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Finding the time to play games is precious enough. Even in the quiet months of the release calendar there is always a backlog to tackle, a game from the past begging for attention. Due to the amount of titles vying for my attention I tend to have a clear plan of what I intend to play. A plan shaped around the time I have available. So when a game like Everybody’s Golf turns up on PlayStation Plus and captures my attention for 20 hours, it ruins everything. But it does demonstrate the value and impact the service is having.

When Sony launched the PlayStation Plus initiative in 2010 there was a collective shrug. Discounts on themes and downloadable titles were fine but, taking the subscription fee into account, it was hardly a mouth-watering offer. The prospect of Full Game Trials was also interesting, but new releases were sporadic and it appears that this aspect is pretty much dead.

And then there were the free games. Again, when the service launched, titles such as Shatter and Critter Crunch were viewed as nice to have, but hardly essential. But gradually PlayStation Plus evolved and we are now at the point where it has redefined our expectations of a premium console subscription service.

When the PlayStation 3 arrived in 2006 much was made of its free online services. In comparison to Microsoft’s Xbox Live it was a somewhat anaemic offering, but it did offer the essentials of online multiplayer and a rudimentary friend system at zero cost. In the years that followed Sony played catch-up by introducing trophies and so on, but for many players the Xbox 360 was the default device for online console multiplayer gaming. Sony’s approach seemed more focused on community projects, such as Life with PlayStation and PlayStation Home.

During the course of the last generation the two services became more aligned. And once the likes of Netflix began to roll out console based streaming services it was Sony’s lack of pay wall that began to shift expectations of what a premium subscription should offer.

It was against this backdrop that Sony announced PlayStation Plus. It seems evident now that it was designed with the long-term in mind, laying the ground work for the new generation with the last. Introducing a paid subscription alongside the PlayStation 4 may have been too much of a change, but by having the time to define and shape the service Sony has avoided a huge outcry. It also became much easier to accept online multiplayer becoming part of a paid service because, you know, you get a bunch of free stuff too.

And not only free stuff, but good free stuff. Sony deserves credit for ensuring that there have been notably few bad games included as part of the Instant Game Collection. In fact, the opposite is true. Titles such as GuacameleeBorderlands 2Pro Evolution Soccer 2014UnchartedPuppeteer and, yes, Everybody’s Golf have all wormed their way into my time. Add in the excellent of selection of indie gems and it becomes harder and harder with each passing month to contemplate ever cancelling my subscription.

And by ensuring that each platform is represented I have also received games for my PlayStation 4. These titles have helped ease the post launch slumber that many consoles endure, and it’s certainly helped ease my early adopter buyer’s remorse.

Meanwhile, we have seen Microsoft flounder. With Kinect finally being thrown on the fire, the slow and painful reversal of the Xbox One’s philosophy and direction is complete. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are now very similar systems, and that makes PlayStation Plus a significant point of differentiation. It was therefore no surprise hear the news that the Games with Gold service is now coming to Xbox One. Subscribers will be able to download one free game a month, and that game will be available to play while you continue to be a Gold Member. That’s lovely, but Microsoft still has some way to go if it intends to truly compete with Sony’s offering.

Sony have set the standard for all others. They have recognised, more than any other console company, that you can’t base everything on a box of tricks. For me, PlayStation Plus is Sony’s killer app. It’s well priced, delivers great value and has exposed me to wonderful games that I would never have bought. And without it, I would never have known how to use a 7 Iron when I’m stuck in the rough.

From a developers perspective there are also benefits. They may not make a huge amount of money by being part of Plus but it can certainly help build long term awareness of their games through positive word of mouth.

And on that note, the campaign for Puppeteer 2 starts here.

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