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Revamped ‘PlayStation Plus’ shows how Sony and Microsoft are no longer traditional competitors

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Sony announced a rebranded PlayStation Plus subscription service on Tuesday morning, which merges its two existing monthly offerings into a single three-tiered option that’s implicitly meant to be competitive with Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass.

Formerly known by the internal codename “Spartacus,” the new version of PlayStation Plus is scheduled to roll out in June. It features three tiers of paid content, known as Essential ($9.99/month, $59.99/year), Extra ($14.99/month, $99.99/year), and Premium ($17.99/month, $119.99/year).

Sony’s new PS Plus will offer a huge number of games to its subscribers for a reasonably low monthly price, and depending on its initial lineup, may do a lot to make up for Sony’s recent controversies regarding game preservation.

However, it’s stopped short of challenging the real marquee features of the Xbox Game Pass. You still need an actual PlayStation 4 or 5 to use PlayStation Plus, at least for the time being, and Sony’s upcoming first-party games will still launch as separate products.

To be fair, this is still a substantial value addition for PlayStation users. Sony was arguably well overdue for merging its PS Plus and PS Now services into a single option, and this provides a significant incentive for current Plus subscribers to upgrade to at least the Extra tier.

“In the end, the new PS Plus is another example of how Sony and Microsoft aren’t really traditional competitors anymore.”

If Sony ever really wants to get a bunch of people to sign up for Premium for at least a couple of months, they can always break into the back archives for out-of-print classics like Legend of Dragoon or Rule of Rose. There’s a lot riding on what Sony does and does not bring to the table with its launch lineup in June.

However, the new PS Plus is, in an unusual circumstance for Sony, launching at a disadvantage.

Microsoft is theorized to have around 25 million subscribers on some version of the Game Pass. That’s enough to hold roughly 60% of the overall game subscription market.

Some analysts estimate that roughly 72% of PlayStation users currently have Plus, which doesn’t technically count as a game subscription at the moment. If any significant number of those Plus users decide to upgrade to a higher tier in June, that’s enough to make this a race.

Sony is still banking heavily on the PlayStation itself, though, and Microsoft is actively working to bring the Game Pass to every market it can, including mobile platforms and, potentially, the Steam Deck.

There’s also a question of how both the audience and developers will react. A significant portion of Sony’s argument on behalf of PS Plus is its retro lineup. That’s potentially exciting, and could lead to some new and long-overdue revivals, but it also means the new PS Plus potentially isn’t as useful for game makers as what Microsoft uses a “discovery engine.”

Game Pass, Microsoft has claimed, actually drives sales for the titles that appear on it, whereas Sony is specifically hinging a big part of the new PS Plus’ appeal on games that are exclusive to discontinued consoles. Unless there’s an option where you can permanently buy an emulated version of a PS Plus retro game (and there really ought to be), then it’s less appealing for developers.

In the end, the new PS Plus is another example of how Sony and Microsoft aren’t really traditional competitors anymore. The new version of PS Plus represents a sort of doubling down by Sony, which continues to bank on and reinforce its current dominance of the console space, while Microsoft is actively trying to broaden its audience.

Some more details on the new tiers of PS Plus:

  • Essential is virtually identical to the current PlayStation Plus, and offers perks to members such as cloud storage for games’ save data, two free games per month, and access to online multiplayer. Extra adds “up to 400” additional PlayStation 4 & 5 games that can be downloaded for play.
  • The Premium tier includes “up to 340” additional games from the first four generations of the PlayStation hardware, including the PlayStation Portable. PS3 games are available via streaming from the cloud (which perhaps has to do with how the PlayStation 3 is notoriously difficult to emulate), while other generations’ games can be streamed or downloaded.

PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan wrote on the official PlayStation blog that the service is planned to launch with titles that include Sony’s own God of War (2018), Marvel’s Spider-Man and its follow-up Miles Morales, WB Games’ Mortal Kombat 11, and the 2021 hit Returnal.

However, in an interview with gamesindustry.biz, Ryan also said that Sony doesn’t intend to launch first-party games directly onto the new PS Plus service, citing the risk of a disruption to what he calls a “virtuous cycle” of successful projects.

“The level of investment that we need to make in our studios would not be possible [with day-one first-party launches on PS Plus],” Ryan said, “and we think the knock-on effect on the quality of the games that we make would not be something that gamers want.”

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