There was no way on God’s green earth Sony could convey today’s PS Plus paradigm shift without a hearty helping of criticism. Microsoft – the second largest company on the planet with a warchest in the trillions – has changed the game with its Xbox Game Pass business model, and there’s nothing that PlayStation (or the lesser mentioned Nintendo) can do about it. That doesn’t make today’s news any less meaningful, though.
PS Plus is one of PlayStation’s more successful products from the past decade. The subscription has a pull of almost 50 million members, making it the biggest of its kind in gaming. It’s also, generally, well regarded: the feedback ebbs-and-flows with the quality of the monthly “freebies”, but Sony’s been able to not only retain users but actually grow the service on an annual basis – impressive stuff.
PS Now has been less successful. Originally conceived as a streaming-only service, PlayStation had first mover’s advantage in this category, which has gradually eroded with the organisation’s reluctance to improve upon its offering. It added downloadable games a couple of years ago, but the stigma of the product has never really changed, and most PlayStation 5 and PS4 players have been content ignoring it. A rebranding has been needed for a while.
Today’s announcement, as expected as it was, is effectively that. Sony is marrying PS Plus with PS Now, reducing the price for members who subscribe to both, and offering some additional options and bonuses in the process. The comparisons to Xbox Game Pass will not go away, and the elephant in the room is the lack of day one first-party releases, but PlayStation says this is unsustainable for its business model, and we’re going to assume it’s crunched the numbers.
So, what is the primary purpose of this new tiered approach to PS Plus, then? Well, we don’t think Sony’s goal is necessarily expansion here, but rather to upsell. For an extra $40 on the traditional PS Plus subscription fee, you can get access to a catalogue of PS5 and PS4 games, including Returnal and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. The signal of intent is fairly strong from this announcement: they’re not the latest games, as mentioned above, but they are two of the best that Sony currently has in its library. God of War, Death Stranding, and Mortal Kombat 11 are other examples.
This library will grow over time, and PlayStation bigwig Jim Ryan says practically all publishers are on board, ranging from indies through to major third-parties. As alluded, there’ll be criticism of Sony’s approach not to include new releases day one, but it’s worth remembering that catalogues have value, too. Assuming that Sony keeps a steady stream of content flowing into this library, then there’ll always be value for new and old subscribers, as not every gamer buys every game at launch. A good example is the recent addition of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy to Xbox Game Pass – it wasn’t there day one, but there’s certainly value in its addition a few months later.
The tiered approach is also compelling, as far as we’re concerned. PS Plus Essential retains all of the existing perks and benefits of the current PS Plus subscription, while the optional PS Plus Extra adds in the abovementioned catalogue. Then you’ve got PS Plus Premium, which bumps the overall annual cost up to $119.99, but bundles in classic titles and streaming functionality, on top of what’s already been mentioned above. Having a variety of options is not the worst idea in the world when it comes to services like this, because it allows members to decide what suits their specific needs.
It’s worth mentioning that, while the monthly prices aren’t especially competitive, the annual fees are. Sony says that around two-thirds of its current PS Plus members pay annually, and so you’re actually getting a significant discount if you continue to commit. For example, PS Plus Premium would cost you around $215.88 if you paid monthly, but you can get it for $119.99 if you buy the year upfront. That’s a win for Sony, as it’s got you locked in for at least 12 months, but also a victory for your wallet as well. It’s worth adding that, contrary to some commentary we’ve seen online, this is cheaper than Game Pass Ultimate, too – as it should be.
It all makes sense, then – the disappointment here is how Sony’s communicated it all. Make no mistake, this is clearly the first phase of a multi-stage promotional campaign, but we would have liked to have learned more about which games will be offered with PS Plus Extra and PS Plus Premium, and how the classic games will work. Can we expect Trophies to be added to PS1 and PSP titles, for example? Will there be save states and rewind functionality like with Nintendo Switch Online? It’s all unknown.
And seeing as the main perks here are, at the end of the day, the games you’ll get access to, it feels like an oversight to not share a little more about what we can expect and when. How often can we expect new games to be added to the catalogues? Will the retro games be added piecemeal or all at once? We didn’t expect Sony to answer every question with its initial announcement, but far too much is being kept quiet for our tastes.
That healthy scepticism is reflected in our poll on the subject. A fairly reasonable 24 per cent think the new subscription tiers sound great, but 21 per cent are also waiting for more information. That will come before the subscription rolls out in June, and that’s fine, but we’d argue Sony could have made a bigger splash with this announcement by being a little more specific. As it happens, we now have a better idea of what the future looks like for PS Plus, and we’re cautiously optimistic about it all – but still, Sony has quite a bit left to prove.
What do you make of the changes to PS Plus, and will you be subscribing to any of its higher tiers? Are you still waiting for more information and bemused by Sony’s communication strategy? As always, let us know in the comments section below.