Gold Vs Plus: How Sony Is Making A Mockery Of Xbox Live

You can pick your preference between PlayStation and Xbox. You can argue that Halo is better than KillZone or that Uncharted tops Gears of War. But it is becoming increasingly hard to argue that the Xbox 360's online subscription service is superior to the PlayStation 3's. This is what competition does, and, today, the long-running $80-a-year Xbox Live Gold just doesn't seem to offer as much value as the newer, upstart PlayStation Plus.

Let's break this down.

Xbox Live Gold costs about $6.66 a month in Australia for the individual plan. The paid plan gives Xbox 360 gamers an extra suite of features atop basic gamer-to-gamer text-messaging, cross-game-chat and access to an online marketplace, all of which are free as part of Xbox Live Silver.

Gold members in the US also get the following features:

Xbox Live Gold Features

  • Multiplayer Gaming
  • Early Access to Some Demos
  • Beta Access
  • Hulu Plus*
  • Netflix*
  • Amazon Instant Video*
  • Party Chat
  • Video Kinect
  • Zune Music Streaming
  • Halo Waypoint
  • Avatar Kinect
  • Internet Explorer
  • Cloud Storage
  • Facebook
  • Skype
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • HBO Go*
  • ESPN*
  • Forthcoming: Free-to-Play Gaming

Those are the major perks and features available in the US. The ones marked with an asterisk are not available outside of the US, but each region has its own entertainment services. For instance, Australia has access to Foxtel, nineMSN and SBS on Demand. (Wikipedia has a good chart for this; Microsoft offers their own less-detailed chart.) Some of the services require their own paid memberships. And some, such as YouTube and Twitter, are free on just about any device other than an Xbox 360.

Originally, Xbox Live Gold's main advertised feature was access to multiplayer gaming. With the launch of the PlayStation 3, Sony countered that by refusing to charge for online gaming. Sony's PlayStation Network was initially free to anyone who bought the console. There was no paid service, no PSN Gold. The PS3 couldn't do cross-game chat. That was the biggest knock. But it also didn't charge gamers.

To this day, Xbox 360 owners pay for things on their console that PlayStation owners don't. Let's strike through all of the services on Gold that PlayStation 3 owners in the US get at no extra charge from Sony.

Xbox Live Gold minus Free PSN Features

  • Multiplayer Gaming
  • Early Access to Some Demos
  • Beta Access
  • Hulu Plus
  • Netflix
  • Amazon Instant Video
  • Party Chat
  • Video Kinect
  • Zune Music Store Access
  • Halo Waypoint
  • Avatar Kinect
  • Internet Explorer
  • Cloud Storage
  • Facebook
  • Skype
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • HBO Go
  • ESPN
  • Forthcoming: Free-to-Play Gaming

There's one cheat there. Sony owners don't actually get Internet Explorer, but they can browse the web for free. It also offers free-to-play games in its free PlayStation Home avatar hangout/whatever-it-is as well as with games such as Free Realms and DC Universe Online.

Several of Gold's features aren't available on PlayStation. There's no Halo Waypoint access, no ESPN, no HBO Go. But Netflix is there, Hulu Plus is there, still requiring outside subscriptions but no added payment to Sony.

This is how it's been for a while, but in 2010 Sony introduced PlayStation Plus and started giving its customers the chance to pay for more services. Players got discounts in the PSN store and beta access, but nothing amazing. Then, this past June, Sony added one more key perk, the perk that makes a mockery out of Xbox Live Gold: free games.

Here's what PlayStation 3 owners in the US get for Plus:

PlayStation Plus Features

  • Instant Game Collection (Free Games)
  • Game Discounts (40-50% off, often)
  • Early Access to Some Demos
  • Beta Access
  • Cloud Storage
  • Automatic Patching/Firmware-Updates
  • 1-Hour Free Access to Full Games

Note the length of that list. It's short. (The list is a bit different in Australia.) Microsoft's Gold list is longer. But Sony's has a bullet point that's hard for Xbox Live to top, the Instant Game Collection. That's a bundle of games that a Plus subscriber can download and that remain accessible for as long as the subscriber's account lasts. In the few months the service has been live, Sony has removed some games from the offer and added new ones. The removed games are still available to legacy subscribers; they're just not available for free to new ones. For this to be a good deal, the games better be good, right?

