In many ways, Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus are on opposite trajectories. When Xbox Live launched in 2002, it was primarily a multiplayer gaming service, complete with a universal “Friends List” and a strong headset-based voice chat system. On the PlayStation 3, multiplayer gaming was free; PlayStation Plus was introduced in 2010 as a means of giving paying customers extra content, including demos, betas, and discounts on the PlayStation store.
Now, the two services are nearly identical. Most notably, multiplayer on the PlayStation 4 requires a PlayStation Plus subscription, negating one of the biggest benefits of owning a PlayStation console. Similarly, Xbox Live now offers a free option, which lets users access video streaming and other convenience-oriented services at no extra cost.
And, of course, both services give subscribers free games – Quite a few free games, as it turns out. With its $60 subscription, Xbox Live gave away $586 worth of games to subscribers in 2014. PlayStation Plus, which costs $50 annually, gave away a bundle of software worth a whopping $1,349.29 over the same time period.
These aren’t bad titles, either. When both services started giving away free games, the options weren’t great; they were often older titles that nobody really wanted or everyone already had. That’s changed. The games included as part of Microsoft’s Games with Gold program averaged 78.3 on Metacritic, while the PlayStation Plus gifts netted an average score of 79. The mix of games offered still leans towards older, if well-received, AAA-titles, although both services throw some of the newest and best indie games (including The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and Super Time Force) in there, too.
While it looks like PlayStation Plus is a better value, keep in mind that direct comparisons between the two services aren’t completely fair. While Xbox Live splits its free games between two consoles (typically, two Xbox 360 games and a single Xbox One game per month), PlayStation Plus’ games are spread over three. Unless gamers have a PlayStation 3, a PlayStation 4, and a PlayStation Vita, they won’t be able to take full advantage of everything that PlayStation Plus offers. Further, Xbox Live subscribers get to keep their games even if they cancel the service. Decide not renew a PlayStation Plus subscription and poof! All those “free” games are gone.
Games are just one of the many benefits these services offer, too, and both offer value beyond the occasional free title. Microsoft’s had over a decade to stabilize and refine Xbox Live, while PlayStation Plus will soon be branching out into original video content, starting with the adaptation of Brian M. Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s superhero-noir comic, Powers. Free games are great — after all, they’re free games — but in the end these numbers are only part of a much, much bigger picture.