It’s no secret that the Xbox Live Arcade “Summer of Arcade” program has been a great success for Microsoft. Now in its fourth year the program has provided gamers smaller, independent titles for download during the dog days of the summer software drought. Microsoft has even sweetened these deals by providing free games each summer if participants pick up every Summer of Arcade title. Sony has developed no competing program – until now.

SCEA announced yesterday the PSN PLAY program for North America and Europe. Pre-orders for PLAY will begin August 9th. With each pre-order users will receive a theme for their PS3 and some form of DLC or bonus (see below for specifics). In addition, if you buy all four titles in the PLAY program fans, that are at least 18, will get a voucher for a bonus game at no additional cost. PS Plus members will receive a 20% discount on all PLAY purchases.

Enough about the program details let’s get to the games, which are all priced at $14.99 (unless otherwise noted):

Street Fighter III Third Strike Online Edition – Boasting 20 playable fighter, 200 pieces of unlockable content, and more than 100 trials and challenges this appears to be the definitive edition of this Capcom fighting game classic. PLAY purchasers will have GILL available day one as DLC and not have to endure beating the game with every character to unlock him. Pre-order through August 18 and available August 23.

The Baconing – HotHead Games is back with its hero DeathSpank to save the kingdom of Spanktopia from the evil Anti-Spank. PLAY purchasers receive co-op character Roesha – One Bad Mutha. Pre-order through August 25 and available August 30.

BloodRayne: Betrayal – Eschewing its third person roots BloodRayne is back as a 2D side-scrolling platformer. Brave 15 levels as you attempt to prevent a vampire massacre. Those who purchase the title through PLAY will receive an exclusive dynamic theme and themed virtual items for their PlayStation Home avatar. Pre-order through September 1 and available September 6.

Renegade Ops – SEGA brings us a top-down, driving shooter with sandbox-style missions and a plethora of vehicles and guns to wreak havoc with. Purchase through PLAY and receive a Vehicle and Character Pack with two additional vehicles and a special weapon. Pre-order through September 8 and available September 13.

PAYDAY: The Heist – SOE’s gritty, first person shooter places you in the shoes of a hardened, career criminal as he tries to grab the next “big score.” If you purchase all four PLAY titles you will receive a voucher for a free copy of PAYDAY when it releases. Pre-orders for PAYDAY begin September 20th and for those who don’t pick it up through PLAY will have to pay $19.99. No release date has been announced.

So will PSN PLAY conquer the XBLA Summer of Arcade? We will have to wait and see which of these programs rules gamers’ summers. Tell us what you think; are you excited about these titles? How do you think PLAY will stack up against the competition?

Written by Justin Spielmann

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