Sony is planning its own competitor to Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass, according to a report from Bloomberg. Sony intends to merge the service, codenamed Spartacus, with its PlayStation Plus membership program and its PlayStation Now cloud service.
According to the report, Sony intends to launch the service this spring both for its PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 consoles. The service will have three tiers. The first tier is expected to be similar to the existing $60 per year PlayStation Plus, which Sony has operated for many years as a way to charge consumers for online gaming capabilities and the opportunity to download a handful of free games every month.
The second tier would include a more robust library of free games, including both PS4 and PS5 titles, with a structure similar to Microsoft's all-you-can-play Xbox Game Pass, which currently features more than 150 games and also includes every new first-party release the company puts out. The third tier would include the game streaming benefits of Sony's PlayStation Now platform, which is similar to Xbox Cloud Gaming and Google Stadia, while also including classic games from the PS1, PS2, PS3 and Sony handheld libraries.
It's not clear how much Sony plans to charge for its service or whether Sony would include its first-party titles on the same day they launch at retail, which is arguably the most attractive benefit of Xbox Game Pass. Sony's strategy for console gaming relies on selling PlayStation-exclusive games for between $60 and $70. Many of Sony's recent hits have sold upwards of 10 to 15 million units, and 2018's God of War hit a rare milestone of more than 19.5 million units sold this fall. A subscription service that included those games immediately upon launch might eat into the company's sales, unless Sony could make it attractive enough with perks or pricing to attract a substantial subscriber base.
Microsoft has 18 million Xbox Game Pass subscribers as of January 2021, the last time the company made public data about the platform. But recent financial filings from October indicated the growth of Game Pass has slowed in recent months and the platform is no longer adding subscribers at the rate Microsoft previously forecast.
Still, Sony's plans to build its own Game Pass competitor underscores the importance of subscription services in the game industry and how Netflix-style content bundling is likely to become a major force driving the industry in the years ahead. Many game developers and publishers, including Electronic Arts and Ubisoft, have launched subscription services of their own, while many traditional companies in the subscription media business, such as Amazon and Netflix, have now shown interest in gaming.
Sony, which throughout its history has been both a traditional media and gaming business, is also in dire need of new subscription products after the poor adoption of its PlayStation Now service and the discontinuation of its pay-TV product PlayStation Vue.