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Sony’s PlayStation Plus

Sony has finally unveiled its plans for a true Game Pass competitor. Will it be enough to help the company keep up with Microsoft, or is it too little too late?
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Sony has finally unveiled the pricing and release window for its long-anticipated competitor to Microsoft’s Game Pass service. Sony’s PlayStation Plus online subscription will revamp the underperforming PS Now imprint and add new features. 

But will it be enough to compete with Microsoft’s Game Pass?

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Why PS Now Failed

PS Now is a service that allows PlayStation users to stream a library of games for a monthly subscription fee. Players can download some of the service’s games to play them directly from their console storage. However, this service’s messy rollout and poor marketing saw it struggle to compete with Microsoft’s well-advertised Game Pass model.

Game Pass is, as Microsoft fans put it, the “Netflix of Games.” Users can access Game Pass on Xbox systems and Windows PCs, and the $10 per month subscription lets them play a wide, rotating library of games. The service’s biggest selling point is that it often features big-budget, first-party Microsoft titles on release day. For instance, Halo: Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 both landed on Game Pass the same day they went on sale. 

Sony will need to prove that they can go toe-to-toe with Microsoft, or at least offer an appealing alternative that’s worth the monthly subscription fee. Will the new PlayStation Plus platform be a disruptor, or will it be the Quibi to Game Pass’s Netflix?

Game Pass Success

Promotional artwork for 'Halo Infinite'
Xbox Entertainment Studios

Xbox’s Game Pass service has been an unmitigated success. The service recently broke 25 million subscribers across Xbox systems and PC players. It’s easy to see why. Players who already own an Xbox or a gaming PC can opt for a $10 per month subscription and play dozens of games that retail for $60 or $70 each. This is why the service’s addition of brand-new first-party titles is so compelling. Players who already subscribe to the service to access its backlog of older titles get to play cutting-edge games for no extra charge.

This success has caught the attention of Microsoft’s competitors. Nintendo has fired back with its own subscription games service, Nintendo Switch Online, which includes access to a library of NES and SNES games. The service’s premium tier, Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pass, also includes a selection of Sega Genesis and Nintendo 64 games. This is a distinct product from Game Pass, as it only includes games that are over 20 years old. 

Sony’s competing service, on the other hand, will try to offer the benefits of both the modern Game Pass and the retro-focused Nintendo Switch Online. 

Read More: Free Nintendo Switch Games to Download Now

PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium

Sony’s upcoming service, Playstation Plus Extra, will feature a library of up to 400 PS4 and PS5 games. It will cost $15 per month, though users can also opt to pay quarterly or yearly. A three-month subscription will cost $40, while a yearly subscription will come in at $100, offering discounts for players who want to pay in advance.

The existing PlayStation Plus subscription will be renamed PlayStation Plus Essentials and will remain unchanged after the new service tiers go live. PlayStation players will still access online play through this service and will continue to receive a handful of games through the “Games with PS Plus” promotion. The Essentials tier also includes features like cloud saves and exclusive discounts for members–the same benefits existing PS Plus subscribers enjoy right now.

A higher paid tier, PlayStation Plus Premium, includes a long-awaited feature that many Sony fans have been begging for. Users who opt for Premium will be able to access a library of PS3 games through cloud streaming. It will also feature a selection of PSP, PS2, and PS1 games for download. This will be the first time Sony has supported a robust emulation library for games released before the PS3 era. 

The Premium membership will cost $18 per month or $50 for three months. As is typical of Sony’s subscriptions, users who opt for a yearly subscription will get the best deal: the service is priced at $120 for 12 months. 

“The new Extra and Premium tiers represent a major evolution for PlayStation Plus,” stated PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan. “With these tiers, our key focus is to ensure that the hundreds of games we offer will include the best quality content that sets us apart.”

Game Streaming

Game streaming is a long-awaited feature for Sony fans, but not everyone is happy. While players are eager to enjoy classic PlayStation games through the Premium subscription, some questioned why the PlayStation 3 titles will only be available through game streaming. The answer is somewhat complicated, but it relates to the PS3’s unusual system architecture. 

The PS3 uses the Cell processor, which evenly divides its hardware between graphics and other processes. It’s incompatible with x86 architectures, the kind that the vast majority of computers use. The other four PlayStation consoles also use standard x86 processing, which means the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 are unable to emulate the PS3’s performance. 

This streaming exclusivity is a cause for concern, according to some fans, because it makes it much more difficult for users in remote areas to access the games. Game streaming is very internet-intensive, requiring high connection speeds and consuming a large amount of data. Users who have less stable internet connections or metered internet services can’t take advantage of game streaming.

Thankfully, it sounds like the rest of the PS Plus library will include the option to download games and play them from the system’s internal memory. This is especially great news for PS5 owners, as the cutting-edge system sports a high-powered solid-state drive that allows for blazing-fast load times. This will likely make older titles notorious for their long load times that much easier for modern audiences to enjoy.

Which Games Will Be Available?

The service will launch with a slew of heavy-hitters already available. These include perennial first-party favorites like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Returnal, and God of War. Sony will also add third-party titles like Mortal Kombat 11 to the service on launch day. However, it won’t follow Microsoft’s example and put its biggest exclusives on the service on day one.

While Xbox players can tear into Starfield on Game Pass the day it releases, Sony fans will have to buy God of War: Ragnarok at full price to enjoy it on their PS5 consoles. Why have a Game Pass competitor if it isn’t going to feature Game Pass’s defining characteristics? 

Jim Ryan explains that Sony doesn’t want this new service to cut into PlayStation’s existing “virtuous cycle”. This cycle, as Ryan puts it, sees Sony investing in its first-party studios, releasing polished games, and then investing the profits from these games back into the studio. This cycle has worked well for developers like Insomniac and Santa Monica Studios, which have released high-quality titles like Ratchet and Clank and God of War, respectively. 

Sony turned around and reinvested in these studios, allowing them to release polished sequels that make even more money and increase the quality of future entries in these franchises. “[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,” Ryan tells reporters

“And it’s not a road that we’re going to go down with this new service. 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.”

Could Things Change?

Ryan goes on to explain that he’s only talking about the possibility of putting new games on the service at launch in the short term. Sony famously resisted enabling cross-platform multiplayer for its systems, stubbornly refusing to adapt to changing game industry standards. It caved in the late 2010s, though, allowing players to join their friends on other consoles in games like Rocket League and Destiny

Similarly, the company previously refused to release its first-party games on PC, saying it didn’t want to distract from its own PlayStation hardware. They eventually relented, releasing Death Stranding and Horizon: Zero Dawn on Steam, helping these titles reach a wider audience.

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“I look back four years and think nobody would have seen that coming,” Ryan says of the PC releases. “So I don’t want to cast anything in stone at this stage. All I’m talking to today is the approach we’re taking in the short term. The way our publishing model works right now, [putting new games directly onto the new PS Plus] doesn’t make any sense. But things can change very quickly in this industry, as we all know.”

Will Sony’s new PS Plus Extra and Premium tiers help it compete with Microsoft? It’s hard to say at this point. The PS5 has sold extremely well on its own merits so far, and exclusive titles like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Ratchet and Clank: A Rift Apart have sold millions of copies.

For some players, this service might seem like icing on an already delicious cake. For others who are debating whether to get a PlayStation or an Xbox, however, Sony’s service might look like too little, too late.