It never fails: every month, Sony releases “free” games through their PlayStation Plus service… and every month, gamers crawl out of the woodwork to whine about the selection. Often with a chunk of hate and vitriol attached.
Online toxicity in the gaming community is nothing new. It’s common in online discourse, and arguably worse among gamers. Why is anyone’s guess. Still, the hate directed, like clockwork, at the selection of free games on PlayStation Plus is particularly grating. It reflects a sense of entitlement, ignorance, and self-centeredness that could impact the likelihood of having more services like PlayStation Plus in the future, or make less toxic people afraid to talk about the games online… which would be bad for the community.
Here, we’re going counter some of the usual targets of online ire, and address some of the valid complaints of the PlayStation Plus service, while addressing why this phenomenon is so irritating. To do that, let’s start with a deeper explanation of PlayStation Plus.
What is PlayStation Plus, and What are These Free Games?
PlayStation Plus is Sony’s “premium” online service. While they describe it as “premium,” many of the services it offers should arguably be standard. It offers several benefits, including:
- Online play for non-free-to-play games
- 100GB of cloud data backup
- Regular (and sizeable) discounts on games
- Free monthly games
It’s this last one that we’re focusing on, but the others will make an appearance.
Every month, PlayStation Plus subscribers get access to at least two games, though it’s usually more. 2021, for instance, hasn’t seen a single month with less than three games. The service has been running since 2010 and, to date, it’s given gamers a total of more than 700 free games, spread throughout whatever systems were in vogue each month. You own a digital copy of these games for as long as your PlayStation Plus membership is active.
The service costs $59.99 in the U.S. and $69.99 in Canada (both plus tax) per year. That comes out to about $5-6 per month. As far as subscriptions go, that’s not a bad price, especially for everything you’re getting.
Yet, the complaints on Twitter, Reddit, and other forums are seemingly endless. They usually come in a few forms:
- Problems with the selection of games
- Feeling like they aren’t getting their money’s-worth
- Saying the service should “do more” or cost less
The first of these is, by far, the most common. So it’s where we’re going to start.
The Selection: Think Outside Yourself
I would like to say this loud and clear: your experiences, your tastes, and your gaming history is not shared by everyone else.
A common complaint about the games on PlayStation Plus is that they’re all “indie trash.” The complaint is entirely inaccurate. Here’s a small list of critically acclaimed AAA titles that have been available on PlayStation Plus in just 2020 and 2021: Days Gone, Battlefield V, Mortal Kombat X, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Street Fighter V, Call of Duty: WWII, Star Wars Battlefront II, and Uncharted 4. Clearly, indie titles are not all that’s on offer.
That’s to say nothing of the fact that indie games are not trash. This has been made abundantly clear by the fact that, since 2015, not a single list of candidates for Game of the Year has been without an ndie title. Several indie titles (which, I remind you, lack the marketing of AAA developers) are among the 20 best-selling games of all time.
Even outside the overgeneralization, the statement isn’t true. The indie titles on offer have included highly-rated games like Hollow Knight, Control, and Overcooked (one of which was a contender for game of the year), showing that they aren’t throwing poorly rated, badly-selling titles at their subscribers. They’re packing the service with great games..
Just because you don’t like the game doesn’t mean it’s not a good game. Nor does it mean that it’s not a fantastic addition to the PlayStation Plus library. There are many people out there who would prefer those indie titles to the big action games you might love. And that’s okay. Acting like it’s a bad addition to the library just because you aren’t into it is arrogant and childish.
One of the last criticisms levied at the selection that Sony is simply packing it with titles that “everyone has already played.” And to be sure: many of these titles were best-sellers long before they wound up on PlayStation Plus. The ones I listed above are proof enough of that.
But, again: not everyone shares the same experiences. Nor does everyone have the time and money to play every best-seller. In fact, it’s probably rare that anyone can complete every game on this list before it winds up on PlayStation Plus. Besides: maybe it wasn’t a title they thought they’d be into back then. Or maybe they weren’t gamers when the game was first released. There are countless reasons they might be thrilled to see it become available for free.
