Whenever a new platform or service is announced, the focus is inevitably on what’s missing rather than what’s there.
Sony’s new PS Plus subscription deals offer online multiplayer access, hundreds of PS4 and PS5 games, streaming, retro titles and game trials. But what it doesn’t include, unlike its main competitor, are new first-party games that launch in the service at the same time as they hit retail.
“We feel like we’re in a good virtuous cycle with studios,” says PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan, “where investment is successful, which allows for even more investment, which provides even more success. We like this cycle and we think our players like this cycle.”
He keeps on: “[In terms of] putting our own games on this service, or one of our services, as soon as they come out…as you well know, that’s not a route we’ve taken in the past. And that’s not a road we’re going to take with this new service. We believe that if we did this with the games we make at PlayStation Studios, this virtuous circle would be broken. The level of investment we need to make in our studios would not be possible, and we believe the ripple effect on the quality of the games we make would not be something gamers want.”
Ryan’s view on this is not unique to Sony. Most AAA publishers are hesitant to put their newest games on subscription services. The counter-argument is that by putting your latest titles in PS Plus or Xbox Game Pass, you potentially expand your audience. Overnight, your new release could have tens of millions of players, and if your game contains other forms of monetization, then the revenue potential is significant.
And even if your game doesn’t have microtransactions, Xbox believes subscriptions – combined with streaming – are the key to finding new console players.
Ryan’s perspective is pragmatic, and PlayStation’s current stance on this is entirely subject to change.
“The way the world is changing so rapidly right now, nothing is forever,” he tells us. “Who would have thought even four years ago that you would see AAA PlayStation IP being released on PC? We started last year with Horizon Zero Dawn, then Days Gone, and now God of War – an extremely polished and polished PC release this game. [We’ve had] a major critical success and a major commercial success, and everyone has come to terms with it and is completely comfortable with it. I look back four years and I don’t think anyone would have seen this coming.
“How our publishing model currently works [putting new games straight into PS Plus] no sense. But things can change very quickly in this industry.”
“So I don’t want to set anything in stone at this point. All I’m talking about today is the approach we’re taking in the short term. The way our release model works right now doesn’t make any sense. But things can change very quickly in this industry, as we all know.
Outside of what PlayStation isn’t doing with its new PS Plus subscription options, it’s worth talking about what it East Make.
At the basic level, it bundles its subscription services PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now, which together have 50 million subscribers. 75% of PS Now subscribers are also PS Plus subscribers, so it makes sense to unite the two services together. And for that 75%, their overall costs will go down.
As for pricing in general, there are three tiers for PS Plus. PS Plus Essentials is identical to PS Plus today and has the same price ($10 per month), PS Plus Extra adds a library of PS4 and PS5 games ($15 per month), while PS Plus Premium includes all of that plus game trials, streaming games and a collection of PS1, PS2, PS3 and PSP games ($18).
Compared to Xbox deals, the PS Plus Premium tier has a hefty monthly cost. However, where Sony has been competitive is with annual pricing.
“It’s a fact – for our services at least – that the vast majority of people subscribe via a 12-month subscription,” says Ryan. “That’s over two-thirds who subscribe that way. That’s an area of value proposition that we looked at very carefully. What we offer is that, for a 12-month subscriber, and that’s the vast majority of people, the monthly subscription price for PlayStation Plus Extra will be $8.33. And for PlayStation Plus Premium, it will be $9.99. We believe that, for what people are going to get, it’s a tremendous value proposition. And a proposition that simply wouldn’t be possible if we had to put games from our studios into service as soon as they were released.”
Sony may not be putting out its latest releases, but there are still popular PS5 titles in PS Plus Extra and Premium, including Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Returnal. But aside from its first-party games, Sony says “all the big publishers” are on the service and conversations are still going strong.
“Whether it’s indies, big games, or things that celebrate our heritage…all kinds of games,” Ryan says. “We’re going to have it all, and hopefully a line-up that ticks all kinds of boxes.”
The Premium option is more of a specialized level. And one of its big draws is the collection of retro games.
“Obviously it’s not for everyone, which is why it’s in the Premium tier,” Ryan says. “But there are people like me who have been around forever, who played these games and loved these games about 20 years ago. Or maybe they are people whose parents love these games. games and want to try them out for themselves. Once we can share the line-up with the world, we think it will generate a lot of interest.”
Streaming is also part of the Premium tier. Again, like retro, it’s not for everyone, although Ryan expects it to become a more meaningful part of Sony’s business over time.
Sony believes it has done a good job with the PS5 so far. Crafting challenges aside, it has a console that has been well received, especially the controller. Its exclusive games, despite some delays, have performed well, including recent releases of Horizon Forbidden West and Gran Turismo 7. The one element arguably missing is its services, and that’s what this new one offers. PS Plus is designed to solve.
Still, while it won’t immediately attract new customers, there’s an existing audience of 48 million PS Plus subscribers to convince to upgrade, including those in countries where PS Now was never an option.
“It’s about complementing the offer we have,” says Ryan. “With platforms, it’s rarely just one thing that makes a platform really appealing. It’s a combination of many things. And having a really strong service proposition really helps.
“Obviously, within our existing audience base, we have the opportunity to attract PlayStation owners who are not current PlayStation Plus subscribers. The additional opportunity is the 48 million PlayStation Plus subscribers and gets them to upgrade to Extra or Premium and our task is made quite easier there by the fact that they are already PlayStation Plus subscribers, so we have an extremely close relationship with them on many levels .”
“I don’t think we’ll see [games subscriptions] go to the levels we see with Spotify and Netflix”
The subscription business model in video games is growing. Xbox announced in January that it has more than 25 million Game Pass subscribers, and that number keeps growing. What’s not so clear is the ultimate potential of it all…could it become the dominant model in games like it did with music and TV? Ryan is not convinced.
“Subscription has certainly grown in importance over the past few years,” he concludes. “Our number of PlayStation Plus subscribers has grown from zero in 2010 to 48 million now. And we anticipate, for our services, that we will see further growth in subscriber numbers.
“But the gaming medium is so different from music and linear entertainment, that I don’t think we’ll see it reach the levels that we see with Spotify and Netflix.
“Some of the live services [games] which are hugely successful these days, and I’m not limiting this comment to console, they’re actually subscription services in and of themselves. And they’re perfectly suited to the needs of the gamer who loves the game they spend hours and hours playing with, month after month after month. This phenomenon of live service gaming… which has, in very large part, fueled the enormous growth of the gaming industry that we’ve seen over the last ten years. I think this trend towards live services will continue, and if you’re looking for a model in our entertainment category, that supports sustained engagement over a long period of time, live services games probably fit that bill better than a subscription service.
“But it’s all about choice. There are obviously many millions of people who are happy to subscribe to PlayStation Plus. We’re giving them that option on the platform, and we think we’re giving a vastly improved option with the changes. likewise, if people want to play Fornite or Call of Duty or FIFA, and have their engagement sustained that way, that’s fine too. No one is forced to do anything.