PlayStation Plus By Sony Deconstructed

Deconstructing Sony's PlayStation Plus ServiceIs PlayStation Plus worth your while? Do you find yourself straddling the lines between your economic decisions and being a video game enthusiast? We all do. Seriously, look at the costs of being into any hobby nowadays and they’re pretty nuts. LEGO bricks? LEGO sets are insane. I could have bought an Xbox One with the amount of cash it set me back to buy the LEGO Hogwarts Castle. Yeah, hobbies are just plain damned expensive — but there are some companies out there that are doing what they can… and Sony is one of them.

I know that the lot of you may recall my articles about E3, Sony, and the Microsoft conference, but I want you to put all that out of your head. See, this is just about what Sony is doing with its PlayStation Plus subscription service and we can leave our loyalist natures behind. Let’s just talk facts — with a few sprinkles and dashes of love and adoration — for a service I’ve been a faithful member of for over a year now.

How PlayStation Plus Works

Let’s face it: games are just full-on expensive right now, and to buy a “Triple A” title on the day of release, you’re going to usually drop $60. There’s no way around it. That amazing game I talked about last week — The Last of Us — was $60 and I played through it once. It’s a beautiful and stunning game, but I have a child and a family, and a livelihood that depends on me not going bonkers and spending hundreds of dollars on a handful of games.

For $50 a year, Sony will set you up with an instant game collection that is constantly evolving and changing. When I first came upon PlayStation Plus, it was at E3 2012 when the company introduced us to the fact that it was massively expanding the collection and the output. As of that year, we had an incredible breadth of games that we could choose from, such as Infamous, Resident Evil 5, Borderlands, Little Big Planet 2, and literally dozens upon dozens of other games. Starting this year, we were excited to see Darksiders, Vanquish, Spec Ops: The Line, Sleeping Dogs, Saints Row: The Third, Uncharted 3, XCOM, and Battlefield 3. Yes, that sounds like a ton, right? That’s just a small smattering. That’s not including the indie titles, including favorites of mine like Dungeon Defenders and Telltale’s The Walking Dead.

Every single week, Sony updates its store with new games to add to your instant game collection, and the value can be definitely priced up easily. If you were to count up all of the titles that I listed up there, price-check them, and then jot them down, you would’ve saved nearly a grand, if not more. It’s a fascinating system, but if you say “Well, for the games I play, that isn’t worth it,” then this isn’t for you. If you find yourself playing mostly sports games, this isn’t for you. While sometimes we get games like NBA Jam: On Fire Edition or NFL Blitz, we rarely get games that are considered to be the “Big Sports” games. As I see it, Sony looks at what its audience wants, discusses it with publishers, and must weigh out the price points and what it can offer.

That’s not to say that every week is a brilliant one. One week, you’ll get an amazing game and some killer discounts, but the next week you may see a game you don’t care for. Personally, I couldn’t get behind Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That didn’t stop me, however, from downloading it to try it. Where PlayStation Plus flourishes is in that sweet spot. Where people say, “Oh, man. I had heard about that, but didn’t want to drop the $40-$60 to try it out. It’s here now!” And that’s where I sit. Games like Sleeping Dogs, Spec Ops: The Line, and XCOM weren’t even titles I was remotely considering until they came out on PlayStation Plus. It opened me up to styles of games that I loved and I was able to add more stories and experiences in that I wouldn’t have normally had.

PlayStation Plus is Not Just About Free Games, Folks!

While PlayStation Plus has a huge, huge collection of games you can get instantly when you sign up for the service, there’s always a chunk waiting for you. There are also really great sales available. Sometimes, sales are only open to PlayStation Plus members. Sometimes, a sale is made better for PlayStation Plus members. Just this month, we were given the Summer Sale, where I picked up several games for under $10 — and in some cases, $5. The discounts are a huge plus, but so are the trials. Yes, keep in mind I said “trials” and not just demos. PlayStation Plus members can sometimes get treated to timed trials of full games instead of just demos that let the member a little deeper into a game they’re interested in before buying it. This is actually what led me to pine for and need Kingdoms of Amalur. Having the chance to go past just a single instance like you would in a limited demo and getting an hour to explore the world was just what I needed to get my hooks in.

