We'll assume CoD is a given for both...
Sony and Microsoft each offer online subscription services that span their respective old-gen and new-gen machines. I've looked at the two before on GamesRadar+, but both services have evolved significantly over the past couple of years. What were a couple of small invertebrates crawling from the primordial soup of online subscription services are now super-advanced dolphins of the online gaming sea. Clicking and leaping and generally trying to show off more impressively than the other.
Naturally, I've caught both in the tuna net of games journalism and I'm ready to answer once and for all (or at least until next year): Which offers the greater value? PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold? Let's find a bucket of fish and some hoops for them to jump through...
Let's start with Xbox Live Gold, which costs $59.99/39.99 a year
Or $9.99/5.99 a month. Before you spend anything, it's worth noting than you can take your Xbox console online if you haven't bought a Gold membership - you'll just experience extremely limited online functionality. Any Xbox gamer can activate an Xbox Live Free subscription (formerly known as Xbox Live Silver) simply by connecting their profile to the internet. No additional fee required.
YouTube, Netflix, Twitch, ESPN and Skype are all free to use without a Gold membership (amazingly, this is a new thing - they used to be Gold-only features). Of course, the simplest reason for why you should pay for Gold is that you can't play games online if you haven't got it. But online gaming fun isn't the only thing you get for your money...
Xbox Live Gold lets you play online
Obvious, but essential, you've always needed the paid-for subscription tier to play Xbox games online, ever since Xbox Live launched in 2002. But what a service it is! Live has always represented an exemplary online gaming service, with loads of players in the lobbies of the core games like Call of Duty, FIFA, Battlefield or Forza. Whether you want to shoot, fight or race other people, Xbox Live will let you to do it. And without getting arrested, bruised or killed in a horrible car accident, unlike real life.
The online gaming service does sometimes go offline for maintenance or other reasons, but such occurrences are thankfully infrequent. Xbox Live still represents top quality online gaming, even if the competition has caught up since its groundbreaking early days.
Xbox Live Gold gives you free games
The days of PlayStation owners having all the free games are over. So too are the days of PlayStation owners getting all the newer free games, too. Microsoft has realised that nobody wants to hear news about Gears of War 2 any more (except its mum, but even she's starting to drop hints that maybe it's time GoW2 moved out and got a proper job).
As I type, Xbox Live's Games with Gold service currently offers Worms Battlegrounds, Volgar the Viking and The Raven. Um... I guess they didn't realise I would be writing this feature now, because if they had, they would have put some bigger name games up. Or at least done the vacuuming. Even so, we've had some strong Games with Gold in recent months, such as Halo: Reach, Dark Souls and Dishonored. You can't argue with games of that quality. And I hear the excellent SSX on 360 is coming soon...
Xbox Live Gold gives you deals
What kind of deals? How about up to 80% off the price of new games and DLC? That's right, you can still purchase add-on content with the Free membership, but you'll likely be paying full price if you do. Your Xbox will recognise your Gold Subscription and give you special offers throughout the store, with offers changing each week.
That means we've recently seen the likes of the Metro series with 33% off on Xbox One, and 50% off the likes of Pure, Split/Second and Ducktales: Remastered on old-gen. If that doesn't sound much cop, bear in mind the Black Friday deals saw 75% off freakin' Titanfall. And Titanfall is awesome. The full lists of discounts for each console appear on Major Nelson's blog each week, so have a look at the delights waiting for you there.
Xbox Live Gold gives your family online gameplay too
This is really neat. If you have an active Gold subscription, you can set up family sharing to allow anyone in your household to game online even if you're not home or signed in. Better yet, you can visit a friend's house (a friend who has an Xbox One but doesn't have Xbox Live Gold - what a chump), download your profile onto their console, and allow them to play online via your subscription, even though they're signed in as themselves.
How awesome is that? All the awesome, that's how much. Mind you, the home sharing just makes sense if you ask me. It's your console. You've paid your money. Let your family use it too, only earning their own achievements and rep (while simultaneously not wrecking your own online stats).
Do you get anything else with Xbox Live Gold?
Several more things. Less major, but all cool. For instance, the wonder that is Party Chat should not be underestimated. Get talking with your friends and then play totally different games. You're still gaming socially, just not in the same game. And these days the audio quality of the chat is higher than ever.
A Gold subscription also allows you to use Upload Studio, which is an easy-to-use video editor that stores your game footage in the cloud whenever you say "Xbox, record that", freeing up precious hard disc space. The 720p, 30fps footage looks great - easily good enough for a YouTube kill compilation. Then there's Xbox Fitness, which is available for free throughout December 2014, albeit with some features removed. It's a fitness program. Yes, you will need to stand up for that. As for Smart Match... well, that's supposed to match you with like-minded people on Xbox Live. Apparently that's only an Xbox One feature, which makes me question the validity of the 360's reputation system. Ah well.