As it stands, the selection offered allows people who missed a title—either a niche one or a masterpiece—to experience something that they wouldn’t have, otherwise. It widens people’s tastes… a topic we’ll come back to.
Bang for your Buck: Save some Money!
As much as I hate to defend a big corporation’s monetary decisions… by the numbers, you’re coming out way ahead with PlayStation Plus.
Let’s start with the free games. Obviously, they aren’t technically free—you’re paying $60-70 per year. But mathematically and at a minimum, you’re getting 24 games per year (plus the other benefits). In truth, it’s never been below 28 free games, and it’s more often been close to 70. So long as the games normally cost more than ~$2, you’re saving money. And, more often, these games are closer to $20 when they appear on PlayStation Plus. That’s a hell of a deal.
Someone might counter that they wouldn’t have paid for these games, so it’s “saving” money they wouldn’t have spent. The lowest number of free games on PlayStation Plus in a year was 28, in 2020. The highest was 87, in 2012. Let’s pick a median between those two extremes: 57. Given that the games are closer to $20 on release, all it would take is finding three games you like, among that 57, to save money. If you can’t find three games you want to play out of so many critically acclaimed titles… well, the problem probably isn’t the service.
That’s to say nothing of the discounts. It’s an oft-overlooked benefit of PlayStation Plus. You regularly get extra discounts on titles. You can wind up getting 6-month old, critically acclaimed titles for a full 33% off. Even if you are an avid gamer who tries to chew through bestsellers on release, this can still save you a huge chunk of cash, just because you might’ve been finishing up a different game in the few months it took for a sale to kick in.
It doesn’t take many PlayStation Plus sales for the numbers to add up, either. And holiday-time sales often put a bunch of big-name games up for great prices. So, you’re probably saving hundreds in exchange for that subscription.
Should it Be Better? Or Cheaper?
So, the main two complaints—selection and finances—don’t hold much water. But, there’s still an argument to be made that PlayStation Plus, itself, could be better.
On the one hand, many believe the cloud service and online play should be a free standard of the service. That’s probably true. While it does cost money (in terms of data, hardware, infrastructure, and human resources) to maintain online functionality, it seems unlikely that the number comes out to $60 per user. And given that PC competitors do offer these services for (seemingly) free, it seems like, at a minimum, Sony should be able to offer a much cheaper alternative for those who just want to play online with their friends.
There’s also the fact that simple quality-of-life improvements have been requested for years for PSN. Among the most notable are wishlists, and changing your username, which wasn’t implemented until 2018. The PlayStation Store, itself, is also quite unpleasant to navigate, and there are often hiccups with the backup service.
Many of these should be fixed. And discounts and free games don’t negate the need for those fixes.
Likewise, there’s no good reason Sony shouldn’t offer a lower-tier service that allows people to access cloud backups and online play without charging $60 per year. Those are valid complaints.
But, complaints about the free games, themselves, are erroneous on a good day. And they miss one crucial benefit of this system.
The Free Games Make for a Better Community
You’ve probably heard of Rocket League. It’s a wild game where you play soccer with a giant ball and rocket-powered cars. It’s an e-sport now.
It wouldn’t have become famous without Playstation Plus. See, Rocket League had a predecessor by the same company that was not well-received. No surprise: it seems like such an odd, niche idea, that many might be reluctant to spend money on it. But, when Rocket League released on PlayStation, the developers decided to make the game a PlayStation Plus free title as a promotion. Within a week, they had 183,000 unique players, had to expand server capacity. The developer estimated they got six million downloads from that promotion. He called it the “best decision they had ever made.”
The biggest benefit of PSPlus’s free games is that it gives people access to games they wouldn’t normally try. It broadens their horizons. Now, imagine this on a large scale. A community-wide scale. These free games could inspire future game developers or simply allow gamers who wouldn’t normally try a genre to experience something new. While they aren’t truly free, given the $60-70 per month subscription, they’re still wildly affordable, and the unexpected and mixed nature of the offerings is, itself, a huge benefit.
Expanding your horizons is never a bad thing, and the ability of PlayStation Plus to allow gamers to do that with little downside is probably the greatest strength of the service.