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Competing subscription services demonstrate different strategies – GeekWire

The 2019 game by Kojima Productions death stranding is the official marquee title of the PlayStation Plus relaunch. Note: There is nothing about this image that makes more sense in context. (Sony picture)

Sony released its revamped PlayStation Plus subscription service on Monday, putting its service in indirect competition with Microsoft’s Game Pass. I signed up for Plus at the premium tier to see how they stack up, and it’s an interesting showcase for both companies’ priorities in this generation of console hardware.

Both Game Pass and PlayStation Plus offer curated libraries of video games that can be downloaded to your console and/or streamed via the cloud. As such, both are useful as what Microsoft used to call the “Discovery Engine,” where you can explore a large chunk of games on any system for a modest upfront cost.

Right off the bat, the biggest difference between the two is how important they are to the overall strategy of any business.

At Microsoft, Game Pass is sort of their entire deal right now; At last weekend’s big game launch, virtually every new game was announced as either coming into Game Pass at launch or as a new season of content coming to an existing game.

In general, Microsoft’s efforts in the subscription space are approximate Access. A significant part of the Game Pass subscription comes with a virtual Xbox that can be used almost anywhere, via smartphone, tablet, PC, console or, in the near future, directly from a smart TV. You can make a solid argument, like Polygon’s Oli Welsh, that if Microsoft is competing against anyone with this strategy, it’s not other video game companies; it’s content providers like Netflix and Apple.

In comparison, Sony has made it clear that it is not planning any major changes to its sales model. According to CEO Jim Ryan, PlayStation Plus will not be a launchpad for new first-party Sony games like Game Pass is for Microsoft, and there are no reported plans to make Plus available on any platform other than its native PlayStation hardware. The new Plus is there to add value but doesn’t affect the overall sales model.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering either service or both:

  • Game Pass features new games from Xbox Game Studios alongside a curated selection of third-party titles.
  • Under the new system, PlayStation Plus’s library is nearly twice the size of Game Pass’s, but has no new releases, and its selection ranges from all-time classics to absolute junk.
  • You don’t need a physical Xbox to get value out of a Game Pass subscription, while the new version of Plus is aimed solely at PlayStation owners.

More games than you can ever play

Many of the games formerly included in the PlayStation Now cloud gaming service have been migrated to the new PlayStation Plus. (Sony picture)

The sheer size of PlayStation Plus’s library might be its biggest draw. At launch, the top tier of PlayStation Plus gives you access to well over 700 games, as opposed to the 459 currently available with a Game Pass Ultimate subscription.

This includes 378 games from the PlayStation 4 and 5 libraries; a total of 306 PlayStation 3 titles available exclusively via cloud streaming (the PS3 hardware is notoriously difficult to emulate); 38 in the “Classics” series, which includes the original PlayStation, the PlayStation 2, and Sony’s first handheld, the PlayStation Portable; and 12 trial versions that allow you to play the full versions of various major games such as Horizon: Forbidden West for a limited time.

In fairness, these numbers are a little misleading. Some of the games on Plus are listed twice, such as death stranding and evil genius 2, since both the PS4 and PS5 versions are sold separately. For the same reason, some of the games on Game Pass Ultimate tier, such as Empty room Trilogy, is available through a bundled offer with Electronic Arts’ subscription service EA Play.

However, there is a significant problem with curation. Sony made a lot of strange choices for Plus, most notably in the PlayStation 3 library. A range of the biggest or best remembered titles on the system, such as kill zone 2 and Heavenly Swordwas ripped from the old PS Now roster during all-time lows like rogue warrior and Duke Nukem forever are still there. It’s a win for game historians, but almost nobody else.

Xbox Game Pass, on the other hand, doesn’t have a lot of filler. There are certainly games in each month that are weird or random or just not for me, but usually there’s nothing that feels like it’s just there to make the service hit any number.

Sony is going for raw volume rather than quality control here, but it still has a lot going for it. For every B and C List game on the PlayStation Plus roster, it also includes first-party hits like return, Resogun, and both the recent open world Spiderman games. Sony makes a a lot of of games internally, many of which range from decent to great, and if Plus has anything to offer it’s easy access to a large chunk of Sony’s back catalogue.

The story from the tape

2014 Notorious: Second Son, takes place in a dystopian post-superhero version of Seattle and is now free with a subscription at any tier of PlayStation Plus. (Sony picture)

The cheapest version of Plus, the $9.99/month Essential tier, offers three free games per month and a small downloadable library of PS4 hits that include definitions Last days; the superhero game set in Seattle Notorious: Second Son; Until dawn; Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End; and the remastered edition of The last of us. Each of them alone is worth $9.99.

Essential also offers access to online multiplayer for PlayStation users, cloud storage for your saves and data, and exclusive discounts. It’s roughly the same list of benefits the service has offered since it originally launched in 2010.

The Extra tier of Plus at $14.99/month adds the library of PS4 and PS5 games downloadable to your hard drive, while the Premium tier offers subscribers the “classic catalog” of PS3 games and earlier .

Xbox Game Pass has separate console and PC versions, both priced at $9.99/month, and first-party Xbox titles are generally guaranteed to hit stores the same day they release.

For $14.99/month you can upgrade to the Ultimate version of Game Pass, which works on both PC and console simultaneously, and take advantage of the separate Xbox Live Gold subscription. Ultimate also offers Xbox Cloud Gaming for compatible titles and devices.

Head to head, the two services fare well against each other. Plus offers a bigger, broader library full of true classics (and historical misfires); Game Pass’s library is smaller but better curated, offering access to first-party Xbox titles from day one. Both services give you over a month’s worth of games for an affordable subscription fee.

The natural question to ask here would normally be one of added value. Of course, when trying to decide which of the two consoles to buy, you should consider the relative merits of Plus and Game Pass.

The trick is that Game Pass is becoming increasingly popular is the Xbox. The physical hardware of the Xbox Series X|S is a flexible and easy-to-use gaming console, but the further we get into the current generation, the more it seems to fit Microsoft’s requirements.

This shouldn’t be taken as a prediction that Microsoft will stop manufacturing physical Xboxes – both versions of the Series X actually outperformed the PlayStation 5 in the first quarter of 2022 due to ongoing supply chain issues – but rather as an indication of how important the game is Pass is Microsoft’s current strategy. You can now play a lot on an Xbox without owning an Xbox.

The new PlayStation Plus has more Games, including some true classics, with the implicit promise of more to come. What it doesn’t have are Microsoft’s day one launches, and once Sony’s release schedule heats up, it becomes a more obvious problem for the service. Just to get the most bang for your entertainment buck, both PlayStation Plus and Game Pass are some of the best deals in console market history.

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