Sony has at last revealed its plans to revamp PlayStation Plus, its long-running monthly subscription service. In June, PS Plus and PS Now services will be merged into a single package, offering three tiers of access. Traditionally, PS Plus has offered online play and a handful of free games each month, whereas PS Now gave you access to a library of games you could download and stream to your PS4, PS5, and PC.
This new look PS Plus appears designed as a direct competitor to Xbox Games Pass, Microsoft’s Netflix-like service. I'd hoped that Sony would create a competitive alternative that would offer something new for gaming, not more of the same. However, it's hard to get excited about what's being proposed here.
Comparing the two, the value seems lacking on the PlayStation side. The most egregious difference is that there's no commitment to put first-party exclusives on the service when they launch. While Sony has announced some first-party games will be included in the PS Plus Extra and Premium tiers, it's lacking big recent releases like Horizon: Forbidden West, or PlayStation's most-lauded title The Last of Us Part 2. This runs counter to Microsoft which offers all first-party games day and date on Xbox Game Pass on both consoles and PC, as well as great features like Play Anywhere and xCloud which allow you to game on the go.
As for PS Now, Sony has always struggled to make its subscription package a must-buy for PlayStation gamers. Merging the service with PS Plus doesn't fix that. It brings the service into the current generation, offering PS5 titles like Returnal and Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales, but there's nothing to inspire confidence that this will be a meaningful change to how the service has been maintained to this point.
Making moves on PC
Sony, to its credit, has been making unexpected efforts recently to diversify, moving into the PC space by putting titles like God of War and Horizon: Zero Dawn on the platform. Plus, PS Now has let you stream PlayStation games to PC for years, though it still lacks key features, such as being able to transfer your save between PC and console. On Game Pass, you can natively download a game on both your console and PC, stream it to mobile devices, and move seamlessly with your game no matter where you're playing.
In a vacuum, this revamp to PS Plus offers serviceable changes that let players customize their subscriptions a little more, but it also feels like a massive missed opportunity. The real issue is this currently feels like only the most recent in a line of half-steps from Sony. It's been slow to update its subscription service, slow to recognize the PC market, and hesitant to support crossplay with other consoles – something Nintendo and Xbox got on board with quickly.
PlayStation boss Jim Ryan, speaking recently with GamesIndustry, says: “Who would have said even four years ago that you would see AAA PlayStation IP being published on PC? We started that last year with Horizon Zero Dawn, then Days Gone, and now God of War… [We've had] great critical success and great commercial success, and everybody has made their peace with that happening and is completely at ease with it. I look back four years and think nobody would have seen that coming."
While it’s clear this quote is meant to be showcasing how Sony is shifting its stance, it only serves to highlight just how slow it’s been. Four years ago, these changes towards subscription services, PC, crossplay, and more were already well underway by its competitors.
Sony is only just arriving at these concepts, and even now not committing to them as completely as its rivals. We’re seeing similar things with the company’s new commitment to live-service games, especially with Sony's pending purchase of Bungie – it's already late to a crowded arena.
Leading the pack, but not the direction
Sony is being swayed by industry shifts, but it's reluctant to commit to them in a timely manner. Outside of its pushes with PSVR, Sony is a pessimistic passenger.
PlayStation has had success by refusing to follow trends in the past. Famously, PlayStation embarrassed the Xbox division at E3 2013 when it announced that the PS4 wasn’t required to be always online and that players could lend each other games – counter to a confusing initial pitch for the Xbox One. It was a big moment where a company refused to follow the path of a competitor.
However, now it seems like Sony is being pulled into these trends, with one foot in an old model, and one foot in the new one. It’s understandable to a degree as it’s clear the PlayStation division is doing excellently and has no real need to change. However, it’s felt like a long time since PlayStation has been a driver of these industry-wide changes. Right now, it only feels like a tardy follower.
This could have been Sony’s moment to really take it to its competitors, showing it had a real answer to Game Pass and the shifting sands of the industry. Instead, as has become all too common, it feels like it's dragging its feet, recognizing it has to have some kind of answer, but not having the heart to lead the direction of the future.