Games With Gold Can’t Compete With PS Plus, But Will Phil Spencer Change That?
The majority of gamers and industry veterans out there know that Sony’s stellar PlayStation Plus offering easily beats out Microsoft’s Games With Gold program on a consistent basis. I’m a PS4 owner, so maybe you’d like to take my friend and fellow writer Caveshen’s word on that instead, since he’s an Xbox fan. Either way, it’s pretty much the reality and I’m not going to rehash all the reasons why PS Plus is a superior offering. By now, you should be well aware of all of that. However, I’ve often seen many gamers puzzled as to why Games With Gold is in fact so inferior and why it doesn’t just simply do better, and I’d like to address that issue as well as Xbox’s new direction.
As we know news recently broke that Microsoft has promoted Phil Spencer to head the Xbox division, and he has outlined his direction. Interestingly enough, one of the early changes Spencer wants to achieve is to put out better games for Games With Gold, which is something Xbox fans have been demanding over and over again. In order to do this, Spencer has said that he needs to gauge what games people want, and then make it happen. I’m not quite sure why a process like that needs to take place, but let’s adopt the wait and see approach for that one and turn our attention to Microsoft and the Games with Gold program. Truthfully it is a puzzling dilemma when you think about it, so let’s dig in.
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I’ve seen many gamers ask the question: “Why doesn’t Microsoft just do better?” This is not a question asked out of ignorance or entitlement, contrary to some beliefs, but I feel it’s quite genuine. When you’re seeing Sony consistently put out the best games in a year on its PS Plus program at some point, and not only eager to offer high quality products for free (the ‘rental’ argument is largely irrelevant to anyone’s enjoyment of the offering) but actually, with the PS4, make PS Plus a key ingredient to easing the waiting process between major releases and empowering indie developers, it makes it extremely difficult to watch from the sidelines as an Xbox gamer. Perhaps you could liken it to the Manchester United supporters having to watch the Liverpool supporters bask in glory this season. Too soon?
Now I’ve done a lot of thinking about why Games with Gold is the way it is, and I’ve come to various conclusions. I can’t prove my theory as true, but it makes the most sense to me. And my reason for why Games with Gold is inferior is money. Hold the phone. You’re probably thinking “since when does M$ ever have a problem with money?” Now, if you’ve ever done reading about PS Plus you’d know that Sony compensates each and every developer or publisher who enlists in the program and offers their game up for free for the month. Remember Resogun? Still arguably one of the best little games on PS4? That game must have got downloads past a million, and a lot of people would wonder how the developer would get any benefit out of that past lots and lots of people playing their game. Well, some research indicated that Sony offers monetary compensation, and we’re not sure what else. Perhaps the pleasure of their good company? I’ll leave that up to your imagination.
Surely though if Sony is paying for this process of making PS Plus awesome, then why can’t Microsoft do the same? Again, a perfectly legitimate question I’m sure we’ve all had at some point. And my best deduction would be that Microsoft is spread too wide. Microsoft is a marketing powerhouse, and you’ve seen the sort of financial backing they have put behind projects like Halo and recently Titanfall, as well as the kind of monumental investments they’ve made in new-found forms of console entertainment like Kinect, sports and television. Since Sony is not doing any of these things with the same level of enthusiasm as Microsoft, and it seems to be more of a “me too” situation for them than a real focus, I’d venture a guess that Sony has the budget to pour into its PS Plus program and recruitment of developers. I’m excluding factors like good relations that various indie developers report, because I want to keep this focused on the principle issue of why Games with Gold isn’t competing. Despite the horror stories that went around about working with them, I doubt they’d face a massive problem getting developers on board with them, especially in the long-run. It’s Microsoft and Xbox after all.
Often when you look at Games with Gold and what it offers, it’s not exactly the major hitters or even the recent successes. It’s not guaranteed quality, and neither does it feel like a reward for supporting Xbox Live and the brand. Sure it has had snippets of better months, like recently with its offering of Hitman Absolution, although some would still say that a game from November 2012 is a bit too far back. But right now my honest assessment is that Games with Gold is a “me too” from Microsoft, as in an offering made just to have something that stands up to PS Plus and not necessarily a core offering of the service. When you think PS Plus, those free games are largely at the forefront of your mind despite the requirement of it for online play. When you think Xbox Live, Games with Gold is hardly something that gets you excited about the service. It’s just kind of there. And for me, I can only conclude that Microsoft’s hugely split focus and massive marketing investment is the major reason that I’d stake my lungs on as to why more investment isn’t being made into the Games with Gold program.
Going back to the beginning here, Phil Spencer has stated that he plans to change this. Yet, what concerns me is that despite him talking the talk and saying all the right things about games being the focus, the fact remains that Microsoft is still going for an “all in one” entertainment system. And as I discussed in a previous article, such a widespread focus, while admirable, naturally leads to trade-offs – one of which being that gaming is not the absolute focus. With the PS4, it’s pretty easy to see that gaming is the main drive of the machine. Understand that I am not criticising the Xbox One or Microsoft. As I have said numerous times in the past, I like that both consoles have their own vision. But it worries me that Phil Spencer may be repeating the history that saw the Xbox 360 hit a major gaming dry spell in its twilight years, while the PS3 ended on a very strong note with its gaming.
And this is absolutely a core issue that Microsoft faces this generation. It’s really not 1080p or 60fps or even PR anymore. It’s being spread too wide, and as a result sacrificing a core focus. Sadly you can’t have everything or be truly great at everything at once. This widespread focus for me, while making use of Microsoft’s diversity, spectacular financial power, reach and marketing prowess, disadvantages certain gaming areas like Games with Gold and exclusive titles. At least the latter is definitely showing signs of improvement this generation. Hopefully it remains consistent throughout this life cycle.
Ultimately though, I think many Xbox fans would be happy with the appointment of Phil Spencer because he’s genuine and knows the brand, but only time will tell whether he will repeat the mistakes of the Xbox 360, or align the Xbox One’s vision with its results. Best of luck to the man. At the end of the day it’s definitely going to be interesting to see whether Spencer can achieve his goal of improving Games with Gold. It would be quite some achievement if he manages to get it to compete with PS Plus, but my guess is that sacrifices will have to be made or the re-focus will have to occur quickly if that is to happen. Let’s see then if Microsoft’s rebuilding process leads to gamers getting the best outcome.