After hearing the praises of Xbox Game Pass for years, Sony has finally answered in kind. We all heard such a thing was coming back in December when Bloomberg reported Sony’s planned service would “take on Xbox Game Pass.” That conjured up a host of fancy dreams and fevered speculation: first-party games at launch, cloud streaming, and a vast catalog of new and classic titles.
Today, Sony revealed the early scope of those plans. I didn’t expect much, and Sony has delivered right in line with those expectations.
Sony’s answer to Xbox Game Pass is a revamp of PlayStation Plus. Well, even a “revamp” is a bit strong — this is more of a logistical change. Up until now, Sony had two different subscription services: PlayStation Plus for online services and some other perks for $9.99 a month or $59.99, and PlayStation Now for game streaming for a few current-gen and classic titles for $9.99 a month. Now, both of these will be combined into a single service called PlayStation Plus, which will offer three tiers.
The first tier is PlayStation Plus Essential. For $9.99 a month, you get online multiplayer, cloud storage for game saves, and monthly game offerings. Essential is just what you get for PlayStation Plus now. The next tier is PlayStation Plus Extra, which gives you everything in Essential plus a limited library of PS4 and PS5 games for download. This is a new tier of service — the current PS Plus alongside a tiny chunk of PS Now — for $14.99 per month.
Finally, there’s PlayStation Plus Premium, which is mostly what you would currently have if you subscribed to both PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now. You gain access to online multiplayer, cloud storage for game saves, monthly games, and downloading or streaming games across nearly every PlayStation platform… with caveats. PlayStation Now was a collection of PS2, PS3, PS4, and a scant few PS5 games for streaming or download. The new iteration adds PS One and PSP games to the download and streaming side of the catalog, so our cake gets a tiny bit more frosting. Of course, if you’re looking purely at the numbers, the change makes a lot of sense.
Redefining What Plus Means
What’s really happening here is Sony is trying to convert more folks over to PlayStation Now users. The company touts a combined PS Plus and PS Now user base of 50 million, but 48 million of that is just PS Plus. Selling this as a more premium PS Plus and competitor to Xbox Game Pass is more likely to pull some subscribers at the new “Essential” tier up to “Premium.” On that end, it makes a ton of business sense. And as an existing subscriber to both PS Plus and PS Now, it actually works out for me. Their current combined cost is roughly $179.87 — $59.99 annually for PS Plus and $9.99 per month for PS Now — versus the $119.99 that PS Plus Premium will cost per year (and which is currently PS Now’s annual cost). The hit on my wallet is a bit lighter. (And that’s before the inevitable Black Friday sales for an annual card.)
As competition to Xbox Game Pass though… it’s just not there. Sony is adding some PS5 titles to the catalog as a little spice, including Death Stranding, God of War, and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, but it’s not adding new first-party titles to the service at launch. (No Spider-Man 2 or God of War: Ragnarok for you!) That means we’re already starting off the comparison with what the new Ps Plus isn’t rather than what it offers above Game Pass.
That lack of first-party games isn’t changing anytime soon either. Current PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan sees the platform holder’s current model of big AAA prestige games as the way forward. He pointed to a “virtuous cycle” of investing in big games, sales, and more investment.
“[In terms of] putting our own games into this service, or any of our services, upon their release… as you well know, this is not a road that we’ve gone down in the past. And it’s not a road that we’re going to go down with this new service,” he told GamesIndustry.biz. “We feel if we were to do that with the games that we make at PlayStation Studios, that virtuous cycle will be broken. The level of investment that we need to make in our studios would not be possible, and we think the knock-on effect on the quality of the games that we make would not be something that gamers want.”
Present a Better Picture Instead of Making Vast Improvements
To be perfectly frank, the model is working. If you remove the Nintendo Switch from the equation, the PS5 is handily winning the sales war over the Xbox Series consoles. Even if Microsoft declines to give sales numbers, when looking at the speed at which PS5s go out of stock versus their Xbox counterparts as well as the resulting prices on secondary markets, one console is clearly ahead. And a good rule of thumb: if someone has news that makes them look better than the competition, they release it. Sony reports PS5 sales, while Microsoft stopped reporting Xbox Series sales long ago.
But as a service, Xbox Game Pass is simply better all around. Not only do you get all of Microsoft’s first-party titles on launch day — a benefit that only grows as Microsoft picks up more studios — but you also get EA Play titles, streaming on PCs and mobile devices, a strong catalog of new and classic Xbox and third-party games, and FPS Boost and Auto HDR for a number of classic Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Xbox games. You get all of this for $14.99 per month — the same as the mid-range PS Plus tier.
The new PS Plus isn’t competing with Xbox Game Pass at launch — it’s competing with the Xbox Game Pass that exists now. In that comparison, it’s simply not up to snuff. Does that make it bad? No, it merely shows how great Game Pass is. And what I was ultimately looking for is Sony Game Pass, not a smashed-together version of what I already have.
A few months back, I decided to play through some classic franchises. Noah Caldwell-Gervais did an excellent retrospective video on Gears of War, a series I’ve never dived into. I was ready to start picking up the games piecemeal only to find out that they’re all on Xbox Game Pass. Boosted, even! I could play them all from start to finish with no issue; it was the closest thing to the touted “Netflix” of games I had seen. I could binge the whole series!
I had a similar thought when Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart came out. My first experience with the franchise was with the fun 2016 reboot. When I decided to go back and see if the entire franchise was on PS Now, I was disappointed to see only Quest for Booty, A Crack In Time, All 4 One, Full Frontal Assault, and Into the Nexus are available. The second game in the series, Going Commando, is not available, and neither are Up Your Arsenal, Ratchet: Deadlocked, Size Matters, Tools of Destruction, Secret Agent Clank, and Before the Nexus. Even the remastered collection, which was released on PS3, isn’t available.
There’s also Infamous, a game on PS Now that I tried to revisit but unfortunately could not because image quality issues and lag soured the experience. These are your own games, Sony! They should be excellent experiences on PS Now. Help me revisit your catalog of excellent games in the best way possible!
Instead, we have a pretty spotty gaming catalog and a service that could use some work. What Sony is doing is simply merging that uneven service into its much bigger, more successful one. And this will probably work out for them. PS5 is ahead in the race, and converting a few more of those 48 million PS Plus subscribers over to PS Plus Premium will reap some more subscription revenue.
Despite that, I find myself wanting Sony to do more, to improve its service offerings and really compete with Xbox Game Pass; for the Now offering to be more than an afterthought. Perhaps with the new PS Plus, that will eventually be a reality. For now, though, it’s just corporate moving bricks around rather than building a strong, lasting foundation with them.