Why Voting On PlayStation Plus Games Is A Bad Idea

There's a sandwich place near our office. It does my head in.

It's one of those 'build-your-own-sandwich' spots. You know the type: cold cuts, onions, grated carrot. All conveniently spread out for your perusal. Choose from these ingredients! Make the sandwich of your dreams!

I loathe these paces with a passion.

Why? Well it's pretty simple really. If I wanted to make my own sandwich I would have just made my own sandwich. At home. I'd have opened the fridge door, I'd have dragged out the lettuce and the tomatoes and shit. Point being: I pay a premium at a sandwich bar for a reason. You are supposed to be the sandwich experts. You are the one that should be telling me how to make the sandwich. What goes well together? What flavours blend effortlessly to make the perfect sandwich? I don't bloody well know. I'm a sandwich noob. Help me out here!

This is an extended metaphor. Yes, this sandwich place exists. Yes, it bugs the hell out of me. But here's what's really bugging me right now: PlayStation Plus and it's brand new 'Vote To Play' initiative.

Vote To Play is an initiative with its heart in the right place. Each month PlayStation Plus gives its subscribers a handful of games they can download for free. These games will continue to be free for the lifetime of your subscription. It's the best. I've had so many tremendous experiences because of PlayStation Plus. I would have ignored Velocity 2X if it wasn't for PlayStation Plus. Fez is another great example. Once upon a time it was just another game I forgot to finish. Then it appeared on PlayStation Plus. I played it over the course of a weekend on my PlayStation Vita and it's now one of my all-time favourites.

The success of PlayStation Plus, in my opinion, is a direct result of its curation. To date PlayStation Plus has been a glorious mix of major triple A games you may have forgotten about, big indie releases you missed out on first time round and — crucially — brand new gaming experiences. Games that would have no doubt sunk without trace had Sony not taken the risk and made them free for a month to PlayStation Plus subscribers.

Hopefully the whole sandwich metaphor is starting to make a bit more sense. I don't want to choose.

I want the choice made for me. This might sound bizarre, but I want PlayStation Plus to remain curated. At all times. I want to wander up to the stand and have the sandwich guys tell me what the best sandwich is. I don't know enough about sandwiches to choose. What if I miss out on an incredible new sandwich experience because I was too lazy to experiment? Maybe I'll just get chicken again. And again. And again. Into infinity until I'm lying on my death bed regretting all those bog-standard sandwiches I ate.

Here's another way of looking at it: last month Rocket League was free on PlayStation Plus. One month later it has been downloaded by five million users. It's a well-deserved gaming phenomenon. It's probably my favourite game of 2015 so far.

Would you have voted for Rocket League?

Seriously. Imagine if, two months ago, Sony asked the public to choose between Rocket League and, say, InFamous: Second Son or Transitor. Be honest with yourself: would you have chosen this unproven game by an unknown developer? Would you have picked the Car-Football game over the indie darling you forgot to buy at launch? Or the gorgeous AAA game you couldn't afford to drop $90 on?

Let's be real here. Rocket League would have disappeared off the face of the planet.

This month is another case in point. The Vote To Play initiative asked PlayStation users to chose between three games: Grow Home, Zombie Vikings and Armello. One was a game with the word 'Zombie' in the title, another an (admittedly cool) experimental game with the might of Ubisoft behind it.

Then there's Armello: a game that doesn't quite have the same elevator pitch. It's a role-playing strategy board game essentially; the debut game from Melbourne-based studio League of Geeks. It looks amazing, and will almost certainly find some level of success, but there's little doubt here: Armello is the Rocket League of September's 'Vote To Play' choices.

And it didn't win. Of course it didn't.

Grow Home ended up winning a PlayStation Plus slot with around 44% of the vote.

Don't get me wrong: Grow Home is a very cool game and, being perfectly honest, falls neatly into the 'Indie game we forgot to play' category. It's actually a good choice, Grow Home is the kind of game I'd like to see on PlayStation Plus.

But Armello needs it more.

And the fact is games like Armello will always suffer in votes like this. It didn't have a shot in hell. Your Rocket Leagues and your Armellos will always be ignored in votes like this. Simply put: we're gonna end up with a helluva lot more chicken sandwiches. Grow Home — as good as it is — is a chicken sandwich.

Again: it's about curation. PlayStation Plus should be about curation. Votes like this are infrequent but subvert that process.

I'm looking forward to playing Grow Home, but I am lamenting this fact: Armello just lost its chance at becoming the new Rocket League.


Comments

    I could go for a steak sandwich right about now.

    ...

    Also I agree with this article. The popular choice isn't always going to be the best.

