PlayStation Plus, Sony’s premium online service,  has launched.  PlayStation Plus is available at two price points, $17.99 for three months and $49.99 for a full year. Currently, full year subscribers receive an additional three months free.  PlayStation Plus requires the PS3 system software 3.40 update.

In addition to PlayStation Plus support, the 3.40 software update includes a few interesting features.  From the press release:

  • Photo Gallery: A new network based photo sharing feature is now available on the Photo Gallery. The enhancement allows PS3 users to upload, browse and comment on photos on sites such as Facebook and Picasa Web Album. PS3 users can also opt to share their photos between their PlayStation Network friends.
  • Video Editor & Uploader: Video Editor and Uploader is a new function found on the XrossMediaBar (XMB), which enables users to edit, save and upload video files stored on the PS3 system to sites such as Facebook or YouTube.
  • Five Star Rating Support: Users can rate PlayStation Store content they have purchased with one to five star ratings.
  • Power Save Settings: The default setting for PS3 System Auto-Off will be set at two hours, providing users with additional power save options and further improving power save features on the PS3 system.

As detailed in Sony’s E3 2010 press event, PlayStation plus adds several features to the existing PlayStation Network experience.  All previous PlayStation Network features – like online gameplay – remain free.

The most obvious benefit PlayStation Plus offers is access to a significant amount of free content.  For the first month, that content includes the following:

  • The full PSN game WipEout HD.
  • A sixty minute trial of inFamous.
  • The PSone Classic Rally Cross.
  • The PSP mini Age of Zombies.
  • The Warhawk Fallen Star Pack (content add-on for Warhawk).
  • The Collision Theme for PS3.
  • A discounted price on the Fat Princess: Fat Roles Expansion Pack ($3.99, regularly 4.99).
  • Fat Princess Red or Blue Princess Avatars for your PlayStation Network Online ID.
  • 20% off all TikGames titles, plus free DLC.
  • 50% off classic Midway games.

New content will be made available monthly.  Players retain ownership of their free games for the duration of the PlayStation Plus subscription.  Themes, Avatars, and game add-ons can be kept forever .

PlayStation Plus also offers a few additional benefits, such as early access to some game demos and betas.  Users can configure their PS3s to automatically download and install game updates.  System updates will also be automatically downloaded (but will still need to be manually installed).  Some demos and videos will be pushed out to PlayStation Plus systems.  Finally, Qore, Sony’s “high-definition, interactive gaming lifestyle show” is included with PlayStation Plus subscriptions.

Sony is obviously striving to make PlayStation Plus a positive value-proposition for subscribers.  They are fond of pointing out that the value of the free content made available in the first month alone exceeds the $50 cost of a full year’s subscription.

However, there is a debate to be had about the quality of the free content.  WipEout HD is an absolutely phenomenal game, and any PS3 owners who haven’t experienced it certainly should do so.  But it’s hard to imagine that Rally Cross has aged particularly well, and personally, I’m just not that interested in Avatar pictures or Themes.

Offering one hour trials of full games is an interesting idea (and it’s great that, at last, Sony is beginning to offer games on demand — inFamous is available on the PlayStation Store right now for $29.99), but again, I’m not sure that feature is something I’d be willing to pay for.

In the end, it all comes down to a simple question:  will gamers adopt a premium system, however much it offers,  when the well-established, free version of that system already supports online play?

What about you, Ranters?  We’d really like to hear your thoughts on the PlayStation Plus initiative.  Have any of you subscribed already?  Are any of you planning to?

PlayStation Plus is available now from the PlayStation Store.

Source: PlayStation