Here's what you'd have in your Instant Game Collection through early September, if you were a Plus subscriber since the free game offers started in June (games no longer offered to new subscribers have an asterisk):

Free Games Available Through PlayStation Plus

  • The Walking Dead Episodes 1 & 2
  • Bloodrayne Betrayal
  • Outland
  • Infamous 2
  • Little Big Planet 2
  • Ratchet & Clank All 4 One
  • Space Marine
  • Saints Row 2
  • Renegade Ops
  • Pac-Man Championship Edition DX
  • Choplifter
  • Sideway
  • Just Cause 2*
  • Lara Croft & The Guardian of Light*
  • Gotham City Impostors*
  • Hard Corps Uprising*
  • Zombie Apocalypse*
  • Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown*
  • (Borderlands will be added in September)

Pretty good list, no? Well, some people don't like it: specifically, US Plus subscribers have started complaining that Europe gets an even better batch, which includes Dead Space 2 and will soon include Red Dead Redemption. The grass is indeed always greener somewhere else.

Xbox Live is much more widely discussed than PlayStation Network. Microsoft has been noisier about their online service. They've been more aggressive, standardising online console multiplayer gaming, striking first with Netflix streaming and just boasting more about its pay service. The company reports that it has 40 million Xbox Live subscribers, though it won't say how many are paying Gold members (one Microsoft estimate from two years ago put it at about half that count). Competition, however, causes the other party to do amazing things and that appears to be what's happening with PlayStation Plus, a service which -- surprise -- Sony doesn't share subscriber stats for either.

It's a safe bet that Sony has fewer Plus people than Microsoft has Golds. It's also a safe bet that Sony reacts awfully well to competition, as they've been showing throughout the summer.

Our colleagues at Gizmodo recently argued that Xbox Live Gold should be free. (Microsoft might counter that their services cost money to maintain; we might counter that that's why they're running ads on Xbox Live.) Let's pile on a new argument: Gold should be as impressive as PlayStation Plus. For consumers, it sure looks like Sony is offering the better deal.


    Sure - PS+ looks better on paper. But the usability, reliability and overall experience is far superior on Xbox Live in practise.

      I can't even chat to my friends on PS3. Let that sink in.

      If my friends are not in the same game (and match/server) as me I cannot chat to all. What sick joke is that? Meanwhile the Xbox 360 has party chat (as part of Gold) and private chat as a (silver) free feature. Chat/voice communication is the basis of any online service and Sony royally screwed that up resulting in a service that feels dead when you're online.

      That is a HUGE deal. HUGE.

      Playstation Plus is great value, it's awesome actually. But I will pay $80 a year to chat to my friends and have a better online experience. The price of Xbox Live also tends to keep the children away from online gaming on Xbox Live, on PSN they seem to be rampant due to it being free.

      There's alot less downtime on Xbox Live, Microsoft know what they are doing when it comes to security (unlike Sony), and there isn't a 1-hour-to-download update everytime i boot a game on Xbox 360 like there is on PS3. Microsoft limits game updates to 16mb on Xbox Live whilst Sony is happy to let updates through at file-sizes over 3GB (which is insane and really off-putting).

        That's a restriction of the PS3 hardware which Sony cannot get around - not enough RAM for cross-talk chat. And it is not a HUGE deal at all when you can easily get around it either by using voice chat within games or simply using Skype.

        At the end of the day, Microsoft must see you see you as the perfect fool with deep pocketsfor you to let them convince you that the ability to cross-game chat is somehow worth the ridiculous $80 subscription fee. I would take free to play co-op over paid cross-game chat any day of the week.

          $45 sub fee - if you're paying $80 you are a mug - sells them for about $45-50 depending on when you get it.

          I pay for it because I want to play online, my brothers (in another city) both have 360s and $45 for a year is chump change all things considered.

