I love the PlayStation Network; I have no qualms admitting that. It isn’t the kind of love that I have for my girlfriend or anything like that, it’s the kind of love humans seem to have fostered for technology.
I suppose a bit of context is required. See, I was an early adopter of the PS3, having purchased an original 60 GB fat PS3 a few months after the PS3 launched, and I became a member of the PlayStation Network when the service was just starting out. Being that I’ve had a presence with the network since its infancy, I have witnessed its growth from an unassuming beginning as basic online platform to a more robust service that has come into its own over these last few years.
Even when PSN was new, I never really had problems with it. While some saw it as a skeletal online framework devoid of the bells and whistles that made Xbox Live the shining beacon of online gaming, and while some criticized its clunky UI, I wasn’t really bothered because it let me do what I wanted which was game online with my friends.
Let’s get one thing straight: Xbox Live is a great service. Some would not hesitate to call it the superior choice, but Xbox Live has also had one distinct advantage over the PSN when this generation of gaming began: the advantage of time. No, I’m not talking about the gap between when the Xbox 360 was released and the PlayStation 3 was released. For Xbox Live’s time advantage to be seen we actually have to go back a generation further when those behind the original Xbox had the foresight to establish an early online gaming presence and introduced the service in 2002.
That right there is a four year gap between when Xbox Live was established and when the PSN was established, which gave Microsoft the advantage of having an established online service by the time the 360 rolled around. They didn’t have to build something from the ground up.
The PlayStation 2 on the other hand really didn’t have much of an online presence. While online gaming was available on the PlayStation 2, it lacked a cohesive service on the level of Xbox Live. From this perspective, it’s really no surprise why the PSN had a slow start. Sony was creating a multiplayer/digital service from scratch (something Microsoft had done in the previous generation) and those holes in the PSN’s services evident through its basicness and newness were made all the more glaring because of Live’s established presence.
Do I wish that the PSN had some of those features that make Xbox Live great? Sure I do. I would appreciate cross-game chat and a more unified party system. But while those features would be nice, I’m not going to let the lack thereof ruin my gaming experience. More importantly, such features are not worth sixty bucks a year. In fact, the PSN being free is a huge reason that I love it.
See, I am a bit of a cheapskate. I can pinch pennies tighter than that good old miserly caricature, that irascible rascal Ebenezer Scrooge. If I can avoid spending more money than I have to on a hobby (while gaming is important to me, it is still just a hobby) then I will, and I’m sure many of you are just like I am. The PSN being free was actually a major selling point when I made my console choice for this generation. I don’t dislike the Xbox 360, but even though the PS3 had a larger cost up front I viewed its long term costs as cheaper: sixty bucks a year for Xbox Live isn’t a lot but it’s the price of one more game a year.
And it adds up.
If I got an Xbox 360 with Live every year instead of a PS3 I would have spent an extra $360 dollars (coincidence) over six years. Because I didn’t have to pay that subscription cost, it was money I could save for when my old console crapped out (as consoles are apt to do nowadays).
Fast forward to today, and taking into account where these services are headed, I really have to question whether Xbox live is worth the cost. Many people see that statement and immediately reply “without a doubt.” But you have to consider how Xbox Live and the PSN have morphed into full-on media distribution platforms.
With Xbox Live you need a gold membership to access popular streaming services that also have their own subscription costs. Take Netflix as an example, which costs about eight bucks a month (in Canada). All of a sudden what used to be five bucks a month suddenly turns into thirteen if you subscribe to Netflix. So you aren’t just paying $60 but $156 (versus $96 on the PSN). Such an obstacle doesn’t exist on the PSN, where services like Netflix aren’t buried under a paywall. You tell me which amount you’d rather spend?
The PSN being free has allowed the PS3 to transform into a complete media package, that one stop-shop for all of your entertainment needs, beautifully representing the focus of console manufacturers this generation. To a lot of you, that won’t really matter because playing games is what’s important. Even here though, I have to say that the PSN has improved dramatically over the six years it’s been available. It is now to the point that when the PSN is mentioned as being within reach of Xbox live, people seriously consider the proposition.
Yes, it started out as a bit of a spotty service. Outages due to maintenance, for example, where you couldn’t access the PSN were pretty common, but that’s changed. The amount of maintenance the PSN undergoes really hasn’t changed, but people can still access online play, pending a recent log on. That makes the recent issues some people experienced over the weekend more of an exception than the standard.
Also, the UI can be clunky at times—I won’t disagree with that. Joining friends isn’t as seamless as it is with Xbox Live, but if I want to join up with friends the most I have to do is check my messages to accept an invitation (not exactly rocket science). For the most part I don’t even have to go that far, as most games feature a handy dandy way to access invites immediately by simply pressing a button. So if I get an invite to play Battlefield 3, all I have to do is go to the in-game squad mechanic and press X on the friend who invited me.
While we’re on the subject of party systems, most games feature an in-game party system anyways, which makes up for the lack of one on the PSN. They may not be as good as the one Xbox Live offers, but they get the job done.
Lastly, if we are going to talk about games, then we have to talk about PlayStation Plus. PlayStation Plus continually offers subscribers the opportunity to expand their library through discounted or free-to-subscriber items, all while costing less than an Xbox Live subscription. Like I said before, in my books nothing beats free. So if I’m looking at what gives me more bang for my buck, the PlayStation Network becomes my platform of choice.
What it all comes down to is that the PSN does what I need it to. Fundamentally, that’s why I’m such a fan. While I’ve already admitted that features like cross-chat functionality or a built-in part system would be nice, all I really want is to be able to play games with my friends. The PlayStation Network lets me do just that, and it lets me do so for zero dollars.