge fan of racing games, I passed on downloading them for now. I did notice a strange message when I downloaded Zombies. It stated that any free games I acquired while being a Plus member were mine for the duration I was an active Plus subscriber meaning that any free games I had would disappear if I ever decided not to continue my subscription. This haunting message made me rethink my downloads. I felt a bit cheated at first, but after thinking about the situation, I would be a member for fifteen months. Who plays the same game for fifteen months other than World of Warcraft players? I most likely would have deleted these games from my hard drive a few weeks later myself well before Sony had a chance to snatch them away from me.
Overall, my Playstation Plus experience was underwhelming to say the least. It opened my eyes to Qore and Minis, but the real success of Plus will come when new releases become available for the hour free trial. This is a key feature that makes Plus much different than Microsoft LIVE Gold and may even elevate the service making it more practical. In the mean time, I just paid fifty dollars (plus tax) for two avatars and a Minis game so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll find something cool within the next fifteen months.