There isn't just one paid online console gaming service, anymore. There are two. Xbox Live and the newly revealed PlayStation Plus are going head-to-head. But, how are the two services different?
This is what we know so far:
PriceAn annual "Gold" membership for Xbox Live is $49.99. The "Silver" membership is totally free, however. The upcoming PSN Plus is also priced at $49.99 for a year and $17.99 for three months. The regular PSN service is free of charge. Sony is planning on offering an initial three month trial membership, free of charge.
Downloadable ContentBoth Xbox Live Gold and Silver members have access to downloadable content like demos and game trailers; however, some Xbox Live Gold content becomes available to Silver members a week later. According to Sony, the PlayStation Plus "Exclusives" include "full game trial" as well as "select early demos". PlayStation Plus offers a "Full Game Trial". According to Sony, that means players can play a game for up to one hour and purchase the title to unlock trophies and continue said title.
For current PSN users, demos and game trailers, and we do not see this changing, because it is such a powerful marketing tool for games. The "select early demos" bit sounds similar to how Microsoft rolls out content early on Xbox Live for Gold members.
DiscountsMicrosoft has had "weekly deals" on Xbox Live to Gold members with 50 percent on select Xbox Live Arcade games, Xbox originals and downloadable content. Sony's Playstation Plus is planning to offer its paid users PSN Store discounts, free games and downloadable content. You would also get access to one new PSN game per month (possibly only for as long as you're a paying subscriber, though we're not sure of that).
ChatBoth Xbox Live Gold and Silver members have voice chat capabilities, but video chat and party chat are reserved for the fee-based Gold members. Sony currently offers free voice chat and voice free of charge to its PSN users. No word yet on what new robust chat services will be offered via the PlayStation Plus.
Social Networking SitesPaid Xbox Live Gold users get Twitter and Facebook integration, while Xbox Live Silver members do not. Sony's free PSN service already offers Facebook integration.
NetflixNetflix is already available on both the PSN and Xbox Live. It is currently a paid, separate subscription for the PSN users. For the Xbox 360, only Xbox Live Gold membership members may access their paid Netflix account.
MultiplayerThe traditional divide between Microsoft's paid Gold service and its free Silver service is multiplayer. On the Xbox 360, players that want to experience multiplayer online gaming must play the Gold membership fees. Conversely, since the PS3 launched, it has offered free multiplayer gaming. PlayStation Plus does not currently appear as though it will change this.
Firmware...Wait, Firmware?According to Sony, the company has made it easier for PlayStation Plus users to get their firmware updates. More details on this as they become available. Microsoft does not offer such a service to Xbox Live members.
This is, as previously mentioned, what we currently know and obviously subject to change once Sony launches PlayStation Plus later this summer. There will be kinks for the company to iron out, so stay tuned to see how Sony continues to differentiate its paid online service from Microsoft's. The battle of the paid subscriptions is just getting started.