Gaming Thoughts 12/6/12 - Playstation + vs. Xbox Live Gold

I have been fortunate enough to have access to most systems from this generation of gaming, and as a result have found myself in a somewhat rare space in that I have had a chance to see the best and worst of all the different gaming systems and offerings out there. One of the biggest changes to this generation in gaming has been the social aspect of it. For PC users, the option to play games with others has been around a very long time. For those who stick strictly to consoles, there were options in the past with Dreamcast and Xbox and Playstation 2, but the console community has really blossomed this generation (with little to no thanks from Nintendo, who still have a very last generation approach to online gaming with the Wii).

I have stated before that for my household, the PS3 is king. The primary reason? Because everyone has access to online play for free. My daughter would love to play Castle Crashers and my son would love to play Halo with people online on their own accounts. Instead they have to use mine because I refuse to pay $100/year for a family pack, or another $60 for my son to get a gold account. The result for me? A lot of kids I don't know on my friends list randomly asking me to play Left 4 Dead or Halo: Reach. More than that though? It turns my kids away from the 360 because all things being equal, if I have a chance to pick up a multiplayer title - I get it for the PS3. Microsoft's loss.

Beyond that though, PlayStation did create the Playstation Plus service some time ago, and I have had it twice now. The first time was the one month complimentary offering from Sony as part of their Welcome Back package. I tried it again recently due to a coupon code and a desire to port some save files around.

I also recently had to weigh the merits of renewing my Xbox Live Gold status. This gave me an opportunity to consider several things when weighing the two services, and here's my thoughts on them both.

Xbox Live Gold:

The discounts are nice, especially if you buy a lot of downloadable games and content. I go back and forth on this. Sometimes I see a particular deal or set of deals (I'm still holding out home for a Mass Effect 2 or Dragon Age 2 discount sooner than later) and I'll gobble it all up at the discounted price.

The cross-game chat is nice. I like how flexible it is chatting with a friend or group of friends while I'm playing a different game.

The Netflix access. We're a big Netflix family - so this is nice (but again free on Wii and PS3)

The Xbox Rewards program - which I believe is open to everyone (you fill out surveys, sometimes get deals offered, etc where you earn points - that can then be turned into Microsoft points). They also do some small Gold Only rewads now and then (like some Avatar items, or bonus Microsoft Points - but in truth there's only been 4 of those this calendar year). Still, I like free points to spend, so this is nice.

For me however? The biggest perk is that you can play games online with people. That's frustrating for me though, since the PS3 offers that functionality for free. There are some other services offered, but I don't make any use out of them to be perfectly honest.

PlayStation Plus:

Full game trials - you download the whole game and you get a full, 1 hour rental to see if you like it. Any trophies you unlock also 'stick'. Not my favorite feature, because I already get in trouble with my cable company for our bandwidth usage. If it were not for that? I'd probably like this a bit more.

Early access to Demos & Beta Invites - I honestly don't participate in demos or betas real often, so again this feature, while nice, sort of misses on me.

Automatic updating, trophy synching, and a few other automated processes are nice I suppose, but not worth updating my service.

Cloud saves - this has been pretty handy for me for bouncing my saves around from one system to another.

Discounts - Like the Xbox gold, there are weakly discounts. There seem to be more of them on the PSN than the Gold account, but not many more and they're about the same in terms of value.

Free games - this is probably my favorite 'find'. You get a lot of free games every month, it seems. They are generally minis, PSone Classics and even sometimes standard titles - I'm trying out Hydrophobia: Prophecy now for example, and snagged a bunch of Crash Bandicoot games a few weeks ago too.

An additional note: the renewal process for Xbox really, REALLY peeved me off about a month ago. My credit card the service was linked to didn't have enough room to re-up, and you can't cancel via the dashboard on the 360 nor online. So, a friend got me a Gold Subscription gift card so I could just do it that way. Problem was, by the time I had, Microsoft had locked down my account. I was less than their free/silver - they had actually frozen my account because my credit card could not process their auto renewal. I went to go online to try and enter my gift card, and it would not take my account. I tried to move it to a new credit card, and it would not let me. I emailed their support, and they said I had to call in. I called in 3 nights in a row - first two nights on hold for over an hour before I gave up because there were some other technical difficulties that night that caused their call volume to spike.

I did finally get it all straightened out, but as you can probably guess - I was not really all that happy with the above headaches. By contrast, the PlayStation plus service is also set up to auto-renew, but you can turn that feature off right in the console's account settings. What a world of difference that made for my experience.

Currently, I'd consider the PlayStation plus a better deal and service overall. That said? There are some new changes coming today for the 360 that addresses some of these things, from what I have read. One feature is going to be the ability to turn off the auto-renewal via your dashboard - something that would have saved me hours of frustration a month ago. Xbox is also going to be adding some new channels - but it has not been really clear what that means (what all the channels are, what they provide, and if like Hulu Plus or Netflix they will require additional subscription services). Lastly, Xbox is apparently going to add some cloud saves as well.

I am also curious about whether or not this will have any bearing on how profiles are handled on the Xbox. I got a new Xbox for free a few months ago with my wife's cpu - but I discovered something rather annoying. While the PlayStation 3 stores your accounts on each device, and simply updates trophy information with their servers when you ask them to, the Xbox 360 does not handle the account profiles nearly so gracefully. Each time I tried to log into one Xbox or the other, it would tell me I had to recover my gamertag. Apparently, while my profile was on the Xbox servers, there is a locally saved component too. This recovery process took upwards of 15 minutes each time I wanted to go from one Xbox 360 to the other.

Finally I got smart and tossed it on a USB thumb drive that I had handy and had a few gigs formatted to for Xbox use. Still, I have to take it back and forth from one machine to the other every time, and one small annoyance with it is that it rattles back and forth when I am playing disc-based games, tapping the framework of the 360 repeatedly and creating an an annoying sound during my entire playtime. I am hoping that with the introduction of cloud saves that Microsoft will introduce more cloud-friendly means of handling our profiles with this update of service as well. I'll post on it in a few weeks after I've had some time to digest the latest update.
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