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Introduction - PS3 Online vs Xbox 360 Live: Which One is Right for You?
The defining characteristic of the current generation of consoles has been their embrace of total online integration and functionality, although how Microsoft and Sony's competing services got to this point has differed greatly along the way. In this article, Bright Hub takes a dispassionate look at Xbox Live and Playstation Network and attempts to answer the question: "PS3 online vs Xbox 360 Live"? Should it affect your decision to purchase an Xbox 360 or a Playstation 3?
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As difficult as it is to imagine now, when the original Xbox launched in 2001, there was no online service for it. It would take until a year later for Xbox Live to go into operation, and until 2004 for Live's "Killer App", Halo 2, to become available. It was the multiplayer modes of Halo 2 that cemented online connectivity as a central feature for all consoles from then on, allowing console gamers to share in the multiplayer mayhem that had long been a feature of PC gaming, as well as other online features, such as downloadable demos and extra content, as well as opening console titles up to after-launch patching from game studios.
When the Xbox 360 followed, it was designed from the ground up to be the first console constantly connected to and updated from the Internet. With the original Xbox, you either had an Xbox Live subscription and could access online functionality or you didn't. With the 360, Microsoft introduced a two-tier Live system: Silver and Gold. All Xbox 360 owners could sign up for a free Silver account and have access to patches, demos and other content, but online multiplayer functionality was reserved for those who paid for a Gold membership.
Initially, the only tangible difference between Silver and Gold memberships was the multiplayer aspect. However, as time has gone on, Microsoft has added features to the Xbox 360, many of which require that you have a paid Gold subscription to use. These include on-demand movie and music streaming services as well as Social Media integration, such as Facebook and Twitter. In the future, it is likely that, as more features are introduced and added to the Xbox Live ecosystem, paid Gold membership will be a minimum requirement to access them.
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Although the Playstation 2 supported online gaming, and the PS2 Slim came with an ethernet adapter built into the console, multiplayer online titles were never as big a focus for Sony's massively successful gaming machine as it was for its distant competitor, the Xbox. Although the unified Playstation Network was announced prior to the Playstation 3's launch, Sony had not had the years of experience in building an online community and infrastructure that Microsoft had developed from the previous console. At launch, the Playstation 3 lacked much of the seamless integration and functionality that the Xbox 360 had with the Live service.
However, after considerable effort and firmware upgrades, the Playstation 3 and Playstation Network have undoubtedly reached a stage where they can compete head-to-head with the 360 and Live in the online arena, and gamers who choose to invest in a Playstation 3 over a 360 will not find much missing in terms of online multiplayer, demos and media. The Playstation Network also has one big and telling advantage over Xbox Live: online multiplayer has always been completely free on the PS3.
While their commitment to free online services is admirable from a consumer's point of view, it did mean that Sony were missing out on an equivalent to the huge revenue stream that Xbox Live's popularity has provided Microsoft with. It also painted them somewhat into a corner in terms of how they could find ways to make money out of their online network. Deciding to charge for key components of the Playstation Network that had previously been available for free would lead to a massive backlash from both the media and loyal Sony consumers.
Sony's answer is the introduction of Playstation Plus, a new subscription service that launched in June 2010. Whereas Microsoft's paid offering concentrates on providing functionality for a fee, Playstation Plus focuses on offering content. Subscribers will receive a selection of downloadable titles during the period of their subscription from the Playstation Network catalogue, including Playstation Minis and PSOne games, as well as early access to betas and exclusive extra game content. It should be noted, though, that this content only remains available to play for the duration of your subscription - cancel and these games can no longer be accessed.
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PS3 Online vs Xbox 360 Live - Conclusion
Three years ago, the question "PS3 online vs Xbox 360 Live" would have been a no-brainer in Microsoft's favor, but Sony has battled hard to bring the Playstation Network up to scratch, and for a new purchaser of either console the differences (excepting, of course, the price) would be negligible. However, for now, Live continues to have the edge in terms of online multiplayer features and community, not least in its support for Cross-Game Chat, a feature still missing from the PS3's arsenal. Sony have mentioned this feature several times in relation to the new Playstation Plus service, probably because of the bandwidth costs involved, meaning that feature parity with Xbox Live will be dependent on paying a subscription as well. If you are an avid online gamer, it is hard not to recommend Xbox Live and the 360, as Microsoft have done a superb job in the integration of the service into every feature of the platform's games, and the Gold subscription is a worthwhile investment for multiplayer fans, especially with the other services that are increasingly dependent on having Gold membership. If you are only an occasional online player, or not interested at all, then Playstation Network is just as viable a choice as Xbox Live. It is difficult at this point to recommend subscribing to Playstation Plus, due to it lacking a clear purpose or stand-out feature. If Sony had made the entire online Playstation Network back catalogue available for the duration of your subscription, Playstation Plus would be a clear winner. As it is, perhaps Sony have something else up their sleeves for the Playstation Plus service to make it a must-have - downloadable Playstation 2 games, anyone?