You may be wondering why Sony is giving away good games for free. Here’s a thought:

Sony knows you basically can’t buy a PS5 — and that its most exciting new games won’t be out for months even if you could. Sony also knows there’s little it can do about that. It can’t magically fix the global semiconductor shortage or bring an early end to the pandemic that’s caused numerous game delays as developers learn how to work from home.

But Sony does have one way to bolster goodwill at the beginning of this console generation: it can tide over PlayStation fans by giving away a handful of its best games.

On March 1st, Sony started giving away 2016’s Ratchet & Clank with no strings attached — no subscription required, just a free game for you to keep forever for your PS4 or PS5 console.

On April 19th, it’ll start giving away 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn, too — the Complete Edition, so you’re also getting the Frozen Wilds DLC — plus a big bundle of excellent indie games starting on March 25th, including ABZÛ, Enter the Gungeon, Rez Infinite, Subnautica, and The Witness. Sony’s even throwing in four well-regarded PlayStation VR titles: Astro Bot Rescue Mission, Moss, Thumper, and Paper Beast. None of these titles are shovelware: they’re all great, and Sony has said it’ll keep giving away games through June.

Sony calls this its “Play at Home” program, and it was originally pitched last year as a way to keep gamers home and socially distanced during the pandemic, which… sure. Let’s give it the benefit of the doubt.

But as Epic Games has shown with its Epic Games Store, giving away old games for free is also a great way to kickstart a new gaming platform. Originally a glorified launcher for Fortnite and the abandoned Unreal Tournament successor, EGS brute-forced its way into becoming a bona fide Steam competitor by giving away 749 million copies of games (not a typo) in 2020. Some of those users seem to have stuck around, seeing how they spent $265 million on third-party games last year alone.

While Epic has never said how it can afford to give away thousands of dollars worth of games to any person for free, it probably isn’t hemorrhaging billions of dollars to make it happen. Many of them are older popular titles gamers are already likely to own elsewhere, so it’s not like they’re cannibalizing sales. I’d also be very surprised if Epic doesn’t have special deals with developers based on that (or, perhaps, to only pay when you actually launch and play these games). If Sony sticks to its own titles or ones where it can cut deals, it might be a relatively cheap way to build goodwill.

As we’ve discussed here at The Verge, one of the single most impressive things about the PS5 and Xbox Series X is how well they play last-gen games right now. Both Sony and Microsoft decided to build with backwards compatibility in mind, only with next-gen SSDs for speedier load times and more horsepower to keep framerates high even with PS4 Pro and Xbox One X enhancements applied. Old favorites are worth playing all over again, and it’s a great way to catch up on what you’ve missed.

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