The monthly game offerings of Sony’s online service continue to be underwhelming for fans — what should be done?
At least in the eyes of subscribers, PS Plus has been on the rocks for some time. It’s been about a year since the service removed Vita and PS3 games, and, with some exceptions — March’s Shadow of the Colossus remake was a good pick — the situation continues to be dire, clear from the dislikes racked up by the monthly announcement videos. Sony is largely giving players C-tier indie titles that the masses, by and large, are not so interested in, such as Disc Jam or 10 Second Ninja X, or remasters that many of us have already played, like February’s BioShock Remastered and October’s The Last of Us Remastered. It’s a good excuse to get back into some seminal titles, sure, but it is far detached from the crucial idea of pushing new experiences — one that the service could be flagshipping. Even July 2019’s Detroit: Become Human — a decently generous, AAA offering — came about a year after its release, and after its selling of three million copies. Those truly interested in the game will have already played it and now be quite moved on.
For some gamers, this approach is fine. I know that I can’t afford many new mainline titles on release, and so retreading experiences like September 2019’s offering of Arkham Knight, or, hell, April 2018’s Mad Max could catch a niche of players who haven’t gotten round to these big-budget experiences yet. There is something to be said for building up a strong library of games, too — even if we’ve already played them, permanently having remasters or now owning a game digitally that we may have played physically isn’t a terrible thing. These are some benefits to PlayStation Plus in its current standing; I have done well from this in places, admittedly, the service granting me enjoyable smaller experiences like The Surge, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, and MonsterBag. But, equally, there is a gross amount of titles sat in my 100-strong “purchased” library received from the service that I will never, ever touch.
Is this necessarily a problem, though? Inherently, the service will have duds and misses, sure, but with the unbelievable clutter of games I’ve saved, and the aforementioned monthly outcry from fans, the consistently underwhelming choices and lack of goodwill is undeniable. The obvious, simplified solution is better games. Sony cannot afford to give out major releases each month, of course, but they could be doing more to choose indie titles with legs like their debuting of Rocket League back in 2015, as well as selecting mainline releases that are either more recent (probably not feasible) or few really played. Titanfall 2 was a great choice in December for reviving the game’s multiplayer and introducing the great campaign to those who did not partake in the apparently dwindling sales numbers. Think games like Dishonored 2, or Prey, or even Wolfenstein II, which either did not sell admirably or were reserved to the realms of their more niche audiences despite potential appeal to wider ones. If given out for free as part of the service, these experiences would certainly reach new players and expand the influence of genuinely good titles. The argument that those interested in these will have already played them does not stand here when considering the comparatively smaller impact of the examples given. And with a £50 per year minimum price (depending on plan), it is not like the service is cheap enough to justify principally using it for multiplayer purposes. More diligent picks are needed.
That solution is lofty. If enacted, it may well ameliorate the lack of goodwill, but it will not stop the odd bad month. This is intrinsic to a service such as PlayStation Plus. Instead, I believe the service must change its identity — just a little bit. Since the removal of PS3 and Vita titles each month, it has felt a little empty: six games to two is, of course, a step-down, especially considering that the remaining PS4 picks did not improve amidst Sony’s cutting of the clutter. With the removal of antiquated (at least in Sony’s mind; the slow death of the Vita will haunt me well into my adult life) software, the company had a chance to do something interesting with the service; in other words, space was freed-up. A solution to occupy this space, then? PlayStation VR.
We have seen this already in February, where Firewall Zero Hour was offered as a third game alongside BioShock and The Sims (I would speculate that this was a test to see how the VR title stacked-up; was it downloaded, played, used? Is VR viable to offer as part of the service alongside typical PS4 games?). Back in March of 2019, I really did think that the PS3/Vita games each month would be replaced by one, maybe two, PS VR releases. Of course, I was wrong, but I still believe this idea to hold up — clearly, Sony sees some merit in it too. There are multiple reasons for this. For one thing, there are enough PS VR titles to offer now, and, more crucially, it is only a few games that dominate the sales numbers for the device, month in and month out (Rick and Morty: Virtual Regality, etcetera); there is plenty of room to push quality games that are less obvious to the general user. Furthermore, with a now-slumping 5 million sold, and the hardware confirmed to continue onto PS5, it is a perfect way to prop-up the system. The circa 40 million PS Plus subscribers will see VR pushed each month — this is good for promoting, either subconsciously or otherwise, that the hardware is long-lastingly practicable for Sony’s ecosystem, at least in the minds of players. There would be plenty of choice of games to do this (nearly 650 at the time of writing), not to mention the tens of VR titles avoiding mass recognition because of the gimmicky preconception that some purchasers of the hardware surely hold. Moss, Blood and Truth and Astrobot, for instance, are all experiences with artistic merit and PS Plus could be helping the unit be seen as viable in this sense by pushing them to be recognised more widely. Sony doesn’t necessarily need to convince users of the service to splash out further and buy a headset (though this may happen more if VR games were indeed offered); simply add a VR title per month for the benefit of those who already own the hardware, and the influence should ripple. It would be a decision good for PR, the future of the PlayStation brand, and ensuring continuing sales for the unit. The benefits are abundant.
PS Plus’ issues are, in many ways, inherent, and will continue to linger despite the odd good month. The service could be ameliorated in some ways, though, and it could be that Sony is looking to make such changes — and who knows? Maybe the monthly offerings will indeed start to improve moving into PS5. Considering backwards compatibility, there will remain plenty of quality PlayStation 4 experiences to grant to fans and owners of the new system. Plus is a cogent service, but one without goodwill or consistency (at least in its monthly freebies). Reduce the price, or grant subscribers a better, more varied catalogue of games. We would all prefer the latter.