Monday, May 16, 2022

Sony’s PS Plus tiers complicate the simplicity of subscription services

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Shreya Christina
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Sony has announced a new range of PlayStation Plus subscriptions: PlayStation Plus Essential, PlayStation Plus Extra and PlayStation Plus Premium. Prior to their official unveiling, the plans were characterized as an attempt to respond to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, offering several selections of games to download or stream as part of a single monthly subscription. But now that they’re official, the truth is a lot more complicated.

Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass pitch is relatively straightforward. You get access to a wide variety of games as part of a subscription, and Microsoft is committed to releasing its main first-party games on its subscription service the day they’re released. For $9.99 you get games on both Xbox or PC, or $14.99, gets you both, plus the ability to stream games over the cloud (useful if you want to play them on more portable devices like phones) and access to online multiplayer thanks to Xbox Live Gold.

But Sony has taken a different approach. To be don’t commit to release its first-party games on its subscription service as soon as they launch, and it’s PlayStation Plus split across three different tiers, offering more games the more you pay. They will be launched in Asian markets in June, with North America, Europe and others closely following. It’s a much-needed step toward improving Sony’s subscription offerings, but in the process Sony has created a complicated array of price points to choose from.

The PlayStation Plus Essential tier of $9.99 offers the same as what PlayStation Plus has now – including the more than ten games already available as the PlayStation Plus collection† Then with PlayStation Plus Extra from $14.99 you get up to 400 PS4 and PS5 games to download. Finally, with PlayStation Plus Premium from $17.99 you get up to 340 additional games, including games from the original PlayStation, PS2, PSP, and PS3. Some of these additional games are available for download, but others, such as the games originally released for the PS3, can only be streamed.

There are also discounts available if you choose to pay for a quarterly or annual subscription. I will not list all prices here (you can check out Sony’s official press release before), but in total you have a choice of nine different ways to pay for PlayStation Plus in the US alone. It’s a lot of choices, and it means a lot of decisions to make.

If you find that complicated, I wouldn’t blame you. With Xbox Games Pass Ultimate, you could never again pay separately for any of Microsoft’s games — they’re all included. But Sony seems to present its subscription tiers as an additional purchase. In Sony’s world, you’ll still be paying a whopping $70 for its big-budget games at launch, but maybe also pay for a subscription that expands your library with a selection of slightly older and even retro titles. And exactly how many games you get will depend on how much — and how often — you’re willing to pay.

With no hardware backwards compatibility, Sony uses streaming to offer PS3 games.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

But despite the complexity, Sony’s new PlayStation Plus tiers are arguably simpler than the subscription plans it already offers. Currently, if you want to stream both games via PlayStation Now and if you get access to PlayStation Plus, you have to pay for two completely separate subscriptions. That is apparently not an unusual situation with PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan tells GameIndustry.bizThree quarters of PlayStation Now subscribers also have a PlayStation Plus subscription.

The prices of the new PlayStation Plus Premium tier, as an analyst Daniel Ahmad points to Twitter, suggests that it targets exactly these users. PlayStation Plus (soon to be renamed the “Essential” tier) costs $9.99 per month, and PlayStation Now also costs $9.99. Paying for both together will set you back $19.98 per month, compared to $17.99 for the new PlayStation Plus Premium. Pay annually, and the two will set you back $119.98 individually or $119.99 as part of PlayStation Plus Premium. In other words, paying for PlayStation Plus Premium is a no-brainer for three-quarters of PlayStation Now subscribers.

But that still doesn’t explain PlayStation Plus Extra, Sony’s middle tier that offers PS4 and PS5 games. At $14.99, it competes directly with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, but lacks any of its cloud gaming features. At just $3 separating it from the PlayStation Plus Premium tier, it almost feels like an attempt to push customers toward Sony’s most expensive plan.

It is not uncommon for music or video subscription services to offer a number of different tiers. Netflix offers three different tiers, which differ in terms of video quality (4K vs HD vs SD) and the maximum number of streams you can watch at once, while HBO Max offers a cheaper ad-supported tier. On the music front, Spotify has a single paid tier but offers discounts if you subscribe as a family or couple, while Apple recently added a discount plan that limits it to control with Siri commands.

In all these non-gaming cases, the different price tiers all offer exactly the same content and lower their quality level if you pay less. But each level of PlayStation Plus offers radically different amounts of content for your money.

By dumping PlayStation Now and merging it with PlayStation Plus, Sony appears to be simplifying its subscription offering. But Microsoft, on the other hand, has spent years building an all-in-one service from the ground up. When Sony dropped backwards compatibility for the PS3 with the PS4, Microsoft would make hundreds of Xbox 360 and original Xbox games playable on the Xbox One, and it continued the initiative on the Series X and S. service is disappearing into relative obscurity, Microsoft built out its cloud gaming service and released its biggest spell there on day one. Perhaps most importantly, Microsoft is engaged in the kind of acquisitions that make gamers sit up and notice when it promises to include its first-party titles in its subscription service.

As a result, Sony feels like it’s taking a patchwork approach to its PlayStation Plus tiers. It’s consolidating here, bundling there, and making its older titles available via subscription long after their initial release. Some games for Sony’s older platforms are available for download, but cloud streaming is required to offer PS3 games, as backwards hardware compatibility is not possible. It merges these different initiatives, but there are gaps in the approach.

That doesn’t make Sony’s renewed subscription offer a bad deal. It just means you might have to pay close attention to the fine print.

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