Gold Vs. Plus: How Sony Is Making a Mockery Of Xbox Live

You can pick your preference between PlayStation and Xbox. You can argue that Halo is better than KillZone or that Uncharted tops Gears of War.

But it is becoming increasingly hard to argue that the Xbox 360's online subscription service is superior to the PlayStation 3's. This is what competition does, and, today, the long-running $60-a-year Xbox Live Gold just doesn't seem to offer as much value as the newer, upstart, the $50 PlayStation Plus.

Let's break this down.

Xbox Live Gold costs about $5 a month for individual plan. The paid plan gives Xbox 360 gamers an extra suite of features atop basic gamer-to-gamer text-messaging, cross-game-chat and access to an online marketplace, all of which are free as part of
Xbox Live Silver .

Gold members also get the following features:

Xbox Live Gold Features

  • Multiplayer Gaming
  • Early Access to Some Demos
  • Beta Access
  • Game Discounts (40-50% off, often)
  • Hulu Plus
  • Netflix
  • Amazon Instant Video
  • Party Chat
  • Video Kinect
  • Zune Music Streaming
  • Halo Waypoint
  • Avatar Kinect
  • Internet Explorer
  • Cloud Storage
  • Facebook
  • Skype
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • last.fm
  • MLB.tv
  • HBO Go
  • ESPN
  • Forthcoming: Free-to-Play Gaming

Those are the major perks and features available in the U.S. There are several more entertainment services available in other regions. (Wikipedia has a good chart for this; Microsoft offers their own less-detailed chart.) Some of the services here, including HBO Go and Netflix require their own paid memberships with those services. And some, such as YouTube and Twitter, are free on just about any device other than an Xbox 360.

Originally, Xbox Live Gold's main advertised feature was access to multiplayer gaming. With the launch of the PlayStation 3, Sony countered that by refusing to charge for online gaming. Sony's PlayStation Network was, initially, free to anyone who bought the console. There was no paid service, no PSN Gold. The PS3 couldn't do cross-game chat. That was the biggest knock. But it also didn't charge gamers.

To this day, Xbox 360 owners pay for things on their console that PlayStation owners don't. Let's strike through all of the services on Gold that PlayStation 3 owners get at no extra charge from Sony.

Xbox Live Gold minus Free PSN Features

  • Multiplayer Gaming
  • Early Access to Some Demos
  • Beta Access
  • Game Discounts (40-50% off, often)
  • Hulu Plus
  • Netflix
  • Amazon Instant Video
  • Party Chat
  • Video Kinect
  • Zune Music Store Access
  • Halo Waypoint
  • Avatar Kinect
  • Internet Explorer
  • Cloud Storage
  • Facebook
  • Skype
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • last.fm
  • MLB.tv
  • HBO Go
  • ESPN
  • Forthcoming: Free-to-Play Gaming

There's one cheat there. Sony owners don't actually get Internet Explorer, but they can browse the web for free. It also does offer free-to-play games in its free PlayStation Home avatar hangout/whatever-it-is as well as with games such as Free Realms and DC Universe Online.

Several of Gold's features aren't available on PlayStation. There's no Halo Waypoint access, no ESPN, no HBO Go. But Netflix is there, Hulu Plus is there, still requiring outside subscriptions but no added payment to Sony.

This is how it's been for a while, but, last year in 2010, Sony introduced PlayStation Plus and started giving its customers the chance to pay for more services. Players got discounts in the PSN store, beta access, but nothing amazing. Then, this past June, Sony added one more key perk, the perk that makes a mockery out of Xbox Live Gold: free games.

Here's what PlayStation 3 owners get for Plus:

PlayStation Plus Features

  • Instant Game Collection (Free Games)
  • Game Discounts (40-50% off, often)
  • Early Access to Some Demos
  • Beta Access
  • Cloud Storage
  • Automatic Patching/Firmware-Updates
  • 1-Hour Free Access to Full Games

Note the length of that list. It's short. Microsoft's Gold list is longer. But Sony's has a bullet point that it's hard for Xbox Live to top, the Instant Game Collection. That's a bundle of games that a Plus subscriber can download and that remain accessible for as long as the subscriber's account lasts. In the few months the service has been live, Sony has removed some games from the offer and added new ones. The removed games are still available to legacy subscribers; they're just not available for free to new ones. For this to be a good deal, the games better be good, right?

Here's what you'd have in your Instant Game Collection through early September, if you were a Plus subscriber since the free game offers started in June (games no longer offered to new subscribers have an asterisk):

Free Games Available Through PlayStation Plus

  • The Walking Dead Episodes 1 & 2
  • Bloodrayne Betrayal
  • Outland
  • Infamous 2
  • Little Big Planet 2
  • Ratchet & Clank All 4 One
  • Space Marine
  • Saints Row 2
  • Renegade Ops
  • Pac-Man Championship Edition DX
  • Choplifter
  • Sideway
  • Just Cause 2*
  • Lara Croft & The Guardian of Light*
  • Gotham City Impostors*
  • Hard Corps Uprising*
  • Zombie Apocalypse*
  • Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown*
  • (Borderlands will be added in September)

Pretty good list, no? Well, some people don't like it: specifically, U.S. Plus subscribers have started complaining that Europe gets an even better batch, which includes Dead Space 2 and will soon include Red Dead Redemption . The grass is indeed always greener somewhere else.

Xbox Live is much more widely-discussed than PlayStation Network. Microsoft has been noisier about their online service. They've been more aggressive, standardizing online console multiplayer gaming, striking first with Netflix streaming and just boasting more about their pay service. The company reports that it has 40 million Xbox Live subscribers, though it won't say how many are paying Gold members (one Microsoft estimate from two years ago put it at about half that count). Competition, however, causes the other party to do amazing things and that appears to be what's happening with PlayStation Plus, a service which—surprise—Sony doesn't share subscriber stats for either.

It's a safe bet that Sony has fewer Plus people than Microsoft has Golds. It's also a safe bet that Sony reacts awfully well to competition, as they've been showing throughout the summer.

Our colleagues at Gizmodo recently argued that Xbox Live Gold should be free. (Microsoft might counter that their services cost money to maintain; we might counter that that's why they're running ads on Xbox Live.) Let's pile on a new argument: Gold should be as impressive as PlayStation Plus. For consumers, it sure looks like Sony is offering the better deal.


CORRECTION: This story originally didn't list the discounts on games and DLC that Xbox Live Gold members are also offered. I've added them. That matches the discounts feature offered in PlayStation Plus.