      This is why Mark loves gozleme. you line up for 35 minutes and when you get to the cashier there's a blackboard with like, three options on it. Beef, chicken, and fuck you. You order your beef, and it's delicious. Then you regret your decision standing on the bathroom scales the next day and take up rock climbing. This all happens automatically.

        I feel like you've got the skills of a criminal profiler, only just about Mark's psyche!

          Profiler, stalker, what's the difference?

          That's for the courts to decide.

    Really interesting argument. I assume Sony took their lead from voting in steam sales but those votes happen every few hours over a period of a week or two, a few times a year - and you tend to see the same games get voted in for the biggest discount time after time, even though you'd assume by now everyone on the planet has a copy of Left 4 Dead 2.

    Steam has a whole other system in place for showcasing and promoting new content, free weekends, etc. Slapping a voting system might be a neat way for the majority of people to get the games they're interested in, but it's a lost opportunity. Maybe they'll revise this plan moving forward.

      Man, Left 4 Dead 2. It wins almost every time. I also wonder how in the hell every person on the planet doesn't own that game by now.

        I get the impression heaps of people vote for games not because they want to buy them, but because they own it, loved it, and feel that if it wins the vote it proves how good the game is. Or maybe I'm just cynical...

      Those community votes have the same issue Mark is talking about. People will vote on a familiar game with a 66% discount, despite the fact it was the daily at 75% off the day before! The unknowns get overlooked.

      Its a great analogy, but for the wrong reasons. Those make-your-own sandwich places generally have a board of options as well as make-your-own. So in fact, PS+ is the same. We aren't curating PS+, we are voting on ONE game out of the several.

      As far as I remember, Left 4 Dead 2 has even been FREE for a limited time. Maybe I'm thinking of the original?

    The thing about choice is, if you're not given it, you don't know what you're missing.

    Chances are Sony would've picked Grow Home itself as the game had this voting scheme not been put in place and then Armello would've received even less attention. I actually voted for Armello after watching the trailer on the voting page and I'll likely buy it anyway now that I've seen it, had it not been in the vote I probably wouldn't have even heard of it.

    Last edited 26/08/15 2:39 pm

      I agree. Additionally, Sony is giving Armello and Zombie Vikings a 30% discount as a consolation prize. Let's also not forget that the 'vote to play' option is just one game out of a minimum of two (maximum of six) that people are going to get access to, and that Sony has said that the 'vote to play' thing is going to be occasional and not a monthly deal.

      Yeah...people vote for what they think they'd have the most fun with. That should be about it. If we're getting free games when paying for a service, I think it's fair enough that the majority get to play the game that they think they'll have the most fun with. As long as the voters make informed decisions - watch reviews, and gameplay etc - I don't have a problem with voting.

    If we're being honest... The sandwich thing is ridiculous.

    Do you think those who work at this sandwich bar should also just somehow know what you like and dislike too?

    Fuck giving people choices, let's just guess and make them pay us!

    Last edited 26/08/15 1:11 pm

      Works for McDonald's.

        Not the way he's describing how this sandwich bar should apparently work.

          Ok, works for literally every restaurant ever that has a specials menu and a server who tells you about them, and what's the best wine to pair with a certain dish.

      I think both options have merit. Sometimes I want to just walk into a shop, see 10 different premade sandwiches and go 'Hey, that one sounds good.' Sold. Other times I know exactly what I'm after and anything else won't do. Depends on my mood.

      my solution to Mark's sandwich bar problem is.... go somewhere else... lol

      sounds like he's the sort of person that will eat whatever is presented to him, good for him, i like choice and i know what i do and don't like so i don't see the problem... 8 times out of 10 i'd say i ask for things to be not included or taken off sandwiches/burgers... but hey thats just me... opinions... everyones got one!

      Yeah if I go to Subway I have Input into every single ingredient they put on my sandwich - in this day and age choice and fragmentation are the paradigms

    Perhaps I'm blending authors here, but I feel like you say "my favourite game of 2015 so far" about a lot of games :P
    Or I have mid-week-itis and its all in my head.

    On a related note, I know you're using it as a metaphor but I like shops like subway. I'm the sort of person who will throw a bit of everything in, save for the few ingredients I'm not fond of. Thats because alternatives with set menus exist but it's good to be king once in a while and create something those food scientists havent thought of!

    But finally in terms of the actual subject of PS Plus, isnt only one game voted for, with a handful of games being curated as per usual? Besides, occasionally they will pick something amazing that you already own, so its nice to have an alternative whilst still grabbing a random pick from Sony.

      I also like Subway. I feel like it does a better choice of funnelling you down different routes though.

