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Such is the discourse among enthusiast gamers that Sony will either have to introduce an Xbox Game Pass competitor or Microsoft will have to pull the plug on its own before fans shut up about it. Despite breaking industry sales records, there’s a sentiment among the most engaged players on social media that PlayStation once again finds itself playing catch-up, and the big black cloud this time is its subscription services.

PS Plus, of course, is the biggest subscription service in the industry to date, with almost 50 million active members. It peaked at 47.6 million earlier this year, and the latest figures peg its paying audience at 47.2 million. The retention is excellent, and it’ll be seen by the organisation’s top brass in Tokyo as one of the firm’s most successful products. Still, the expectation from consumers is that the company could be doing more.

While efforts have been made to improve the meandering PS Now service, boss Jim Ryan and his suited subordinates would probably chalk it down as a failure. Introduced early in the PS4 era, Sony was actually at the forefront of the streaming wars, only to entirely cede its position and effectively become a footnote next to Google Stadia and xCloud. Even today it’s unavailable in most major territories, and we can’t imagine subscriber numbers are particularly high.

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Thus the decision to merge subscriptions is a sound one, and something that’s seemingly been pondered internally for an eternity. A Bloomberg report this week cited documents seen by journalist Jason Schreier bringing confirmation to the murmurs, but this is not really new information. Based on said paperwork, Sony will introduce a tiered system, whereby the existing benefits of PS Plus are offered as a base option, and then extras are layered on top. Sony’s decision not to discount annual subscriptions of PS Now during its Black Friday promotions suggests changes are almost certainly afoot within the next 12 months.

From a marketing and branding perspective, focusing on the wildly popular PS Plus and then attempting to upsell subscribers makes total sense; the problem lies in what exactly Sony intends to offer in its premium options. It sounds like the second tier will be an expansion of the existing PS Plus Collection, with free monthly games and online play alongside a growing catalogue of PS4 software – eventually expanding to include PS5 titles as well.

The third, meanwhile, allegedly throws in the kitchen sink: streaming (like with the current PS Now), extended game demos, and access to a library of classic games. It’s the first we’ve heard of Sony revisiting some of the software from its past platforms since its short-lived (and, frankly, embarrassingly basic) PS2 to PS4 initiative, so it’s hard not to feel sceptical here. Is the organisation really in the business of bringing back old PS3 and PSP games, after treating them with contempt for so long?

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And then, of course, there’s the elephant in the room: Xbox Game Pass’ primary selling point, day-one first-party games, will not be included. That means, even if you’re a subscriber to the top tier, you’ll still be shelling out Sony’s extortionate new price point of $70 to pick up a copy of Horizon Forbidden West and God of War Ragnarok at launch, as you always have. These games sell extraordinarily well, so you can’t blame PlayStation (and, indeed, Nintendo, a company conveniently always excluded from these conversations) for sticking to a tried-and-trusted business model – but the comparisons are unlikely to be favourable.

Sony would, probably, argue that this isn’t about competing with Xbox Game Pass, but is instead about adding value to its own current crop of subscriptions – baloney! PS Now needs reinventing, of that there’s no doubt, but this company isn’t stupid and it knows comparisons will be drawn like they already are. Introducing a new slate of subscriptions which don’t, on the surface, offer the same value as Microsoft’s membership model is a recipe for disaster – just look at the reaction to the recent expansion to Nintendo Switch Online.

It feels like Sony (and, again, Nintendo) are caught between two business models – but half-arsing it is not the right approach. Microsoft continues to argue Xbox Game Pass is a sustainable and successful initiative, but when your pockets are as deep as the billion dollar “underdog” (which, make no mistake, is what it’s marketing itself as), pretty much any path is viable – it just depends how much you’re willing to spend.

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PlayStation is not short of a dollar or two either, of course, and it has the underlying infrastructure and first-party software to make an alternative work – but it seems like it’s hesitant to go all-in. Effectively, the company wants to have its cake and eat it too – and consumers will see through that all day long.

We’ll need to wait and see what this new set of services, codenamed Spartacus, officially bring. It does feel like the right time for a rebrand, and there’s no doubt there’s money to be made for Sony here. But the comparisons will be loud and if the new tiers fail to make a strong first impression, then it’ll be back to the drawing board once more. There are interesting times ahead, then – but it’s hard not to be sceptical of what’s being touted right now.

What are your thoughts on the current PS Plus and PS Now reports? What do you think Sony needs to do to successfully reinvent these services, and what kind of content would convince you to upgrade your subscription? Spend wisely in the comments section below.

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