After months of rumors, speculation and leaks, Sony has finally unveiled its plan to overhaul PlayStation Plus into a three-tiered subscription service. Full details of the plan, which will launch in June, closely match what we heard ahead of the announcement. But sadly, that also means Sony has opened up to the criticism we all saw coming. And while the new PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium tiers might be a great deal for PlayStation enthusiasts, they feel outclassed by its closest competitor, Xbox Game Pass.
PlayStation Plus morphs into three tiers: PlayStation Plus Essential, PlayStation Plus Extra, and PlayStation Plus Premium, priced at $10, $15, and $18 per month, respectively. Xbox Game Pass, by comparison, has roughly equivalent console and PC tiers for $10 a month each, and a combo Game Pass Ultimate for $15 a month. Sony also offers annual pricing, which makes Plus Premium cheaper than Game Pass Ultimate. It’s a slightly different value proposition, and you can read more about how Plus Tiers compare to Game Pass. But basically, Essential is like the current Plus service, Extra adds PS4 and PS5 games, and Premium adds additional games from Sony’s back catalog and streaming support.
It almost goes without saying that the strength of the PlayStation subscription will largely depend on its catalog. This is unfortunately the only aspect on which Sony is very vague. He touted the approximate number of games you get in each tier, but didn’t give specific names beyond a small handful, so that’s left to our imagination. Some of my assumptions are based on how well the announcement already matches previous leaks. And if those remain accurate, the top-tier version of the service is essentially Plus, Now, and some PlayStation back catalogs rolled into one.
While the public will continue to compare Sony’s efforts with Game Pass, it’s clear that it’s not meant to be a direct competitor. According to NPD analyst Mat Piscatella, the move is more about streamlining its existing digital strategy so it’s more understandable at a glance, rather than the previously bifurcated and potentially confusing Plus and Now offerings. “I don’t see this as a significant change to Sony’s existing strategy, but rather as an incremental (but significant) improvement over what was already in place,” Piscatella told GameSpot.
However, Sony wants the service to be seen, however, it’s a digital subscription that offers a suite of games. Consumers who have access to the PlayStation and Xbox ecosystems will naturally view them as competitors and make value comparisons on where to spend their money. And in that regard, Sony’s offering falls short based on what we know so far.
The appeal of Game Pass is a steady stream of new games. Put aside the promise of day-one releases for all Microsoft first-party games like Halo and Forza for now. Microsoft has been very proactive in striking deals with third-party publishers and even independent studios to release multiple games to Game Pass per month, usually on release day. The volume means you’re almost guaranteed to find at least one game in any given month that you’d happily paid $15 to play anyway. A Game Pass subscription is easy to justify as a savings over buying pay-per-view games.
Sony didn’t detail its library, but it didn’t promise that new third-party releases will be part of the lineup. The top tier, Plus Premium, simply offers a catalog of older PlayStation games. (Even then, PS3 offerings will be relegated to streaming, likely a technical concession but one that will hamper some gamers’ enjoyment.) The retro catalog is a nice perk, sure, but arguably matched by Game Pass offering its own Xbox backward compatible library. And most importantly, a back catalog is inherently static to some extent. Sony may add more classic PlayStation games to its library over time, but once it’s locked down the essentials are most closely associated with the platform like Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy 7 – if we get even such high-profile games – there’s not much room for exciting new announcements. Once you’ve played all the back catalog games you want, what’s stopping you from paying the monthly fee? We can see a similar dynamic to this on the Switch, where Nintendo’s NES and SNES releases have become increasingly sporadic and obscure.
Then, of course, there’s the first-party factor. Microsoft has made acquisitions of studios like Skittles, creating a wide roster of developers to support its service-centric approach. While Sony relies on one or two massive prestige releases a year, Microsoft is content to release several mid-tier games to fill its release schedule and bolster Game Pass. Sony’s strategy doesn’t allow it to easily emulate this approach, which is perhaps why it seems to avoid face-to-face altogether. The Plus Premium service will feature big-name PlayStation exclusives like God of War and Spider-Man, but only long after their initial release. We haven’t heard anything regarding when or even if new versions will join the lineup in the future.
There’s reason to believe that Sony’s ultimate vision for the service could completely circumvent this direct comparison. Sony has indicated that it plans to invest heavily in live gaming, in part through its $3.6 billion acquisition of developer Destiny Bungie. This strategy certainly comes with risks – there’s reason to believe that live gaming could already be reaching a saturation point, before Sony throws even more of its considerable weight behind it – but it could create an entirely different paradigm for Sony’s approach to subscription service. Rather than relying on a steady stream of new first-party and third-party games, it may consider offering perks or other bonuses for its library of live services. It would be a way to differentiate its Plus offerings from Microsoft’s, with a completely different approach. Alternatively, Sony’s live games could successfully co-exist alongside Plus. While Game Pass seeks to act as an umbrella for all Xbox content, Plus may just be part of the cake for PlayStation.
And of course, Sony is much more established in Japan than Microsoft. Whatever comparable weakness it may have in the US, Microsoft is such a non-entity in Sony’s home country that its subscription offering will certainly reach more people there, and streaming is much more viable for the Japanese market. That alone could justify the effort to simplify and streamline its subscription offerings. And given that this builds on the existing Plus structure and will automatically convert current users, this revised version will allow Sony to easily market an upgrade to a higher level to the most receptive audience.
However, for those with access to both ecosystems, Game Pass has the spoils for us. PlayStation fans and dual-platform owners have been waiting to see how Sony reacts to Game Pass, and the answer is apparently that it doesn’t. The new Plus offerings may be more streamlined and older games may be a nice perk, but ultimately Sony is asking us to pay more for a service that seems outclassed by the competition. For the moment, at least, he missed the mark.