        Does your sandwich shop not have some suggested 'sandwich package' options in addition to the 'build your own'? Sony's not asking us to go out and pick a game from the hundreds of available games out there. It is saying, here's three games. We think they are all good, but we can only offer you access to one. There is still curation going on, so I think you are overreacting a bit. Rocket league would still have succeeded by word of mouth, although perhaps not to the insane degree that it did thanks to PS+.

    people should have just voted for the most expensive game (which i believe will be Armello) and bought the others if they want them because they'll be discounted... pretty sure Grow Home is the cheapest of the 3... I didn't vote... because i couldn't find the page to do so... haha

      FYI you can vote directly from the Playstation Plus tab on PSN.

        haha cheers, i assume you mean from the console itself... i do most my browsing/downloading from the website... so its my own fault for not finding it but it wouldn't have made any difference ultimately

    Grow Home — as good as it is — is a chicken sandwich. Funnily enough, a guy lost a court case today trying to copyright the chicken sandwich he came up with the recipe for for a restaurant.
    With regards to the voting, I actually thought the zombie game would win because zombies, and vikings. Armello should have won, especially since it's Australian but I guess that's just business. Sometimes you give the people what they want and make faster horses, other times you invent the automobile.

      I'm going to buy Armello anyway, but I wouldn't do so if it wasn't getting the 30% discount.

    Rocket League would have been a different kind of success story if it hadn't been free on PS Plus last month. It's sales on Steam were solid, word of mouth would have spread, eventually PS4 players would have picked it up. It would have been a slow burning rise to prominence instead of the instant success story.

    Hopefully despite not being available for free in a similar style, Armello will reach similar levels of success on its own accord. I remember seeing it for the first time at PAXAus 2 years ago and was impressed even then.

    I always get a chicken schnitzel and tomato on my sandwich place sandwich, because I can't cook a fresh schnitzel at work, and I can't put tomato on my sandwich before I leave home or it'll be soggy at lunch time.

    Another great article Mark

    I also think that this leads to "heart" voters, those who vote for what they genuinely think has the chance to be great, not just popular, becoming discouraged from voting.

    Yes, I voted for Armelo, I was lucky enough to get a peek at it at PAXAUS13, and it looks really interesting, did it win, no, will I vote again, yes....for now

    Given enough times voting for the best, or most interesting, candidate, rather than just the popular vote, and seeing your vote losing by 20%+ every time becomes discouraging, up to the point where you start looking and saying to yourself, "That's the one I wold vote for" but looking is where it stops, you stop actually voting because, well, they never win, so whats the point?

    I know it's selfish but I would have liked to pick one of the 3 games for myself instead of deciding for everyone. My friends and I would have gone for Armello while people who don't want to play 'board games' on their ps4 could have gone zombie vikings or Grow Home.

    I agree with the idea being terrible but the metaphor is terrible

    You keep shit in your fridge?
    Does it go well on a sandwich?

    I watched all the videos on the voting page and Armello's was just a 60 second cartoon animation, there was no gameplay. This really didn't encourage me to vote for it.

    And I would have voted for Rocket League for sure, but I'd been looking forward to it for a long time being a huge SARPBC fan.

      If you click next it goes to the next video in the playlist which is all gameplay (like how steam or YouTube does it) it has surprisingly nice detail akin to hom&m.

        Ah, cheers, I'll remember that for next time.

        Although they probably could have chosen to lead with a better video, assuming it's not random.

    They haven't taken away the curated games, but ADDED the choice of choosing one. Best of both worlds.

    I agree, sometimes choice is bad. Curation is better. I said similar things about Insert Coin(s), the first time around they seemed to have more dedicated machines that just played a single game and it was great, the later ones they seemed to all be MAME cabinets with a bajillion games on there and you'd just spend a good 5-15 minutes scrolling through an endless list wondering what to play.

    I also like the above suggestion, having say the three games available to everyone and each person can pick a single one to take for free. That'd be more interesting too.

    It's a real shame Armello didn't win. It's a game deserving of some high publicity, and Australian to boot.

    I voted for Grow Home and I got what I wanted. Where's the argument?

    One of the things I would like more information on is the kind of deal that Armello's developer League of Geeks would have received out of this had they won - would they have instantly made X amount of money, does Sony pay on a per download basis if they set the game as free? Would Armello have been downloaded 5 million times?

    I think also slightly does a disservice to the great story that is Rocket League - which not only went free but is in its own right a fantastic game that is easy to pick up and play, appeals to a wide consumer base and has been heralded by all games media outlets, in addition to being widely played by youtubers and twitch streamers (not to mention the timing of release was quite good in terms of big games to play in July, something that this months nominees will have to contend with)

    Armello is great - I bought it at $24.99 on Steam - the gameplay is well-rounded, it's beautiful aesthetically, it's a smart game and it would have been nice to expose it to a wider audience, but I still think it is in on a different planet to Rocket League. It's much more complex, with a lot more moving parts and a steeper learning curve. This combination of things might mean it would have been downloaded a lot more, was it free, but does not ultimately determine where it would sit in Best Games of 2015. I can already see the kind of PS+ subscriber who downloads it to play for a short amount of time before giving up and waiting for the next month.

