PlayStation’s Subscription Makeover Rivals Xbox But Isn’t All That Aggressive

Sony has taken the next step in addressing competitive shortcomings at PlayStation by combining its existing PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now subscriptions into one three-tiered system maintaining the name of the former, per Sony Interactive Entertainment president and CEO Jim Ryan’s post on the company blog Tuesday.

This wasn’t the most surprising news, as Bloomberg accurately reported on these plans in December. But it’s still essential to catching up to Xbox, whose Xbox Game Pass service now sports 25 million subscribers and is set to grow further in value once parent Microsoft’s $69 billion purchase of publishing giant Activision Blizzard closes in 2023.

PlayStation Now, Sony’s existing cloud gaming subscription, was last counted at 3.2 million subscribers, while PlayStation Plus, the subscription that grants access to online play, cloud storage, store discounts and monthly free games, has been facing stagnating growth.

The new PlayStation Plus, currently planned for a June rollout, mostly mimics the tiered structure of Game Pass. Its lowest tier, Essential, keeps the current version of PS Plus intact and is equivalent to Xbox Live Gold in pricing ($9.99/mo) and functionality.

The next tier, Extra, adds a catalog of up to 400 downloadable PS4 and PS5 games, much like how Game Pass for Console and PC functions. A check of the current Game Pass library also shows that the console and PC versions of the basic Game Pass tier grant access to more than 400 downloadable games. PS Plus Extra pricing is $14.99/mo, which is where the first pricing difference comes into play.

The starter Xbox Game Pass tier is still only $9.99, while its Ultimate tier is $14.99. PlayStation’s answer to the Game Pass Ultimate, PS Plus Premium, will cost $17.99/mo.

Premium does add up to 340 more games from prior PlayStation generations that are playable in the cloud, as cloud gaming for PlayStation and Xbox is only accessible in the top tiers for their respective subscriptions. Premium extends game streaming to PC as well.

But for gamers seeing the most value, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate isn’t just less expensive, it’s also the best tier for a subscription service that is doing one key thing the new PS Plus seemingly won’t: offer day-one access to new games.

Sony Interactive Entertainment’s argument for this would likely highlight the current success of PlayStation 5 over the Xbox Series consoles alongside the unit’s penchant for console exclusives like “Final Fantasy VII Remake,” “Spider-Man: Miles Morales” and “Horizon Forbidden West” that sell well.

Still, Xbox rapidly expanded its first-party studios ahead of the new console launches before acquiring the publisher Bethesda and of course setting the Activision Blizzard deal into motion, which will be utilized for further day-one release deals. Even “MLB The Show 22,” which releases April 5 and is developed and published by PlayStation Studios, will be available on Game Pass the day it releases. This means that if you happen to have both consoles as well as Game Pass and want to play the game for free, you’ll be playing it on Xbox, not PlayStation.

It would have been absurd for PlayStation to do nothing about its existing subscription strategy, but it’s hard to see if this is really going to make much of a difference beyond granting existing players wider access to games. But until we see another flashy acquisition to follow Sony’s $3.6 billion purchase of Bungie in January, the brand just isn’t making competitive leaps and bounds like Xbox has, and the new PS Plus will continue that trend.

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