Sony console looks to expand base, access with $50 annual plan

As the three major videogame consoles compete for gamers, is Sony dangled its latest carrot in the form of PlayStation Plus.

The subscription-based service launched Tuesday afternoon during the E3 videogame confab in Los Angeles, giving members access to a mix of console and independently produced online games for $49.99 a year, or around $4 a month, depending on the plan. Service also provides early access to full game trials, free games, discounted games, early betas and demos, and free cloud-based storage. Service was initially introduced at E3 in 2010.

Company believes it will be able to attract a variety of gamers to PlayStation through the service, including hardcore gamers who don’t necessarily want to plunk down $60 to own a title, and are currently turning to used games sold at retailers like GameStop. At the same time, the Plus service could also appeal to gift givers who may not be familiar with the latest games but want to purchase membership cards for others.

“For the first time, the (PlayStation Plus) membership gives customers an instant game collection,” Jack Buser, senior director of PlayStation Digital Platforms, told Variety.

Either way, PlayStation sees the membership program as a new source of revenue, especially as it promotes independent games that are digitally distributed through the console. Sony wants to put more resources behind such titles after Thatgamecompany’s “Journey” became a top seller, breaking records for its PlayStation Store.

But it’s also expected to become a lucrative new marketing tool, especially as gamers look to sample before purchasing new games.

PlayStation Plus initially launched with 12 titles, including “Little Big Planet 2,” “inFamous 2,” “Just Cause 2,” “Zombie Apocalypse Never Die Alone,” “Space Marine,” “Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light” and “Choplifter.”

Titles can be downloaded and are free to play during the subscription.

The service offers storage of up to 1,000 game titles on the PlayStation Network.

Pllus does not yet offer access through the PlayStation Vita handheld, but it’s likely to be added, given how Sony has promoted the gaming device’s interactivity and close ties to the PS3, touting it as a “PlayStation 3 in your pocket.”

The number and mix of titles will change as PlayStation collects feedback from users.

New offerings will be updated frequently, possibly even on a weekly basis.

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