Underwhelming PS Plus reveal offers an intriguing clue about Sony's plans
Head in the cloud.
The Xbox Game Pass subscriber base grows larger by the month, and speculation has run rampant that Sony would eventually counter with a new subscription service — codenamed “Spartacus” — to rival its competitor. On March 29, Sony finally stepped up to the mic and said, “nope.”
The new PlayStation Plus subscription tiers are, frankly, a little underwhelming. That said, they reveal some valuable insights about how Sony plans to market its games in the future. Let’s dive in.
What happened - “All-new PlayStation Plus launches in June with three flexible membership options,” the company tweeted on March 29.
There are three main membership tiers, starting with PlayStation Plus Essential. Essential is the basic PlayStation Plus subscription that everyone already knows. It offers two downloadable games per month, online multiplayer, cloud storage for saved games, and exclusive discounts.
Starting in June 2022 — Sony hasn’t revealed an exact date — players will have the option to upgrade to PlayStation Plus Extra and PlayStation Plus Premium.
PlayStation Plus Extra adds 400+ PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 games from first and third-party developers. It costs $5 more per month — $40 more per year — than the Essential subscription.
PlayStation Plus Premium also includes PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PSP, and PlayStation 3 games. It’s going to cost twice the price per year than the basic subscription at $120. A monthly subscription costs $18, which is still almost twice the price of Essential.
A frosty reception — Sony observers on social media weren’t thrilled with the lack of backwards compatibility options and launch-day titles. Many older games are only accessible via streaming, and with a significant price hike. Meanwhile, Xbox Game Pass offers native Xbox games and launch-day access to highly anticipated titles like Starfield.
Cloud gaming also has a long way to go. Streaming games means that you can’t download them to your console and play them natively. For those with anything less than top-tier internet connections, it’s not always a smooth experience. Kingdom Hearts fans were let down by poor performance of the cloud versions of the games for Nintendo Switch. It’s not hard to imagine a similar situation playing out once the new PS Plus launches.
One Twitter user posted a meme of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock meme with PlayStation “Spartacus” as Smith and Rock as Xbox Game Pass. However, it was quickly ratioed by disappointed fans.
“Not even close holy shit this is such a let down,” one replied.
In a piece for VentureBeat, Jeff Grubb lamented the “lack of investment” in the platform, which leaves it feeling half-baked. He wondered if Sony was just looking “to squeeze more money out of its most loyal fans.”
Sony’s stance — According to PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan, the company isn’t trying to directly compete with Xbox Game Pass.
"We feel like we are in a good virtuous cycle with the studios, where the investment delivers success, which enables yet more investment, which delivers yet more success,” Ryan told GamesIndustry.biz. “We like that cycle and we think our gamers like that cycle.”
Ryan noted that major games won’t launch on PS Plus because the “level of investment that we need to make in our studios would not be possible.”
PS Plus currently has 48 million subscribers and that number will likely continue to grow in the following years. But Ryan says he sees a brighter future for the live-service model — like Call of Duty or Genshin Impact — than a carbon-copy of Game Pass.
“I think that trend towards live services will continue, and if you look for a model in our category of entertainment, which supports sustained engagement over a long period of time, live services games arguably fit that bill better than a subscription service,” Ryan said to GamesIndustry.biz.
In some ways, it feels as though Ryan is taking a page from the Nintendo playbook here. The company isn’t exactly bending over backwards to give people access to older games for free.
“There are obviously many millions of people who are happy to subscribe to PlayStation Plus,” Ryan said. “We offer them that option on the platform, and we think that we are offering a significantly improved option with the changes we have made.”
The Inverse Analysis - Given the undeniable value of its IP like The Last of Us, God of War, and Spider-Man, it makes sense that Sony would be reticent to make these titles available on its subscription services day one. However, when it comes to retro games on cloud services, it seems like Sony’s attitude is more or less “if you don’t like it, don’t buy it.” And that truly feels like a missed opportunity.
The new PlayStation Plus launches in June 2022.