Sony's recently announced details of their "Welcome Back" program lay out exactly what PlayStation 3 and PSP gamers will be receiving when the PlayStation Store returns to full functionality. Compared to what Microsoft offered after their disastrous Christmas 2007 Xbox Live season (one free downloadable Arcade game, Undertow), Sony's offerings cover a wider range.
On the surface, it's a win for gamers who were without their online services, Call of Duty multiplayer, and certain Capcom games that require constant online authentication. Users get their choice of two free PlayStation 3 and two additional PSP games, all free from a list of ten possible choices, five for each piece of hardware. PlayStation Plus, a discount service, is also being handed out for 30 days with no charge.
What is a win for gamers is also a win for Sony though, as digging into their offerings reveals a marketing strategy. PlayStation Plus, with all of its benefits, includes free games each month. However, at the end of the subscription, those freebies are no longer playable. When all of those "free" 30 day trials expire, how many will spend the required $60 subscription price to keep their games? How many will realize they enjoy the service and stick around?
There's something even more sinister lying in the free game packages. Sony's own first-party game Infamous is in that list, no surprise since the sequel is scheduled for release on June 7 at full retail price. What better way to realize hype than glue newcomers to the original, or make past players take a second look? The PSN zombie elimination-fest Dead Nation is potentially gearing up for downloadable expansion packs, the game now apparently following the age old "razor/razor blades" pricing tactic.
There is of course another, certainly smaller, segment of the PlayStation populace, those hardcore fans who already have everything on that list. It's a mistake of Microsoft-level proportions, that company utterly ignoring those owners who purchased Undertow prior to the 2007 Xbox Live meltdown. However, in that incident, online functionality was present, however finicky. One could make the argument that Sony doesn't owe anyone anything for the downtime, the EULA stating servers will undergo maintenance and offline play was still possible.
Five years ago, that point would have been valid, but in current times, online play is everything. Sales charts are laden with online first-person shooters, games that establish their dominance only because of their online components. Systems are sold based on their Internet connectivity and Netflix streaming. Sony obviously cannot separate those who play online and those who don't, but they could offer a backup plan. Why not offer $20 of PS Store credit to those not interested in the selected roster?
Sony will be out millions of dollars based on their hacker-based downtime, plus they will need to rectify with those developers who feel the outage cost them revenue. However, it seems Sony is being smarter than most people realize, offering a slate of games that are set to lure in new and old customers than satiate any online cravings. That proposed $20 credit would cost them more; pre-selecting offers is marketing genius, and since these are all Sony digital downloads, it costs them nothing but bandwidth.