Did I mention the cloud? Yes, Sony has finally embraced cloud saving. In doing so, PlayStation Plus members get to save their games to a cloud that aids them in transferring between systems and keeps everything nice, safe, and secure should hardware have a fault or a system is upgraded. PlayStation Plus members get automatic downloads of betas that regular members do not get, which means early access as well as automatic updates to the system once it’s turned off.

PlayStation Plus Subscription Not Required… Yet

While in the current iteration, you are not required to use the PlayStation Plus subscription service in order to play multiplayer games; you will need PlayStation Plus service for the upcoming generation PlayStation 4 console, though. Right now, however, Sony prides itself on the fact that it refuses to make you pay twice to use things like Netflix, Hulu, and more. That’s not a subtle dig at Microsoft; it’s a calculated strike from someone who used to have an Xbox Gold membership. Sony knows you’re already paying for those services and even with the PS4, you still won’t need PlayStation Plus in order to utilize other paid subscription services. However, those of us who are early adopters to the service don’t seem to have an issue with needing PlayStation Plus in order to play multiplayer, and if I look at my list, 80% of them have PlayStation Plus as it is. There’s a reason for that.

PlayStation Plus is a damned good service.

Look, I’m not going to sell you on something you don’t need. If you don’t have the time to finish one game and don’t want to dedicate time into one or feel like you’re paying for constant games that you’ll not get to, don’t buy this. If you only prefer a specific type of game, like sports or RPG games, this isn’t for you. I can’t promise — and neither can Sony — that you’ll get what you want. There are casual games and fun titles as well as massive action games and titles that Sony puts its name behind. Take a look over the instant games that Sony has released and see if they’re your bag.

If you have children or you travel often but you pine to come back to your console and have a new game to try, whatever it is, you’ll want the PlayStation Plus subscription service. Family friendly games are offered on a near-constant basis as well as seeing something new almost every single week you log in. If you’re one of those people who automatically thumbs down and damns a gaming company for having a few security faults, just go ahead and leave it be. You’re missing out, though — big time.

What do you guys think? Do you have PlayStation Plus? Do you love it? Or are you a Microsoft loyalist and don’t care for Sony despite the decent offers? What do you think stops you from trying out the PlayStation Plus service, and are you open to giving it a try?

[Images courtesy of Sony and PlayStation Plus]

Why Video Game Journalism is Failing Us

Why Video Game Journalism is Failing UsRemember that game I was telling you about yesterday? Kingdoms of Amalur? Amazing game and I’m having a blast with it, honestly. However, I made the mistake of checking out the reviews and hands-on-impressions of it before I actually picked up the title. I was met with something utterly frustrating that caused an irritated Facebook status message and we all know how much I hate the world seeing that I get angry, right? (See Twitter/Steam handle: CandiceHatesYou for confirmation.) Upon checking out these articles on various little blogs and websites of actual repute and such, I came to find that there was a definite difference in professional game reviewing and everything else. It was making me downright livid, to be honest.

A game that I had been enjoying, Kingdoms of Amalur, was released to very little marketing behind it and it was too bad because the game had a lot of promise. It blended a delicious amount of Skyrim with elements of Fable and even God of War. The combat was compelling, the UI was simple and easy to get through, and the visuals were so absolutely stunning (Todd McFarlane and R. A. Salvatore. How can you go wrong?) that it was going to take some pretty strong elements to make me dislike this game. The story? Did I mention that the story was heavy, rich with history and characters, and introducing levels of fantasy that you don’t see often enough in games these days? Yeah, let’s just say that Kingdoms of Amalur is a game that I felt didn’t get enough credit. Sure, the majority of the scores for this title are good, but they still didn’t sing the gospel. Maybe that’s another source of irritation, but let me not get ahead of myself here.