          HOWEVER I am frakking jealous of Playstation owners with their free games - that's a trump card that (along with the paucity of specials on XBLA in recent times) will see people jump ship to the other team.

        Erm, you can chat your friends on Playstation 3.

        It's called a group call or group chat room available under the Friends section on the menu.

          I think you're missing the point. On Xbox you can do this mid game while your friends play other games. No need to swap to dashboard.

        you can't chat to your friends on PS3? oh no, games console isn't a chat service! if you want to chat to your friends, use Skype.

          Oh this reminds me - Microsoft have owned Skype for half a year now so where is the ability to Skype with my Kinect? This is a major omission given you can skype on just about anything else these days!

    I've had my 360 since the end of 2010 or so, and still haven't so much as connected my machine to the net. The cost of Live just hasn't seemed worth the price/effort for how little I play multiplayer/xbox gaming I do, so it's easier just to go without.

    "$6.66 a month" if that's not proof Microsoft is in league with the devil I don't know is.

    I've had PS+ for almost a year now. I had the free trial as part of the compensation after the PSN outage and liked it, then they had a sale on subscriptions a couple months later and I took the plunge. One of the best things I ever did - it was good to start with, but the increase in the number and quality of games you get since around E3 this year has made it great. It has paid for itself several times over. And that's before you take into account other benefits like discounts off some other games / DLC, cloud storage for game saves etc. I'll definitely be happy to renew my subscription when it comes up.

    I have had PSN+ for almost a year now and have yet to regret a single cent of it. I grabbed the 2 months for $2 Live Gold sub a while back and still somehow felt ripped off.

    I cant justify spending money for either. Too many games, not enough time.

    I ran out of HDD space due to all the free games on Plus - I love it... best $70 per year I've spend on the machine, and some of the free games were ones I wanted - like Dead Space 3 and Motorstorm Apocalypse - and the other free games are ones I was curious about... I like it, keep it coming I say

    Now, to get a bigger HDD...

      I just upgraded my PS3 HDD to deal with all of the free shit Sony keeps giving me.

    Point - Forthcoming: Free-to-Play Gaming
    Wait, you mean Microsoft is going to make me PAY for play FREE-TO-PLAY games? GENIUS!!

    Proud PSN + Subscriber...I love it...not only are the free games a plus, but the deals are also quite welcome.

    I've never been a fan of LIVE. Never understood the point of paying for Multiplayer that is offered for free elsewhere...even more of a kicker when you take the Online Pass into not only do you pay for a Gold Subscribtion to play online...but if you so happen to buy a used game that has the Online Pass system, then expect to pay another 10-15$ just to play Online...No Thank You...I can play online on my PC for free, what makes you think I want to pay for Multiplayer MS???.

      If you're buying a game used that requires an online pass make the people selling it either give you one, give you a points card or give you a discount of the price of the online pass. It's not like we're talking about a manual.

      As for the PSN+ vs XBOX Live Gold, I put them both on the same level as magazine subscriptions. PSN+ will probably end up making the core features of Gold free by the time the next generation hits, but I'm happy that Microsoft went and charged for it while the core concept of console based online multiplayer was still being born.
      A lot of people cry foul but at the end of the day by making XBOX Live a serious money maker during the early days of console online multiplayer Microsoft was given the motivation it needed to set an extremely high standard for online services (as well as dump trucks full of money to follow through with it). The quality of XBOX Live is top notch and the PSN was forced to match it.
      XBOX Live is now slowly being forced to match the PSN on the price front. Eventually this will result in a ridiculously high quality premium service as the minimum for a price that's barely noticeable. We may have got here eventually without XBOX Live Gold but I don't think any of the big three would have pursued it this aggressively.

    I don't have a PSN+ subscription, largely because I only have time for the games I REALLY want to play, so free games I can't choose doesn't appeal to me all that much. However, it is still a great deal for most people, and a way better deal than live. In fact, the subscription fees for live are why I'll probably be going PS4 next gen - I want the option to multiplay, but I don't want to pay for an option I'll likely only use a couple of times a year.

