Microsoft's Games with Gold initiative, which rewards its paying Xbox Live Gold subscribers with two free titles each month, officially kicks off today. That's about where the good news ends, however. After giving away Fable 3 — released in 2010 — as an early post-E3 "bonus," the company is following up with an even older game. 2009's Defense Grid: The Awakening, which usually runs 800 Microsoft Points, will be free to download for the month of July. Another title will be up for grabs starting July 15th, though Microsoft isn't yet saying what's next in the pipeline. Major Nelson has hinted that players may need to wait for Halo 3 and Assassin's Creed II, two other games that will eventually be included in Games with Gold.

Microsoft's giving you a 2009 XBLA game, whereas Sony's giving you 'XCOM'

Gamers aren't reacting kindly to what's being viewed as a weak first offering. Pouring salt on the wound, Sony recently outlined the value its PlayStation Plus program has offered subscribers since its Instant Game Collection was launched one year ago. In all, 64 games (covering both PlayStation 3 and PS Vita) were made available at no cost. Sony has also fared better at including recent hits; this month PS3 owners can download XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Saint's Row The Third. Games for Gold does have one key differentiator; unlike PlayStation Plus — which requires you to maintain an active subscription to play any games downloaded for free — Defense Grid and upcoming games from Microsoft will be yours to keep. But if the company was hoping to make a splash, it will have to do better than this. The comments beneath Major Nelson's blog post serve as evidence of that.