After months of rumors, speculation and leaks, Sony finally revealed its plan for a review PlayStation Plus in a 3-tier subscription service. The full details of the plan, which will be launched in June, align closely with what we heard before the announcement. But unfortunately, that also means that Sony has opened itself up to the criticism we’ve all seen coming. And while the new PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium levels might be a great deal for PlayStation fans, they feel they’ve outdone themselves with their closest competitor, Xbox Game Pass.
PlayStation Plus goes into three tiers: PlayStation Plus Essential, PlayStation Plus Extra, and PlayStation Plus Premium—at $10, $15, and $18 per month, respectively. For comparison, Xbox Game Pass has roughly equivalent consoles and PCs for $10 a month each, and Game Pass Ultimate for $15 a month. Sony also offers annual pricing, which results in Plus Premium being cheaper than Game Pass Ultimate. It’s a slightly different value proposition, and you can read more about it How Plus Layers Compare To Game Pass. But in general terms, Essential is like the current Plus service, adding Extra in PS4 and PS5 games, while Premium offers additional games from Sony’s back catalog and streaming support.
It almost goes without saying that the strength of a PlayStation subscription will largely depend on its catalog. This, unfortunately, is the only aspect where Sony is very ambiguous. It touts the approximate number of games you get in each level but hasn’t given specific names beyond a small handful, so it’s left to our imaginations. Some of my assumptions are based on how well the ad matches previous leaks. And if that’s accurate, the top version of the service is basically Plus, Now, and some back PlayStation catalog rolled into one.
While the public will continue to compare Sony’s efforts to Game Pass, this is clearly not intended to be a direct competitor. According to NPD analyst Mat Piscatella, the move is more about simplifying its existing digital strategy to be more understandable at a glance, rather than the confusingly divided Plus and Now offerings. “I don’t see this as a huge change in Sony’s current strategy, it’s just an incremental (but meaningful) improvement from what was already there,” Piscatella told GameSpot.
However, Sony means the service is being looked at, even though it’s a digital subscription that offers a bunch of games. It’s only natural for consumers who have access to both the PlayStation and Xbox ecosystems as competitors and make valuable comparisons about where they spend their dollars. And in that respect, Sony’s offerings fall short based on what we know so far.
The allure of Game Pass is a constant stream of brand new games. Now put aside the promise of first-day releases for all of Microsoft’s first-party games like Halo and Forza. Microsoft has been very proactive in striking deals with third-party publishers and even independent studios to roll out several games in Game Pass per month, usually on release day. The sheer size means you’re almost guaranteed to find at least one game in any given month that you’d have paid $15 to play anyway. It’s easy to justify a Game Pass subscription as a savings over the purchase of selective games.
Sony has not provided details of its library, but it does promise new third-party releases that will be part of the collection. The top tier, Plus Premium, simply offers a back catalog of old PlayStation games. (Until then, PS3 shows will be converted to streaming, which will likely be a tech franchise but will hinder some players’ enjoyment.) The old catalog is a nice feature to be sure, but one arguably matches it with Game Pass whose Xbox offers a backward compatible library . Most importantly, the back catalog is somewhat static in nature. Sony may add more classic PlayStation games to its library over time, but once it shuts down, more platform-related essentials like Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy 7 – if we get such high-profile games – there isn’t much room for exciting new announcements. Once you’ve played all the back catalog games that interest you, what makes you pay the monthly fee? We can see a similar dynamic to this on the Switch, as Nintendo’s NES and SNES versions have grown sporadically and mysteriously.
Then there is of course the first party factor. Microsoft has made studio acquisitions like Skittles, building a broad base of developers to support its service-oriented approach. While Sony counts on one or two massive prestige releases each year, Microsoft just releases several mid-tier games to fill its release calendar and boost Game Pass. Sony’s strategy doesn’t allow it to easily emulate this approach, which may be why it avoids head-on altogether. Plus Premium will offer some of the big names exclusive to PlayStation like God of War and Spider-Man, but only after their initial release. We haven’t heard anything about when or even if new releases will join the lineup in the future.
There is reason to believe that Sony’s ultimate vision for the service could avoid this direct comparison altogether. Sony indicated that it plans to Invest heavily in live service gamesin part $3.6 billion acquisition of Destiny developer Bungie. This strategy certainly comes with some risks — there is reason to believe that live-service games have already reached saturation point, before Sony throws more of its significant weight behind — but it could create a very different model for Sony’s approach to subscription services. Instead of relying on a constant stream of new first and third-party games, it may plan to offer other perks or bonuses to its live service library. This could be a way to make the Plus offerings stand out from Microsoft’s, with a completely different approach. Alternatively, Sony’s live service games can successfully coexist alongside Plus. While Game Pass strives to serve as an umbrella for all Xbox content, Plus may just be part of the PlayStation pie.
Naturally, Sony has more footholds in Japan than Microsoft. Whatever the similar weakness in the US, Microsoft is a non-Sony entity as its subscription offering is sure to reach more people there, and streaming is more viable in the Japanese market. This alone can make an effort to streamline and simplify their subscription offerings. Given that this is built on the existing Plus architecture and will convert existing users automatically, this modified version will allow Sony to easily market an upgrade to a more receptive audience.
However, for those with access to both ecosystems, we’ve spoiled the Game Pass. PlayStation fans and dual-platform owners alike have been waiting to see how Sony will respond to Game Pass, and the answer is apparently they don’t intend to. The new Plus offerings might be simpler, the older games might be a nice feature, but at the end of the day, Sony is asking us to pay more money for a service that looks like it’s outdone the competition. For now, at least, the target is lost.
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