    Yup, another PS+ subscriber here. I jumped on as soon as it was available and haven't looked back since. My backlog might be a lot larger than it used to be, but I've played so many free games that I normally wouldn't have tried. The games they're offering in the "instant game collection" are quite amazing too! Borderlands, Red Dead Redemption, Deus Ex Human Revolution, Dead Space 2. I'm happy I stuck with it!

    PS+ might be good for NEW PS3 owners.. but for me who is someone who got one on launch day and has played all of the big releases and games I'm interested in - the "free" games on offer are 95% ones I've already played and own on disk.
    My PS+ sub ran out and I don't see myself ever re-subbing. Its just not worth it to long time PS3 owners I feel.

      I've had a PS3 since 2007 and I still think PS+ is worth every cent. While I've played some of the games that turn up free on it, there are others that slip past me and I then get to try later on e.g. Borderlands, Shift 2, etc. As well as the discounts off other content. And even in cases where a game comes up that I already have - I can grab the free one off plus then trade my disc copy towards the next retail game I buy.

        Fair enough.
        I would never trust a PS+ "free" copy over a disk version.... PS+ will shut down one day and games may be invalid... or you stop paying subscription but end up missing your physical copy of Borderlands. Its just a lot less reliable in the long run.... That and I prefer to have my collection physically so I can without any download/singing in/activation play a game on a new account.

          I hate this arguement for a few reasons

          1) after five years, do you really think you are going to miss your "free" copy of a game
          2) after one year, will you even play your "free" copy of the game - chances are you've long deleted it
          3) after a few years, the game is worth nothing anyway - so you can probably pick up a disc version for next to nothing

          Its not like Sony havent been transparent with Plus - it even says when yuo download one of the free titles that it will last as long as your subscription lasts, so I still dont get the massive reluctance.. a $70 yearly fee for a minimum of 12 free games vs one game you buy for $60-80

    I've had Plus since the day it came out. There hasn't been 1 game offered that I've actually played. I download them all just for the sake of it. But as for the full games, if i'm interested in it, i've already bought it on disc by the time it is offered.
    I signed up originally because of the offer of "extra features". saves in then cloud? meh. auto downloads? meh. give me something interesting FFS. My sub runs out in about 2 weeks. Can't see myself renewing this time round.
    I will say, it is infinitely better than what live offers though. even basic PSN is better. the only thing PSN is missing is a party system. and for the sake of free, most people can live with that.

    I can't say definitively which is better because I've never owned an Xbox or a 360 but I love my PSN+.

    I got the free 2 months last year and decided to just keep it going by paying for 12 months (plus an extra 3 months access free). I don't really go for the free games or the betas but when my old fat PS3 YLOD'd earlier this year the cloud saving service more than paid for the subscription 100 times over if you take into account the potential lost time (over 50 games with saves since 2007). Whatever the next-gen brings I think the cloud save service should be an essenital component of any online offering.

    Also I love the automatic firmware and software patching service. I set it to go at between 2am and 4am so it does these when I sleep, then in the morning I get a notification of what's been done. It's awesome.

    These 2 services almost justify the existence of PSN+ for me though I have taken advantage of the discounted games and one hour free trials.

    Paying for Xbox Live Gold is a bit annoying. Halo + Multiplayer = MS having me over a barrel, haha. I've never paid more than $50 for it but even at that the only thing I use it for is the multiplayer. I've never considered buying a PS3 before (not a 360 fan boy, just never felt I was missing anything) but PSN + make it look like good value for money.

    Other then needing to maintain your sub for PSN + is there any other limitation for the free games? It looks like it's worth it for that alone. Is there a catch? It hurts my head! I'm not use to companies providing value for money products. I'm sacred...

      Nope no other catch apart from having to keep your subscription current. As long as you're a subscriber and "purchase" these free games while they're available you can download and re-download them whenever you want. Even if you let your subscription expire for a while, if you resubscribe to it you will have all those free games you "purchased" available again.

    I'd have to agree, I've been subscribed to both XBL and PS+ for about 3 and 2 years respectively and while playing multilayer on XBL is really easy (what with the party system and what not) I feel as though it's a feature that should be free.