PlayStation Plus costs $49.99/39.99 a year
Ooh, PS Plus is cheaper by $10 in the states. And if you buy only buy one month of PS Plus in the UK, it's only 5.49 a month instead of 5.99. That's, like, a whole sherbet Dip-Dab cheaper. As with Xbox and its Live Gold service, PS Plus is necessary also to play online games, although only on PS4. PS3 and Vita games can be played online for free, as always.
Despite being cheaper, a single PS Plus subscription covers your PS4, PS3 and PS Vita, with variations of some of the key features of the new-gen service just as effective on the older hardware. But one that definitely isn't available on anything except PS4 is...
PS Plus lets you SharePlay
SharePlay is a truly new-generation experience and it's only possible with PS Plus. Well, PS Plus and a decent internet connection. SharePlay allows you to play some (but not quite all) multiplayer titles over the internet, either taking control of a friend's PS4 as 'player one', or simply assuming control of a second controller port, allowing 'local' multiplayer over the internet. Crazy.
It works really well, too. The 720p, 30fps video is good enough that you soon forget you're playing on someone else's PlayStation hundreds of miles away. Get a decent connection and the latency is incredibly low, too - far better than internet-enabled remote play that we've all gotten used to. You are limited to one hour of SharePlay at a time (to make sure you don't just leave your console on all day for a mate to play games for free), but you can just start another session once that's over. Oh, and finally, only the player handing over control needs PSPlus. The guest player doesn't. Also, I should point out: nobody has to play Knack. Ever.
PS Plus gives you fantastic discounts
A lot of content on the PlayStation Store has PS Plus discounts. The service is so intrinsically woven into the marketplace, it's obvious how much money a non-member would be saving if they were signed up. Any screen of the store would show you that. Like this one.
This extends to season passes, often for games that were free on PlayStation Plus in the first place, such as Resogun. Did I mention free games just then? Oh boy, does it have free games...
PS Plus gives you over 60 free games a year
The sheer wealth of free content on PS Plus is bewildering the first time you peruse what's available to you. Granted, some of the free stuff may be for a console you don't own, such as Vita or PS3, but even if you only have a PS4, the service still offers you at least two quality games each month.
There has certainly been an indie theme to the PS4's freebies so far, although that hasn't been a bad thing. The likes of Don't Starve and Outlast have been every but as memorable as full-priced fare. You can only play these games while your subscription is active, which is a clever way to keep you spending money each year. But given how much amazing content you get for your $60/40, it's quite literally a small price to pay. And long may the current model last.
PS Plus gives you cloud storage
Oh for goodness' sake, NOT the cloud in that picture. Sheesh. It's a virtual cloud. In fact, the 'cloud' in 'cloud storage' is actually an acronym for 'collect loading or uploading data'. Nah, I'm telling porky pies. But suffice to say uploading save files is a very useful thing to do.
PS Plus' uploading actually makes cloud copies of your saves when you ask it to (or set it to do it automatically), which means it's a fail-safe in case the worst happens and your hard drive decides to format itself overnight. But it also means you can go to someone else's house, download your profile onto their PS4, download your favourite games that you've already paid for, and then download your saves so you can finish the game on their machine. And all before they get home and realise you've broken in!
Well, pretty much the same as Xbox in terms of online gaming. And similarly, you can declare your PS4 to be your 'Primary PS4' and so anyone using it can play online, even if they don't have a PS Plus subscription themselves. It must be said, however, PSN has seen more than a few issues recently, especially with the likes of Driveclub. And that meant we didn't get the PS Plus-exclusive version of that game, which is real shame. So even though it's great right now, it could be better.
And it's worth noting that you get a heck of a lot of stuff without a PS Plus subscription anyway. Party Chat, video sharing, internet browsing, messaging... even Remote Play of PS4 games over the internet is free. But even though these features are all great, it's the sheer wealth of free or heavily discounted content that makes PS Plus such a steal at its 12-month subscription price.
Which is best?
Come on, after 20 years, we know which is best. Super Street Fighter 2 is better than Mortal Kombat 2. This is fact and you need to get used to it. Oh, but if you didn't mean that, and were in fact asking about the contents of the previous 13 slides of this article (which would probably make more sense, come to think of it), then the answer is PlayStation Plus.
BUT! Not by as much as it used to be. Microsoft has really turned things around over the past 12 months. Its Games with Gold freebies are better and more timely than they used to be, certainly. That said, right now PS Plus offers more content for less, and for a greater variety of machines as well as that fantastic SharePlay feature which really must be experienced to be believed. Both companies' online services are worth subscribing to if you have a new-gen console, so buy in confidence.
But what do you think?
Only got one console but are absolutely certain that the service you chose is definitively better than the one you've never used? That's great! The internet was made for exactly this sort of occasion! Tell everyone in the comments why yours is best. Or just debate that Super Street Fighter 2 vs Mortal Kombat 2 thing. Either's good.
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