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KitGuru Games: PlayStation Plus Extra & Premium are no answer to Xbox Game Pass

Following on from multiple leaks, Sony officially announced its PlayStation Plus revamp. Formerly known as Project Spartacus, this was set up to be Sony's answer to Xbox Game Pass, but initial impressions seem to be that the final product has fallen short of expectations. Were those expectations ever fair in the first place? 

First lets break down the new PlayStation Plus revamp, the benefits to each tier and pricing. The basic tier is PlayStation Plus Essential and is just a rebrand of PS+, giving subscribers access to online multiplayer, a couple of free games per month and some smaller perks, like access to the PS5's in-game guide feature, for a monthly price of £6.99.

Next up, we have PlayStation Plus Extra, which adds “a catalogue of up to 400 of the most enjoyable PS4 and PS5 games” for £10.99. Some of these games will be downloadable, while others will be streamable via PSNow. Crucially, Sony has confirmed that there will be no day-one releases going straight to PlayStation Plus, with PlayStation head, Jim Ryan, claiming that would be an “unfeasible” business plan that would impact the quality and investment in future first-party games. The library of games for the Extra tier has not been announced yet, but we do know it will cost £10.99 per month – the same monthly cost as an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate membership.

Finally, we have the PlayStation Plus Premium tier, which has all the benefits of the Essential and Extra tiers, plus the addition of backwards compatible titles from PS1, PS2 and PSP for download and streaming, as well as a selection of PS3 titles, which will only be available via cloud streaming. A selection of PS4 titles will also be available through streaming. The Premium tier will cost £13.49 per month.

While the total library should include around 700 accessible titles, Sony has only announced that games like God of War (2018), Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Mortal Kombat 11 and Returnal will be available at launch. That is a pretty good selection of games, but we have yet to see the full scope of the library, and we have yet to see how many games will be streaming-only versus having a download option.

Sony has said that it will include titles from its first-party catalogue, and seeing early PS5 titles like Miles Morales and Returnal included in the launch is encouraging. However, there will be no day-one exclusives rolling out under the subscription and Sony has not made any commitments on future first-party releases coming to the service. By comparison, Microsoft brings first-party games to Game Pass on day-one, Ubisoft does the same with Ubisoft+, and EA brings its major games to EA Play within 12 months of release (and on day-one for EA Play Premier). Having this consistent cadence for new releases helps keep subscribers active in the long-term. Worryingly, Sony has also made no commitments in regards to keeping certain games in the library.

We do know that the PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium catalogue will rotate, so games will come and go over time. This is something that Sony has previously tried with PSNow, adding games like Spider-Man and God of War for short periods of time. Right now, my concern is that games like Returnal and Spider-Man: Miles Morales will be temporary additions to the library, and will be swapped out in the months to come. If that's the case, then we will only see a handful of first-party games at any one time, rather than an ever-growing library of accessible content.

While there are some surface level similarities between Xbox Game Pass and what Sony is trying to do here, it is clear that the early leaks claiming that this was PlayStation's alternative were inaccurate. As I noted in my analysis of the leaks last year, Sony is playing it safe with its subscription offering, while competitors are making big, bold bets. As we can see from Jim Ryan's interviews around the subject of subscription services, Sony is very risk-adverse and doesn't even want to entertain the possibility of launch sales being cannibalised by a subscription service offering. Due to this, the company isn't investing into its service at the same level as Microsoft with Game Pass, which makes something like PlayStation Plus Premium feel like an afterthought, rather than a must-have service for anyone with a PlayStation.

Industry analyst, Daniel Ahmad, has done a very good job of explaining the business sense behind these decisions though. While Xbox Game Pass is focused on growing the Xbox brand and reaching new customers, Sony is already in a very comfortable position with PlayStation. The strategy here is less about growing PlayStation, and more about taking current PS+ subscribers and upselling them to a higher tier. It is estimated that 95% of PlayStation's subscription revenue was generated by PS+, while the more expensive PSNow service accounted for single-digit percentages. If Sony can get a chunk of current PS+ subscribers to jump to the new Extra or Premium tiers, then it will achieve growth, without making any perceived sacrifices in other areas of the PlayStation business.

It's a strategy that makes sense, but in a world where Xbox Game Pass is getting consistent ‘pillar' titles for its library and dominating when it comes to value for money, the PlayStation Plus revamp does seem disappointing. You can make the argument that Sony's exclusives get far better reviews than the day-one titles Microsoft has added to Game Pass so far, but that's not something that is going to last forever. Microsoft has invested heavily in growing its first party studios, while also acquiring other major studios. I would argue that we'll see some non-Forza/Halo/Gears GOTY contenders from Xbox Game Studios within the next couple of years – we could even see the first Game Pass GOTY this year with Bethesda's next major RPG, Starfield.

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KitGuru Says: What do you all think of the new PlayStation Plus tiers? Are the Extra or Premium tiers something you would subscribe to long-term? 

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