    Also, living in Australia our video streaming services and other web features are simply not as good as those in the US which is another reason that I feel a little left out at E3 time when Microsoft tries to resell XBL to us and we can't even take advantage of the "great new features".

    For those reasons when I realised that the PS+ services that are available to me far outweigh those XBL services that are available to me. Now I'm not even sure I'll be re-subbing to XBL next month when my sub is due.

    Some things that should be cleaned up...
    1 - Gold costs less if you buy it from someone other than Microsoft. It's closer to $5 a month
    2 - Gold also has Deal of the week and regular sales though GoD can not compete with what's now available through PSN+
    3 - MP gaming was initially crap on PSN - loads of disconnects and no QoS to speak of - but this may have all change in the last 2 years since I last tried PSN online.

    This gen I'm almost I use Gold almost exclusively for online play because of the QoS and ease of use (compared to PC). But the offerings in PSN+ are seriously good and I'd love to see Microsoft provide more to it's long running playerbase.

    Maybe they should add games to your account for each year you've had gold - that way they're rewarding people for keeping Gold.

    I've had XBL Gold since 2008 and never spent more than $55 for it, thanks to online sites offering cheaping 12 month subs. PS+ is $69.95rrp right?

    Also, I think people understand the potential in party chat. It has allowed me to keep contact with a lot of distant mates, there's more chat than gaming together some times!

    These are the sorts of factors that will determine if I get a PS4 or a 720.

    Ive paid for XBL for 4-5 years now and am totally happy with it. I pay no more than about $45 a year so the cost is really insignificant.

    Also, the ease at which party chat, cross game chat, messaging and all of the value add services of XBL online make it a much better deal to me. Seriously don't underestimate how great the party and cross game chat is. it makes such a big difference and makes the service feel much more intergrated from the ground up. PSN still feels like an isolated experience whereas XBL has a much more social feel... hard to describe but i'm sure others will get what I mean.

    Yeah PSN+ is a good deal, but PSN had to play and are still playing a massive game of catch up. Competition is great for consumers so I welcome this agresive approach.

    I will always clarify that this is my opionion and I'm a self confessed XBL fanboy so don't bother calling that out, but I've never really had an issue with paying for gold. It is a great service well worth less than $50 a year.

    Don't pay full price for Live. Get on EBay or check online stores. Never paid more than 50 bucks for live. Payed as little as 30 bucks if you watch out for sales. Currently dungeon crawl has 12 month subscriptions for $44.90 (3.75 a month).

    Have all 3 consoles and have never bothered with PSN, free games are the best thing going for it. But 98% of the games I have played over a year ago and the rest I don't care for. I currently have a big back log of current games to play and just don't have time to worry about free games..... To many games not enough time is the problem, a measly 4 bucks a month isnt an issue..

    Since I never use my PS3 I hadn't kept track of the changes. PS+ is a pretty remarkable deal. I think I'd likely have spent less money on buying new games if I was using my PS3 eclusively and had a PS+ subscription.

    That said, I just prefer the Xbox and have had a gold subscriptiong going on 6 years now. I don't see myself making the switch anytime soon. Call me irrational. Call me stupid. I just like what I like.

    I paid for Gold once, and decided that online gaming just wasn't my thing. And like you said, there really wasn't much else to justify the price tag. When I got a PS3, I did try PS+, but didn't find it worth it. Then they announced the free games. So I took the plunge one more time and I was loving it. I say 'was', because my PS3 has now decided to stop connecting to the internet. Firstworldproblems.

    If Sony wasn't giving free games away, how else would they get people to pay for PSN Plus? I got it for 3 months simply to get my locked saves onto my Silver PS3, and kept it simply because of the free games.

    PSN and Sony's entire OS/Online integration is still a nightmare. Updates that take forever, CONSTANT updates to the OS, Trophies that require manual synching (unless you pay for plus), downloads that require an install AFTER downloading, no decent (or at all really) cross game invite or chat system.

    Yeah, PSN is great. Until someone provides a legitimate alternative, I'll continue to begrudgingly pay for Live. Hell, if you're smart, you're only paying $50 a year anyway.

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