Spartacus: 5 Things We Still Don't Know About Sony's Rumored Game Pass Rival
Sony reportedly has an Xbox Game Pass alternative in the works, a tiered service codenamed Spartacus. There’s a lot we still don’t know.
With Xbox Game Pass seemingly proving to be a big success for Microsoft, it seemed like only a matter of time before Sony would need to respond. Sure enough, Bloomberg recently reported that Sony is currently working on a new service, codenamed Spartacus, that the PlayStation maker intends as a rival to Xbox Game Pass. [Update: Spartacus is now real, and it's essentially replacing PS Plus and PS Now.]
According to Jason Schreier's report, Spartacus will merge existing Sony subscriptions PlayStation Now–which offers a library of hundreds of games via streaming, and some for download–and PlayStation Plus–which offers multiple free games a month, discounts on items in the PlayStation Store, and access to online play–into one service, offering access to recent and classic releases from Sony's catalog.
Per the report, this tiered system would offer the benefits currently included with PS Plus to subscribers at the lowest tier, a selection of PS4 and PS5 games to subscribers at the next tier, and "extended demos, game streaming and a library of classic PS1, PS2, PS3, and PSP games" at the highest of the three. Spartacus is planned for a Spring 2022 launch.
So far, that's all we know. Sony has not yet acknowledged the reports and hasn't provided any details on how exactly the service will work. Assuming everything in the report turns out to be true and doesn't change, we still have a lot of questions about Spartacus.
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Will first-party games be available on day one?
As Sony wades further into the subscription service waters, the company may need to reconsider its approach to its first-party titles. Sony has, historically, treated its tentpole releases like big events, more akin to the arrival of a new Avengers movie in theaters than the drop of a season of Loki on Disney+. Compared to "forever games" such as Destiny 2 and open-world RPGs like Assassin's Creed Valhalla that try to keep players engaged long-term, Sony's games, which typically take between 10 and 30 hours to beat, are more of a single-shot experience. But the publisher has made up for the compactness of its games with polish and prestige. God of War, The Last of Us Part II, and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart were all among the best-reviewed games of their respective years, despite most players moving on from them relatively quickly.
This event-focused launch style has informed how Sony has handled PlayStation Now. The Last of Us Part II, for example, was added to PS Now in October 2021, a full year and a half after the game's initial launch. God of War similarly came to the service in October 2019, another long wait given the game's April 2018 debut. Sony has typically kept the window wide so that the game being available on its subscription service doesn't discourage players from buying it at full price at launch. The company has also kept PS Now windows short for big releases, at least in their initial run on the service. The Last of Us Part II is currently available but will leave PS Now on January 3, 2022.
In a tweet following his article, Schreier wrote that Sony seems to be committed to maintaining this model, even with Spartacus. "Don't expect Sony to include its big new games day one like Game Pass does," he said, "but the expectation is a stronger offering than PlayStation Now."
In order for Spartacus to be a true competitor for Xbox Game Pass--where first-party games arrive at launch and remain long-term--this paradigm might need to shift.
How much will it cost?
As of this writing, each of Sony's subscription services costs $60 for a year, $25 for three months, or $10 for one month. Xbox Game Pass, which includes both Xbox Live Gold for online gameplay support and Game Pass for access to the subscription game library, similarly, costs $10 a month. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which includes Game Pass for PC as well as consoles and streaming to browsers and mobile devices, and the benefits of Xbox Live Gold, goes for $15. It seems likely that Spartacus could be in the same range with the lowest tier running $10 a month, the second tier at $15, and the third tier at $20. PlayStation Now was originally priced at $20 per month before a significant price drop in late 2019. With the added value of PS Plus, it seems likely that Sony could, again, charge $20.
How much will each tier offer?
Schreier's initial report lays out the basics of Spartacus' three-tiered structure. Tier 1 will offer what PlayStation Plus offers now. That would include the ability to play online, two or more free games each month, and discounted prices in the PlayStation Store. Tier 2 will bundle in some PS4 and, later on, PS5 games.
This is where it gets a bit tricky to parse what could potentially be separated into which tier. PlayStation Plus currently includes The PlayStation Plus Collection, a curated group of 20 of the biggest hits from the PS4, including The Last of Us Remastered, Monster Hunter World, and God of War. Under the new model, it becomes unclear whether those 20 games would continue to be available for the lowest-tier of subscribers, or if they would be bundled in with Spartacus' Tier 2 offerings.
Tier 3 will reach into the back catalog to offer games from Sony's first three generations of consoles and the PSP. The Bloomberg report states that this tier will also include game streaming. It's not clear yet whether older games would only be available via streaming, if they would be available to download, or some combination thereof. More on that below.
How much will it rely on streaming?
Over time, Sony has expanded PlayStation Now from a streaming-only service into a service that primarily offers streaming, with downloads available, per the PlayStation website, for "over 300 PS4 games." As Sony looks to launch Spartacus next year, it's unclear how the service would change this strategy. Given that pre-PS4 games have only been available via streaming over PlayStation Now, it seems probable that that may continue to be the case. However, the reliance on streaming might be unappealing to a portion of the audience, be it due to data caps, internet speed issues, or simply a desire to rely on downloads.
Could it include things other than games?
In the past, Sony has given away non-game-related freebies, like six free months of Apple TV+ for PS5 owners. But Sony has a large library of films that it could also give out to subscribers, including monster hits like Venom, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and more. The company's deep library of media outside of games could give Spartacus an advantage over Game Pass, if Sony opts to include free digital copies and/or a library of included streaming movies with subscriptions. Rights issues for streaming content are a complex thing, however, so it's unclear if this would be feasible.
In the end, though, all Spartacus may really accomplish is merging PS Plus and PS Now, which, until now, have remained separate services with separate price tags. We won't know if this is a shift in philosophy, or just a change in branding, until we learn more about what, exactly, Spartacus actually is.
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