    I have high hopes big things will continue to come for Armello though and if you like board games and strategy at all, you should buy it!

      From what I understand, it is a flat fee, regardless of how many people download it. Apparently it is a pretty tough choice. Do you put it on PS+ and get a fee equal to X number of sales, or do you take a punt on your game being more popular and generating X+ sales? I think the smaller devs feel like the financial security of the flat fee is worth 'selling out' for, but maybe not on their next game, due to becoming better known in the process.

        Oh okay. That's really interesting. From the developer's point of view, it's probably not as much of a big deal to the Grow Home guys, whereas a flat fee for Armello's studio (I only presume it is smaller) would have likely been a bigger help.

        I just didn't much enjoy the 'Armello needs it more' line at first, but dependent on the pay structures, maybe Armello did need to be Free more than Grow Home did.

          And hell, I haven't even bothered to look at Zombie Vikings, maybe they needed it the most!?! Why does Armello need it more than them?

            I think once you get down to it, it's unfair to assess 'need' unless you are donating to a charity. If the Armello devs were attracting 'pity votes' then that wouldn't be fair either. I think that Grow Home had an advantage because it had already released on PC, had the power of Ubisoft behind it, and had reviewed pretty well. Zombie Vikings had Ripstone's name attached (devs of the well-received Stick It To The Man) but Armello is basically made by a tiny team of unknowns (although they did get a push from the Indie Fund). I think the voting results reflected that. How many people would have done in-depth research before voting? I'd say very few.

          Definitely not a big deal to Grow Home's developer, a small company known as Ubisoft.

            Maybe not $$$ wise but potentially it is a big deal to smaller teams within Ubisoft to be noticed for games with a little more creative licence than assassins creed 86. I still somewhat disagree with Armello 'needs it more', which feeds into what @zambayoshi said

              Yeah but they already made bank on Grow Home on Steam. It was a top seller for a fair bit.

    I feel like you're very close to an epiphany, Mark: people are idiots.

      Ha ha, it seems that way sometimes, but most of the time they are just uninformed and lack the motivation to get better information on which to base their vote. For example, some people vote Greens simply because they believe that the Greens have better environmental policies (which is largely true) but they might think twice if they were aware of the Greens' position on a wider range of issues. Here people may have voted Grow Home simply because it is Ubisoft and because it already had some publicity, whereas the other two choices were relatively unknown.

    I'd argue that Transistor and Infamous are better than rocket league though.....I mean, Rocket League is great, but I'm not wildly addicted like it seems like a lot of people are.

    Transistor on the other hand made me feel actual emotion, as opposed to the more competitive nature of Rocket League. Infamous....well it's open-world with superpowers - sure it's pretty plain and open world etc etc, but I'd probably have more fun with Infamous.

    I understand the point and I agree that user opinion isn't always gonna be the best, but I am honestly looking forward to Grow Home, and I would rather play it over Armello. Also saying Grow Home is a rather stock game is probably a bit harsh. If you watch gameplay and reviews you'll see that there are procedural elements - it's not exactly a major crowd pleaser of a game.

    Last edited 26/08/15 2:51 pm

    Or you could, you know, just ask the guy behind the counter what he thinks is good and make that sandwich

    I also feel like this is going to result in less variety in the games. The people voting probably aren't going to change and they're going to have tastes. If they favour the indie titles I don't like over the year old AAA titles I missed that's going to show up in the results every month. If the people voting aren't the sort of people who buy games new we could see the selected title always being something popular titles that plenty of PS+ subscribers already own.

    I think the big issue is that PS+ hasn't been fantastic since the PS4's launch. Games with Gold had a similar problem. They went from the PS3/XBOX 360 where there were so many games to choose from to new consoles where the only choices were indie games and the launch titles that were meant to be selling the consoles. They've made some good choices, Rocket League and Massive Chalice launching into PS+/Gold was great, but until recently neither service has been particularly satisfying.
    Adding the ability to vote on the headline title each month seems like a genuine attempt to solve that but I don't think it actually will. What they truly need is a library that can handle offering a big game and a little game every month. Once they reach that point, and Gold's Tomb Raider/The Deer God combo is a good indicator that we're nearly there, this will resolve itself.

    Knowing Sony they'll be desperately trying to get local backwards compatibility working now that Microsoft are offering it, so with any luck a year from now we'll be looking at PS3 titles sweetening the deal the same way XBOX 360 titles are about to with the XBOX One.

    You absolutely once you asked "Would I have chosen Rocket League".

    No I wouldn't have, but now it easily one of my favourite games of the year.

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