When the PS4 was announced, one of the big questions surrounded the issue of PlayStation Plus and exactly how Sony might incorporate their wildly successful and outstandingly awesome subscription service into their plans for next-gen. So too, we wondered, how Sony might balance the pledges made to gamers and developers alike back in that February reveal. It seems the two go hand in hand.
The Xbox 360 was my console of choice for most of the last generation, and that was mainly due to timing more than anything else. When I bought in, it was cheaper than its competitor, it offered a wider variety of games, and the online service was exceptional. I never thought twice about paying the Xbox LIVE Gold subscription because, frankly, at £3 a month it was more than worth it for a reliable service (for me anyway) with which, to this day, I have had very little to complain about. Perhaps it is because of that, because paying an annual subscription fee to be able to play seamlessly online seemed to make sense, that PlayStation Plus seems like such a treat.
That Sony made the subscription fee essential for online play with the arrival of the PS4 doesn't bother me in the slightest. I get it. What's been impressive is that, thus far, there's no indication of them resting on their laurels. In this difficult period post-launch, Sony has consolidated two of its key weapons to keep that blue light on the PS4 on, to keep players playing, to boost the profile of developers and games perhaps adrift in an increasingly dense sea of PC releases, and to make good on their promises.
You only have to look at the buzz that surrounded the fresh affirmation of PC horror spectacular Outlast for the service, and its addition to the free Instant Game Collection for February to see how important PlayStation Plus is, and to witness the effects of Sony's efforts to forge indie connections over the past couple of years. But wait, the PC master race might splutter, why is this a big deal, it's already out on PC? If you're still asking that question, slap yourself in the face and look around you. Different worlds.
A fresh release on a new platform is always big news. Though it made a splash on PC, largely thanks to popular YouTubers and their predilections for capturing horror gameplay footage, Outlast (and this month's Don't Starve for that matter) was another game in a sea of creepy Steam releases, Greenlight screamfests, and moody early access titles. On the PS4, Outlast has an opportunity for a new lease of life, a new audience, and a chance to become the game of the moment.
And it'll be free. Sort of. That perception, shared by many, is actually largely thanks to Microsoft. To look at the multiplayer subscription on PS4 as Sony's eventual capitulation to the same market forces -- the need for income to support server infrastructure and online health and stability -- that had MS charge for XBL Gold last generation, PlayStation Plus then seems like a reward for paying things forward, particularly when you factor Contrast and Resogun and Don't Starve and Warframe and Blacklight into the equation.
We saw this happen with the Vita last year, as a combination of indie talent coaxed across by Shahid Ahmad's team, cross-buy promotions galore, and generous IGC offerings rewarded investors with a steady stream of quality content -- both large and small -- for paltry sums of money. All of the indie hobnobbing Sony revealed last year that they'd been doing had been going on for longer than their presentations made out -- tried and tested on their powerful, underloved (though not by those who bought one) handheld.
And then you look at the value proposition that PlayStation Plus has made of the PS3. With a relatively new model, a price that is cheaper than ever before, and a pantheon of exclusives at the denouement of a generation that far outshines Microsoft's in the end, one could already make the argument that there's never been a better time to buy into the PlayStation 3. But then you take the track record of PlayStation Plus on that platform into consideration, you look at the addition of BioShock Infinite and Metro: Last Light to the roster, and you delight in the fact that for £35-40 a year, you might never need to buy a game again for the foreseeable future.
Back to the new generation, though, and Sony have done well to manage the traditionally wobbly period that can arise immediately following launch by doing just that. The vacuum that can appear as launch hype wavers and players begin shuffling their feet in the wait for The Next Big Thing can be disastrous. Just ask the Wii U. But with a steady feed of smaller titles, free for PS Plus subscribers, and healthy online playerbases growing up around the likes of Blacklight and Killzone, I've had little reason to turn the machine off save for some precious few winks of sleep.
It's working for the developers as well. Don't Starve's appearance on the PlayStation Store has led to reams of Twitch feeds, fresh Let's Play videos (Brendan produced a little playthrough look earlier this week in fact), and opening up Klei's game to a new audience hungry for content, many of whom might never have played the game had it not come to PS4. And for those of us who are able to enjoy games across multiple platforms, it gives us more choice, which is always good, and often results in experiences even better than before. Hotline Miami and Thomas Was Alone were games I found I enjoyed much more on the Vita rather than the PC for whatever reason. That won't always work, of course, and I'm interested to see for myself which platform I'll settle on for PlanetSide 2 when it eventually emerges for PS4, but more choice is always welcome.
There were sceptics last year, myself among them, who wondered just how much of an impact Sony's lengthy words around indie gaming would have. The truth is that we're already seeing the results, and with the likes of Transistor and Octodad on the horizon, things are only going to get better. But it's how Sony continues to combine the fruits of its partnerships with PS Plus that will remain its greatest weapon, particularly for the PS4 and the new generation, and Microsoft would do well to take note. Blockbusters are likely to be few and far between until we reach the Christmas crunch this year, and Sony look best positioned to be filling in the gaps. The bottom line for now, though, is that I keep switching my PS4 on, and it's thanks to PlayStation Plus and the first flowerings of Sony's indie initiative on their new platform.Well, that and my campaign to get a 6'9 version of me into the NBA Hall of Fame.