Devaluing games: The Impact of free Games on PS Plus and Games with Gold

Who doesn’t like free stuff, especially free games? No one, which is why in June 2010 when PlayStation Plus (PS Plus) was launched, it was met with open arms by the majority of gamers. Up to that point, online play through the PlayStation Network had been 100% free, whereas Xbox Live had required a subscription. What made PS Plus different though was the inclusion of a few free games each month for no extra cost through the ‘Instant Game Collection’. Not wanting to be beaten by Sony, Microsoft (albeit 3 years later in July 2013) upped their Xbox Live offering through the ‘Games with Gold’ (GWG) service, which also provides subscribers with free games each month, to keep for the duration of their subscription at no additional cost. For £40 a year, both services offer incredible value for money. For example, in 2016 alone, IGN showed that the total value of the titles on offer came to $1283.28 and $1053.55 for PS Plus and GWG respectively. However, I believe this generosity has come at a cost, not to the bean counters at Sony, but to developers and even us gamers.

The problem with these subscriptions is that they devalue games. The number of free titles one can amass from PS Plus and GWG is more than anyone could ever want or need. It would be perfectly feasible to not pay for any other games all year, just play those you got for free and you would still probably not have played half of them. The benefit of receiving a free game is that the element of risk has been eradicated, so I tend to try genres I might not normally play. This is one of the great benefits of these services. So I install the game, load it up and play it for an hour. This hour becomes the most important factor as to whether I will continue playing or whether I go straight to the uninstall and this is why any game that features on PS Plus or GWG is devalued.

You may think I am being ludicrous, but indulge me just a little further and I will explain why. You could argue that the first hour is important for any game and I would agree. However, if I have just paid £44.99 for a game, or even £10.00 and I didn’t enjoy the first hour or so, I would not then be getting in the car to visit Cex at the next available opportunity to trade it in. This is because I have made both a monetary and time investment into that game, whereas if I got the game through PS Plus, it is just a time investment.

There a number of examples I can think of where I have been guilty of abandoning free PS Plus title due to my initial impressions not being all that great. Don’t Starve, Grow Home, The Binding of Isaac, Dead Nation, The Cave, Demon Souls, Trine 2, The Unfinished Swan, Spelunky and I’m sure there are more that I’m missing. To some, there are some classics in that list, but because they didn’t grab me straight away and they were free, I didn’t feel compelled to give them another try. The same psychology is at hand when it comes to purchases in the Steam Sales. For PC Gamers, the Steam Winter sale is one of the highlights of the year with bundles of bona fide bargains on offer. Games that that used to be £44.99 can be found for less than a fiver in some instances. If wallets could cry, they would by the end of a Steam sale due to the number of delightful deals to be had. The downside to the Steam sale is that myself, along with millions of other PC gamers, have a large Steam library of untouched games and if we’re being totally honest with ourselves, will remain untouched for the rest of time.

When a game goes unplayed, or played for only for a short period, I feel sorry for the developer. Why should I feel sorry for the developer when they still get the money at the end of the day? That is true, but it is unfortunate that we don’t get to appreciate the hard work the developer has gone to in making their game and I don’t think it is a stretch to say that it is a tad degrading for a title that someone has dedicated years of their life to, being cheaper than a Sainsbury’s meal deal.

On the other hand, PS Plus has allowed certain games to flourish. The prime example being the phenomenon which is Rocket League. Rocket League was first released as a PS Plus free game, which many subscribers took advantage of. Over time, word of how great Rocket League was and still is spread amongst the gaming community to the point where it continues to be one of the most downloaded games each month across various platforms, despite it now being a paid for download. If it weren’t for PS Plus, the game would not be anywhere near as popular as it is because PS Plus gave it the platform to thrive. Sadly though, for every Rocket League there are a myriad of other titles which didn’t receive the limelight they deserve.

Sony recently stated that they were focusing the PS Plus instant game collection on providing indie games, rather than the plethora of AAA games offered in the heady days of PlayStation 3. This has annoyed some subscribers, but perhaps it is the best solution to problem me and many others face of devaluing games. The majority of indie games tend to be smaller experiences in terms of time, so we would be more likely to finish the game if, after an hour or two, we are nearly halfway through the game. Or maybe the solution is that we should persevere and be more patient with a game. Nintendo’s online proposition for the upcoming Switch, whereby players have access to two free games a month, has come under a lot of criticism due to the fact that once that month is over you lose the game unless you purchase it. This condemnation is deserved, but at least it would force gamers to rinse those games whilst they’re free, otherwise they won’t get another opportunity to play it unless they pay. Nintendo obviously place great value on their back catalogue of titles.

PS Plus, GWG and the Steam sales are great and long may they continue. They have enabled us all to discover hidden gems we may have never played before, whilst at the same time allowing us to save a shed load of money. It is just a shame that sometimes the games included aren’t given a fair chance to shine and reach the audience they deserve due to the psychology of some gamers, including myself.