Christmas. It's just around the corner.
Probably my favourite Christmas present from my parents came over twenty years ago. I'd received an array of socks, a plethora of chocolate, and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle hand puppet. I had one gift left to open, and it was one to share with my brother, so we knew it must be good. We hastily ripped the wrapping from the box to see the words "Master System II" emblazoned across the box. Our first ever games console. "Chuffing hell" my four year old brother said. We were overjoyed.
Until that moment my only experience with gaming had been the Commodore 64 we had. As anyone who had one of those monsters will tell you, gaming back then consisted of swapping tapes, watching bright colours flashing during loading screens, playing for five minutes, dying, and repeating the process to have another go. As much as I loved Treasure Island Dizzy (and still do) the C64 was old news. This Master System... this was the future.
We popped Sonic The Hedgehog into the cartridge slot and so began my twenty five year (so far) love affair with console gaming. My parents knew I loved it, but I wonder if they truly knew how much of a positive impact that present had on my life. How from that moment onward gaming became my favourite pass-time, my passion.
Today, Christmas is enjoyable for entirely different reasons. I now get the feeling of excitement not for what I'm getting, but watching my partner open the presents I've bought her, hoping that she loves it. And seeing how happy it makes my mother to have the family all round the table eating themselves to death before sitting down in the living room and watching Die Hard or Home Alone 2.
Christmas is the best way I can describe the Instant Game Collection as a service.
Every month I get excited to see what games will be available to download, and like Christmas, sometimes you'll open a pair of sock and sometimes you'll open a Scalextric. You never know what the games will be but you hope it's going to be something you've never played, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
Playstation Plus is a service that exists because of competition. People need to remember that when they're buying a PS4 and hoping the Xbox One fails spectacularly, or vice versa. Without competition a company doesn't need to try this hard. With the PS3 embroiled in an almost decade long sales battle with the Xbox 360, Sony introduced the Instant Game Collection scheme as part of Playstation Plus. For £40 a year (the price of a single, brand new game) users are treated to what is effectively a subscription service. Each month three new games are added, and made available to download for any subscriber, who can keep these games for as long as they're a subscriber. At any one time there's at least ten PS3 games available to download, so if you buy a PS3 today, for the price of one game you get instant access to ten games, and the dozens that will become available in the year to come.
I signed up for Playstation Plus specifically for the Instant Game Collection, and in my first year as a subscriber, my £40 got me the following games:
Borderlands, Red Dead Redemption, Just Cause 2, Machinarium, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, Hell Yeah!, Bulletstorm, Resident Evil 5, Crysis 2, Batman: Arkham City, Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One, Vanquish, Mortal Kombat, Sleeping Dogs, Okami HD, Thomas Was Alone, Hitman: Absolution, Saints Row: The Third, Spec Ops: The Line, Assassin's Creed III, and most recently Remember Me. And that's not all of them. They're just some of the bigger names. And I had to Wikipedia it to remember what I'd got since there's been that many.
Has there ever been a better value service introduced to gaming consoles? For the price of one full game, I got to play dozens of titles I otherwise might not have played. And sure, they're not all gold. For every Borderlands, there's a Lord of the Rings: Guardians of Middle Earth. But like Christmas, it's a surprise. And a surprise that pays off more often than not.
As if that wasn't enough, Sony came up with another zinger to sweeten the deal further. Buy a Vita, and your PS Plus subscription carries over. I bought a Vita for the sole purpose of playing Persona 4: Golden after I came into a little bit of money unexpectedly. It's still the only game I've ever bought for the system. Instant Game Collection took care of the rest. And as I sit playing Touch My Katamari on my Vita, I can't help but salute Sony for introducing this incredible service.
As a service it benefits the gamer with laughably good value. But it also benefits the developer, too. How many people bought Borderlands 2 because they played Borderlands for free? How many people were blown away by Thomas Was Alone and now eagerly look forward to the next release from Mike Bithell? Both of those apply to me, and I can't be alone in this. Everyone wins.
So when we think back to what was good and bad over the last gaming generation, I can't think of anything I'd more readily apply the title of Last-Gen Hero to over the Instant Game Collection. It's the best £40 I ever spent. So thanks for that, Sony. May the service long continue, and I look forward, like a kid at Christmas, to seeing what you've got up your sleeve come next month.