Thanks, Live Arcade, for this Jolly Co-operation

Back in the days of the original Xbox, Microsoft’s online service was one of the console’s biggest plus points. And why not? For a £40 annual subscription players could get online and experience competitive and co-operative gaming with friends all over the world, all handled by a generally stable and reliable infrastructure that made matchmaking simple.

PC gamers may have scoffed at the ‘streamlined’ approach, that console owners were paying £40 a year for what any PC owner could enjoy, and other factors besides, but the fact remained that Xbox Live was a service worth paying for. It took Nintendo and Sony some time to catch up.

But catch up they have… well, Sony at least. I’ve not been online with a Nintendo service in years. Do they even allow that yet? I vaguely recall that even the wireless connectivity of the DS was deliberately hampered because Nintendo were afraid of young gamers being sent crude hand-drawn pictures of cocks. Or something like that. Didn’t stop a load of misshapen Miis marching all over my screen like the Gross Racial Stereotype brigade of the French Foreign Legion. Sony’s PS+ service, on the other hand, offers pretty much everything that Xbox Live does at this point. Multiplayer gaming on the PS3 is as realistic a prospect as on the 360, contrasted to the PS2 for which some Western developers regarded Sony’s online service as an albatross few players ever actually approached.

Most interestingly, both Sony and Microsoft have recognised that the perceived value of some older games has dropped. This does not include pre-last gen (360 and PS3) titles; thanks to their physical medium and scarcity many of these are now collectable items. It does, however, include everything in their digital catalogue.

Although both vendors offer occasional sales – and here I’d say Sony have also overtaken Microsoft with the breadth of games put on sale – neither has taken to the approach pioneered by Valve and Steam, where sales that slash between 50-90% of the price of a game are considered good sense economically because the size of the userbase means that the increased volume of sales makes up for the per-unit loss of revenue. Perhaps Sony and Microsoft considered this and decided against it; it’s obvious that doing so would set a precedent that perhaps neither wants. Pandora’s Box, bottling a genie; pick your metaphor.

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We share our loot evenly. Well, mostly evenly. We mostly agree on it. Mostly.

But what they have been doing is offering free games alongside their online services. It makes sense: both vendors want all or the majority of their userbase to get online, enjoy the various online features they offer and to begin investing themselves in the online marketplaces, further tying themselves into the platform. Sony began doing this in the Summer of 2012 whilst Microsoft arrived at the party a whole year later. Microsoft offer one game every half-month, whilst Sony offer a selected handful of titles for the duration of a full month – here, again, Sony’s offer is the more generous. Microsoft, however, allow players to ‘own’ the games they download ‘forever’, whereas Sony’s PS+ service only allows access whilst a subscription remains active.

There are some small differences, and in truth whichever you prefer likely has as much to do with the service you already use, or the console you own or prefer, as anything else. Among the Arcadian Rhythms team AJ and I lean toward the 360, for example, whilst Dylan has decided to let his Live subscription lapse and is switching over to PS+. Richer people than we probably enjoy both – you bastards!

I’ve enjoyed quite a few of the games I’ve been handed for free, and others I’ve liked just having a quick poke at. Magic the Gathering 2013, for example, was obviously given away to help promote the 2014 edition. I played it for an hour or so; that was enough for me. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, on the other hand, I played for over twenty hours and my girlfriend over sixty. That’s a bargain at half the price, right? Half of nothing. Well, half of £3.50 a month.

The best games, though, have been those that allow for play together. My purchasing habits tend to be driven by what I want to play, what I think I will derive the most pleasure from, or that I feel looks like the most interesting/innovative/progressive title. I very rarely make a purchasing decision based on multiplayer components, and it’s for this reason that I’m glad to have seen some good multiplayer titles among those on offer – particularly co-operative games.

Among those given away via Live have been Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Shoot Many Robots (reviewed here) and Dungeon Defenders. These have respectively provided hours of entertainment for my girlfriend and I, or during larger-scale play sessions with groups of friends. I’d very much like to see more games of this type as they help plug a gap in my game collection that has been left open by my own preferences and prejudices.

So thanks for that, Microsoft. And please do give us more games to play together.

[Lists of the games given away via each service can be found here for Xbox Live and here for PS+. The PS+ list is huge and looks tonnes better than the Live list. Le Sigh and all that.]

lara-croft-and-the-guardian-of-light

We played a lot of Lara Croft before I introduced C to Minecraft. After that, well…