Today’s consoles do so much more than just let you play games. They’re portals to online platforms that let you connect to people to play with. They also offer games to purchase and movies to watch. Both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 want to be your all-in-one connected living room media devices. Some of their features are available free, but many require that you sign up for their respective online services.
The cost of an Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus subscription could, over the life of your console, add up to more than its original purchase price. So the value each service adds is important. If you’re considering buying a console, it’s important that you know whether a subscription is worth the extra cost. Let’s see what these services offer you as a player.
The Xbox One and Xbox 360 do a lot more online without an Xbox Live Gold subscription than they used to. On both systems, you don’t need Gold to use media apps like Netflix, Skype, Twitch, and YouTube anymore. You can back up your game saves to the cloud on Xbox One without Gold, but this requires a subscription on Xbox 360.
But if you want to play online multiplayer, you need Gold. This obviously gives incentive to sign up, but not everyone is happy to pay for what’s free on PC. In addition, cross-game party chat with friends requires a Gold membership.
PlayStation Plus is a bit different. On the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita, Plus is not required for any online feature. Multiplayer gaming and full access to online apps and services are included with the PS3. However, PS3 doesn’t support party chat for talking to friends playing other games.
On PlayStation 4, you need Plus for multiplayer games (with the exception of free-to-play titles), but you don’t need it to access apps and services or party chat. PlayStation Plus subscribers also gain a few extra features, including automatic downloads of game updates, early access to some betas, extended game trials of certain titles, and cloud game storage.
Both the PS4 and Xbox One allow you to share one subscription with all users of the console. As long as you designate it as your primary system and keep your subscription active, anyone using it can play games online without having to pay twice.
PlayStation Plus offered free titles from its inception and has continued that practice, adding new games every month. Each month, Plus subscribers can access two free games each on the PS4, PS3, and PlayStation Vita. Thanks to PlayStation’s Cross-Buy service, sometimes the games are playable on multiple platforms. The new PS Plus games arrive on the first Tuesday of each month and stay active until the first Tuesday of the following month.
As long as you “buy” the games when they’re free, they’re yours to keep as long as your Plus subscription stays active. If you let it lapse, you lose access to any free games you grabbed. Should you re-subscribe, your access is restored, though.
Microsoft’s version of this is Games with Gold. Every month, members receive two free Xbox One games as well as two free Xbox 360 titles. Since Microsoft made the Xbox One backwards-compatible, every Xbox 360 title from Games with Gold is also playable on Xbox One.
Like PS Plus, you’ll get locked out of past free Xbox One games if you let your subscription run out. However, all Xbox 360 Games with Gold are yours to keep forever. You’ll need to “buy” them during their free period to add them to your library.
You should note the timing of the Games with Gold releases:
- Xbox One: One free game launches on the first of the month and is available until the end of the month. The other game is free from the sixteenth of the current month to the fifteenth of the next month.
- Xbox 360: You can download one free game from the first of the month until the fifteenth day. Then, the second game is available from the sixteenth day until the end of the month.
Note that we cover the free games for both Xbox Live Gold and PS Plus each month. Check out the free titles for August 2017.
In addition to free games, each service offers a variety of discounts on their respective digital stores. But there are again differences in the frequency and volume of what’s available. It’s hard to compare the services directly in this regard, because the sales vary each week.
On the Xbox Store, you’ll find many discounts that only apply for Xbox Live Gold members. There are a few sales on games for non-Gold members, too.
For PlayStation, you won’t find many Plus-exclusive discounts. Instead, the PS Store’s regularly-rotating sales offer a standard discount for all members as well as a deeper discount for Plus members. So while non-Plus members get 60% off a game, a Plus member might get 80% off instead.
A few extra freebies are also available, but these are mainly add-ons for random games and avatars that most people won’t care about. Occasionally, PS Plus members also get access to game betas before anyone else.
The retail price of Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus is the same: $60 per year. PlayStation Plus was once $50/year, but Sony recently raised the price to match Gold’s. Thankfully, you can find occasional deals that let you save $10 or more on a yearly subscription for either service — so you shouldn’t ever have to pay full price.
To be fair, no one should be paying full price for a PlayStation Plus subscription with the sales that happen at least once a month.
— RPG Site (@RPGSite) August 22, 2016
You can join either service on a monthly basis, but this ends up costing a lot more. They both cost $10 for a month or $25 for three months. Unless you’re only looking to play online for a short time, paying yearly makes much more sense.
Premium Gaming at a Price
There’s not much point in declaring a “winner” between the two services. Both are so similar — and required for online play — that you’ll want to subscribe to the respective service for your console of choice if you can afford it. Each month, the consoles go back and forth on who has the better free games. The backwards compatibility of the Xbox 360 games on Xbox One is great. But if you have a PS4, PS3, and PS Vita, you get three sets of games instead of two.
Regarding cost, the free games for either platform pay for the yearly subscription fee many times over, as long as you actually play them. So many games now feature online multiplayer that unless you stick to single-player games only, you’ll need a subscription just to enjoy your favorite shooter.
In summary: PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold are both an additional cost on top of buying a console and games. But they offer enough to make them worthwhile, especially if you can find a discount. You should become a member unless you have no interest in playing online and don’t plan on checking out any of the free games. And remember that consoles are actually cheaper than playing on PC.
Are you a PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold member? If not, why haven’t you subscribed? Tell us your favorite part of the services down in the comments!