For months we’ve been hearing rumours and reading reports that Sony was going to be launching some kind of new service. Allegedly codenamed “Spartacus” the new service was heavily speculated to be Sony’s answer to Microsoft’s Game Pass, a subscription service boasting an absurdly huge library of games, including first-party titles, for one very low price. However, numerous people have claimed that Game Pass is not profitable and that Microsoft is actually losing money by offering the service, begging a simple question; would Sony really attempt something similar, especially since they aren’t even in the same financial ballpark as Microsoft?
The answer is no. Sony has lifted the veil on its new three-tiered revamp of Playstation Plus, and behind that veil is a consolidation of existing services and a few new interesting tidbits. So let’s break this down a bit, starting with the different offerings and what you get in them, before going a little more in-depth so that you know what to expect come June.
First, Playstation Plus is being renamed to Playstation Plus Essential. That name change is meaningless however, because everything is staying exactly the same. For the same price of £6.99 monthly / £19.99 quarterly / £49.99 yearly, you get access to multiplayer gaming, cloud saves (which really should be available to everyone,) discounts and two free games per month. Some people have pointed out that we actually get three free games a month right now. While that is technically true, it’s only because Sony offer an extra PS5 game per month. It’s unclear if that will once the rebrand takes effect in June.
At £10.99 monthly / £31.99 quarterly / £83.99 yearly you get Playstation Plus Extra which includes everything above, and bundles in Playstion Now, giving you access to a catalogue of 400 PS4 and PS5 games to download and play. That includes stuff like God of War, Returnal and Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
And then there’s the big-boy tier: Playstation Plus Premium, which for £13.49 monthly / £39.99 quarterly / £99.99 yearly chucks another 340 games into that catalogue, except these will be a mix of streamable PS3 games, and downloadable PS1 and PS2 titles. The package will also allow players to download time-limited trials of games so that they can try them before they buy. We currently don’t know if that will apply to all games or only some.
So, it’s obvious this isn’t a Game Pass competitor, first and foremost. Despite costing roughly the same price as Microsoft’s subscription service, PlayStation Plus Extra won’t be getting Sony’s big new first-party titles day-and-date like Microsoft is doing with all of its releases, reinforcing the idea that Sony still solidly believes in the £70 game model.
Playstation Now has basically got a price-cut. The service currently costs £8.99 per month, while a bog-standard Playstation Plus membership costs another £6.99. If you pay monthly for both you have to shell out about £16 per month, whereas the new bundle will offer the two £4 less. However, it’s worth noting people who only subscribe to Now and not Plus are getting shafted as it appears there will no longer be any way to subscribe to Playstation Now on its own. I imagine, though, that it won’t affect too many people. Hopefully.
Of course, the big news is all centred around the top-tier subscription. Sony has long said they couldn’t get backwards compatibility to work on their new systems while the Xbox continues to be able to play games from across its past. The announcement that Premium members will be able to download and play a selection of PS1 and PS2 games confirms that Sony has finally found a solution to the problem, and intend on charging you for the joy. I have to say that while I am very happy to be able to experience some classic gaming, the implementation does leave a sour note. There’s no hint of being able to use your existing game discs, nor is there any mention of an option to buy classic games separately and play them without needing a Premium membership.
One thing I did notice is that the middle-tier is losing out on a Playstation Now feature, namely getting access to streamable PS3 and PS2 titles. Right now, Playstation Now includes both by default and thus in theory the middle-tier subscription should get both, at least in streamable form. However, the wording on Sony’s blog seems to clearly indicate that only Premium members will be getting access to PS2 and PS3 games, stating, “Adds a catalog of up to 400* of the most enjoyable PS4 and PS5 games – including blockbuster hits from our PlayStation Studios catalog and third-party partners.” Note the lack of PS2 and PS3 games in that sentence.
PS3 games will sadly remain playable via Cloud Streaming only. Anyone who has tried the current PS3 and PS2 streaming on PS Now will know horrendous it is. That’s not limited to the Playstation; Microsoft and Nintendo also provide streaming options, both of which struggle to deliver a good experience. The unusual architecture of the PS3 means it remains a pain in the arse to emulate properly, although there is some good PC-based software that does the job. But you didn’t hear that from me.
It’s a move reminiscent of Nintendo. While Microsoft’s consoles let you pop in old game discs and buy old games straight from the marketplace while also having many of them available on Game Pass, Nintendo opted to put its older titles into its monthly subscription service in a bid to get more people to sign up. Sony seems to have gone for a similar strategy, one that will doubtless piss off people who have longing for true backwards compatibility and who have a cupboard full of old games.
One thing that intrigues me is if Sony has truly figured out how to run old games on its new machines, what’s stopping them from letting you insert old discs? If you already own a game available on Premium, why pay for it again when you have the disc right there, sitting inside one of those classic clear cases with the hinges that always used to break? My assumption is, of course, money. They want subscribers, and they certainly don’t want a pile of people picking up second-hand PS1 games off of Ebay for far less money. The mere thought that it could be that simple but remain locked away is infuriating. And perhaps I’m wrong.
The big that pisses me off personally is the fact that game demos are going to be limited to Premium members only. I’ve been hoping that companies would embrace would time-limited demos so that customers can spend their money wisely, especially since so many new games launch in horrible states. When Sony began trialling the idea of time-limited trials my hopes were raised, only to be dashed. Limiting trials to the highest tier is idiotic. The feature should be available to everyone.
The only good bit of consumer news is that if you have an existing Playstation Now membership it will get rolled into the Premium tier at no extra cost. So that’s cool.
And finally, I’m going to snipe at the names. Yes, at this point I’m just being petty and I fully embrace that. Why the hell is “Plus” still in the names? Why couldn’t it be Playstation Essential, Playstation Extra and Playstation Premium?
Ultimately this announcement demonstrates that Sony and Microsoft are investing in very different futures. Whereas Microsoft continues to push Game Pass to the moon by offering all of their first-party on the service as soon as they are released, Sony are sticking with the idea that they put out high-quality, premium titles that are worth spending a big chunk of change on. Both ideas have their merits, but when it comes to the consumer who can really blame them for being enticed by the low price of Game Pass?
Still, this is not a Game Pass competitor. If you were getting hyped by the Spartacus rumours and were eagerly waiting to see how Sony would be squaring up to Microsoft then this whole announcement doubtless fell kind of flat. It’s more of a rebranding for the current Playstation Plus system, one that has wound up making everything a tad more complicated by introducing three tiers. And personally, I’m glad Sony are not trying to compete with Game Pass directly because it would be a fool’s game. Microsoft is vast and can hurl money at Game Pass while absorbing huge losses. That’s not something Sony can do, so it makes sense to focus on delivering the best games they possibly can.
What do you guys thing about this reworking of Playstation Plus? Are you tempted by any of these options? Angered by the locking of classic games behind a subscription? Let me know.