The few random spots from which I read negativity were part of a common issue among gaming sites nowadays, and perhaps it comes from a wellspring of a games industry that is begging for a rebirth of creativity. I don’t know; I just know that when I see people shilling out terms for a game like “Diablo clone,” “loot grab,” and “Skyrim-Esque,” I get offended for the creators. Writers who get so scared of the fact that you can’t enjoy a game without being called a “fanboy/girl” and immediately getting lauded as such, that they sway almost completely toward negative, instead, to avoid it. Maybe this is what it is, you know? Maybe it is because I have spent time with some of the makers of these games — developers who have poured their heart and soul into a title to have it released — and then the most you can say is “Meh, this reminded me too much of Mehhh so I don’t really give a mehhh about mehhhh.” And how insulting is that? Is it hard to believe that a game developer could’ve been inspired? Maybe they wanted to recapture a feeling that they had while playing games from their youth and maybe expand upon the feeling and the experience, yeah? Why do we instantly have to be negative and assume that companies aren’t trying hard enough to come up with something new?

Sometimes, if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it, you dig?

To me, a review is a chance to discuss a game and what it’s all about, plus the feelings it invoked in you to an audience of people who haven’t played it yet. You can come from a standpoint of “Hey, I haven’t played this before, so here is my account of it.” Or you can say, “I love this series and so I’m going to introduce you to it from my perspective.” Both can be absolutely enjoyable to read. What my gripe is: the people who want to naysay for the sake of naysaying. It has always been my way to give as many negatives as I give positives to a game, and if I can’t find any positives, I still try to put a spin on it. I have never, ever wanted to grind my heel into the face of people who put years into a title just to see it fail due to something like merchandising. A good friend worked on the Iron Man games just to see me heavily despise everything about them, but I made sure that my readers knew it had little to do with them and everything to do with Marvel’s merchandising team. It can come down to a lack of marketing resources as well, like in the case of Kingdoms of Amalur, or even games that fail because the bigger publishing house that owns them is dumping all of its funding into the more lucrative title it’s releasing. It happens all of the time, you know? Sometimes, not enough review copies gets sent to the media and, whether the games industry writers want to admit it or not, they get downright vicious if a PR company doesn’t supply them with free review copy.

Because I have been involved with this industry so much in the past — hell, almost 10 years — I have seen it become so achingly devoid of humanity. Engaged in a conversation with one of my co-hosts last night, he stated that you have to dig around for the reviewers who speak to what you’re looking for and I feel that it might work for him, but not everyone else. Why can’t we all be professional and follow a set of standards? Why should we recklessly put grades and percentages to how much we enjoyed a game without really digging in deep to understand why we might not have? Why, as reviewers, shouldn’t we be held to a responsible level of reporting what a game is about, why it will or won’t work, and just what is behind either outcome, carefully, and with humanity behind it?

I have talked to designers and people involved in the writing and art direction who sang the holy hymnal of a game they put their entire lives into. Where they had to leave their family for months — maybe years — at a time just to see their dream created and a paycheck as additional compensation for their creative input. You meet these people at conventions and they take your hand and lead you into this world that they, and their friends, helped craft for you to enjoy and you become so entranced with their excitement.

And then you go home, you jot down your notes, and come to find that people are all over the Internet, taking a huge, steaming expletive on their dreams.

It kills me, you guys. It does. It destroys me to see that people are so lazy and wanting desperately to be labeled as “The Guy Who Doesn’t Pull Punches” that there is no responsibility anymore. These so-called-writers can’t actually put any thought and effort into what they’re saying; they just use a bunch of buzzwords and leap toward the negative in a way to make themselves stand out, but guess what? It doesn’t work that way. Not anymore. I read far more yammering rhetoric than I read intelligent and humanity-driven reviews, and it’s got to stop. It’s this kind of babble and cookie cutter drivel that is driving games writing into the ground and I’m, quite honestly, disgusted.

What this comes down to is pretty simple: Act responsibly and learn your chosen craft. If you’re going to put any time and effort into being a reviewer for any industry out there, know that you have a responsibility to be informative as well as human. Hell, take a look at some of the fine writing going on at Polygon and The Verge and take note of reviewers and writers who want to make you think as well as inform you about the next upcoming game. If you are one of those writers who I listed up there, maybe you’re feeling a bit sheepish right now and, for that, I hope this maybe helped you put a few more tools in your arsenal for the future. Honestly, if I had one thing to suggest to anyone who wants to take on this kind of employ, it’s this:

Don’t be a dick.