Whether Sony Likes It Or Not, Game Pass Makes The New PS Plus Look Underwhelming

Sony appears to be pursuing its own strategy distinct from Microsoft Game Pass, but consumers are going to compare the value regardless.


Following months of rumors, speculation, and leaks, Sony finally unveiled its plan to revise PlayStation Plus into a three-tiered subscription service. The full details of the plan, which launches in June, align closely with what we heard before the announcement. But unfortunately, that also means that Sony has opened itself to the criticisms that we all saw coming. And while the new PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium tiers may be a fine offering for PlayStation devotees, they feel outclassed by its closest competitor, Xbox Game Pass.

PlayStation Plus is turning into three tiers: PlayStation Plus Essential, PlayStation Plus Extra, and PlayStation Plus Premium--priced at $10, $15, and $18 per month, respectively. Xbox Game Pass, by comparison, has roughly equivalent console and PC tiers for $10 per month apiece, and a combined Game Pass Ultimate for $15 per month. Sony does also offer annual pricing, which does result in Plus Premium being cheaper than Game Pass Ultimate. It's a slightly different value proposition, and you can read more about how the Plus tiers compare with Game Pass. But in broad terms, Essential is like the current Plus service, Extra adds in PS4 and PS5 games, and Premium throws in additional games from Sony's back catalog and streaming support.

It almost goes without saying that the strength of PlayStation's subscription will depend largely on its catalog. This is, unfortunately, the one aspect in which Sony is being very vague. It has touted the approximate number of games you get in each tier but hasn't given specific names beyond a small handful, so it's left to our imaginations. Some of my assumptions are based on how closely the announcement has already matched the earlier leaks. And if those remain accurate, the top-tier version of the service is essentially Plus, Now, and some PlayStation back catalog rolled into one.

While the public will continue to compare Sony's effort with Game Pass, it's clear that this isn't intended to be a direct competitor. According to NPD analyst Mat Piscatella, this move is more about streamlining its existing digital strategy to be more understandable at a glance, rather than the previously bifurcated and potentially confusing Plus and Now offerings. "I do not see this as a significant change to Sony's existing strategy, just more of an incremental (but meaningful) improvement over what was already in place," Piscatella told GameSpot.

However Sony means for the service to be perceived, though, it's a digital subscription that offers a suite of games. Consumers who have access to both the PlayStation and Xbox ecosystems are naturally going to see them as competitors and make value comparisons about where to spend their dollars. And in this respect, Sony's offering falls short based on what we know so far.

The appeal of Game Pass is a steady stream of brand-new games. Put aside for now the promise of day-one releases for all Microsoft first-party games like Halo and Forza. Microsoft has been very proactive in penning deals with third-party publishers and even independent studios to put out several games on Game Pass per month, usually on release day. The sheer volume means you're almost guaranteed to find at least one game in any given month that you'd have happily paid $15 to play anyway. A Game Pass subscription is easy to justify as a savings over buying games a la carte.

Sony hasn't detailed its library, but it hasn't promised new third-party releases will be part of the lineup. The top tier, Plus Premium, simply offers a back catalog of older PlayStation games. (Even then, the PS3 offerings will be relegated to streaming, likely a technical concession but one that will hamper some players' enjoyment.) The retro catalog is a nice perk to be sure, but one arguably matched by Game Pass offering its own Xbox backwards compatible library. And most crucially, a back catalog is inherently static to a degree. Sony may add more classic PlayStation games to its library as time goes on, but once it's locked down the essentials most closely associated with the platform like Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy 7--if we even get such high-profile games--there isn't much room for exciting new announcements. Once you've played through all the back-catalog games that interest you, what is there to keep you paying the monthly fee? We can see a similar dynamic to this on the Switch, where Nintendo's NES and SNES releases have grown increasingly sporadic and obscure.

Then of course there is the first-party factor. Microsoft has been popping studio acquisitions like Skittles, building a broad bench of developers to support its service-oriented approach. Whereas Sony relies on one or two massive prestige releases per year, Microsoft is content to put out several mid-tier games to fill out its release calendar and bolster Game Pass. Sony's strategy doesn't allow it to easily emulate this approach, which may be why it appears to be avoiding the head-to-head entirely. The Plus Premium service will offer some big-name PlayStation exclusives like God of War and Spider-Man, but only well after their initial release. We've heard nothing regarding when or even if new releases will join the lineup in the future.

There is some reason to believe that Sony's ultimate vision for the service could sidestep this direct comparison altogether. Sony has indicated it plans to invest heavily in live-service games, in part with its $3.6 billion acquisition of Destiny developer Bungie. That strategy certainly comes with risks--there's reason to believe that live-service games might already be reaching a saturation point, before Sony throws even more of its considerable weight behind them--but it could create an entirely different paradigm for Sony's approach to subscription services. Rather than rely on a steady stream of new first- and third-party games, it may be planning to offer perks or other bonuses for its live-service library. That would be one way to make its Plus offerings distinct from Microsoft's, with a completely different approach. Alternatively, Sony's live-service games could coexist successfully alongside Plus. Whereas Game Pass seeks to serve as an umbrella for all Xbox content, Plus may simply be one part of the pie for PlayStation.

And naturally, Sony has much more of a foothold in Japan than Microsoft. Whatever comparable weakness it may have in the United States, Microsoft is such a non-entity in Sony's home country that its subscription offering is sure to reach more people there, and streaming is much more viable for the Japanese market. That alone could make the effort to simplify and streamline its subscription offerings worthwhile. And given that this is built upon the existing Plus structure and current users will be automatically converted, this revised version will allow Sony to easily market an upgrade to a higher tier to the audience most receptive to it.

However, for those who do have access to both ecosystems, Game Pass has spoiled us. PlayStation fans and dual-platform owners alike have been waiting to see how Sony would respond to Game Pass, and the answer is apparently that it doesn't intend to. The new Plus offerings may be more streamlined, and older games may be a nice perk, but at the end of the day, Sony is asking us to pay more money for a service that feels outclassed by the competition. For the time being, at least, it has missed the mark.

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