Sony’s revamped PlayStation Plus is a confusing mess
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Tuesday, the final details of Sony’s revamped PlayStation subscription service, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney’s latest metaverse thoughts and Fall Guys’ free-to-play transition.
PlayStation Plus annual plans are slapdash, but cheap
Sony has made its stance on subscription gaming loud and clear. For the PlayStation maker, these services will always come second to its bread and butter: selling full price games at retail for as long as it can maintain high prices and healthy margins. As for whether subscriptions represent a promising new distribution model in the game industry, well … Sony’s top PlayStation exec thinks the jury is still out on that one.
That brings us to PlayStation Plus, and how Sony is positioning the revamped subscription service as the launch approaches at the end of the month. The company on Monday finally revealed a partial list of bundled games it plans to make available at launch for the higher-priced tiers of PlayStation Plus, costing $15 and $18 a month. The whole thing is a confusing mess, to put it lightly.
- There will now be three tiers where there used to be just one. Across those tiers, two of them — PlayStation Plus Extra and PlayStation Plus Premium — offer the same catalog of free PS4 and PS5 games to download, though Premium will also offer classic games via both downloading and streaming. Most of the games are at least a year old, and some far older.
- The entire pitch for Premium is cloud gaming, with an assortment of PS3 games available via streaming, but the confirmed launch catalog is filled with arbitrary additions and just a single PSP game.
- The announcement listed only 29 titles available to stream, and just 28 downloadable games from older hardware generations. PS2 games are mysteriously absent, save an assortment of remasters released for the PS4. The slim selection and confusing tier differences make the effort feel slapdash, unfocused and incomplete, and I'm curious why Sony didn't detail the whole collection all at once.
- “The list of Classic PlayStation Games coming to Sony's new tiers of service read like they were chosen by a company that really thinks you hate old games and won't ever bother to play them,” Giant Bomb co-founder Jeff Gerstmann tweeted.
PlayStation Plus has grown stale, and its value has diminished, so a revamp was definitely necessary. Similar to Xbox Live Gold, PlayStation Plus was primarily a way for Sony to monetize the online services of its console hardware, including online multiplayer features.
- With the rise of free-to-play gaming, the value proposition for paying $60 a year or $10 a month for PlayStation Plus made less and less sense as time went on. The most popular games on PlayStation, like Fortnite, don’t require Sony's subscription to play.
- The other benefit to PlayStation Plus has been a small handful of monthly free games, but Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass offers hundreds of free games for between $10 and $15 a month, pressuring Sony over the years to respond with something more substantive.
- Sony reported 47.6 million PlayStation Plus subscribers as of June of last year. But that number has declined to 47.4 million in its latest quarter. To adjust to a changing industry that’s placing a higher premium on recurring revenue, Sony needed a more enticing offering, and one it can grow over time.
Game subscription services aren’t tough sells, at first. Unlike with television, film and music, the cost of a single game far exceeds that of a standard subscription. If you don’t own Spider-Man: Miles Morales or Ghost of Tsushima, it’s far cheaper to pay Sony $15 to play either title for one month than to buy it outright. The hurdle, however, will be keeping customers signed up.
- Sony has promised more than 700 games on PlayStation Plus, but right now there are just a little over 100 titles confirmed at launch, many of which its diehard fan base likely already owns. The plan is to add more to all three tiers at a constant clip once a month, but if this is the launch slate's most impressive standouts, it doesn't feel anywhere near ready to compete with Xbox Game Pass.
- Sony has already said it has no interest in releasing brand-new titles directly onto the service at launch, as Microsoft does with its service. “The level of investment that we need to make in our studios would not be possible,” PlayStation boss Jim Ryan said of his competitor’s strategy.
- Sony did strike a deal with Ubisoft to offer a slimmed-down version of the French publisher’s own subscription service, including 27 games at launch, as an added perk for Extra and Premium subscribers.
- But there’s no telling what’s coming down the pipeline and at what frequency. Sony is hoping players will ignore the lack of road map, though, because the service's annual subscriptions are available at a steep discount compared to monthly plans. For PlayStation fans, that means taking a leap of faith and counting on Sony to sweeten the deal over time.
— Nick Statt
“I think we can build this open version of the metaverse over the next decade on the foundation of open systems, open standards, and companies being willing to work together on the basis of respecting their mutual customer relationships. You can come in with an account from one ecosystem and play in another, and everybody just respects those relationships. And there’s a healthy competition for every facet of the ecosystem.” —Epic CEO Tim Sweeney spoke to Fast Company last week about his vision for the metaverse and what role Fortnite and Unreal Engine will play in the coming years.
“There would be material repercussions for us as a wholly owned subsidiary… among other things, any progress that we might make in helping change [Sony Interactive Entertainment’s] approach would be stopped dead in its tracks. We’d also probably be severely restricted from doing important public-facing work in the future.” —Insomniac Games CEO Ted Price emailed staff members to explain why they were not allowed to speak out about abortion rights due to Sony prohibiting its studios and employees from releasing public statements on the subject, according to The Washington Post.
A MESSAGE FROM TRUSTED FUTURE
Innovators across the country are unlocking new technological frontiers using AI, 5G, IoT and the cloud to create opportunities never before possible that fundamentally expand our ability to solve important problems —technologies that can improve health outcomes, cut greenhouse gasses and make factories more competitive.
In other news
Microsoft’s tough 2022 release cycle. Two major Microsoft releases, Bethesda's Starfield and Arkane’s Redfall, were delayed to 2023, leaving the Xbox platform with even fewer exclusives for the second half of the year.
Nintendo’s contractors speak out. Nintendo of America contractors continue to speak out about poor working conditions, according to a new report from Axios. The pressure is mounting, but Nintendo has yet to comment publicly.
Critics call on Twitch to audit its platform. Following the mass shooting in Buffalo this past weekend, which was livestreamed on Twitch, nonprofit Color of Change is calling on the Amazon-owned streaming platform to perform a racism audit.
Epic is taking on Roblox. The Fortnite creator said last week it would release an official Unreal Engine editor for the battle royale game later this year with the intention of letting creators monetize their work, similar to its metaverse competitor Roblox.
Activision Blizzard apologizes for its diversity tool. The company published a blog post last week revealing an internal tool it tested to improve diversity of video game characters, only to face immense backlash for the reductive take on representation.
Netflix is considering live programming. The company is exploring livestreaming for comedy specials and competitive reality TV that includes voting, Deadline reported this weekend.
Facebook and Instagram disable AR in Texas and Illinois. Meta turned off AR filters in both states following a facial recognition lawsuit against Clearview AI.
Apple is possibly making a cheaper Apple TV streamer. The device could debut later this year to better compete against cheaper streaming hardware.
Fall Guys sees its future in free-to-play
Fall Guys developer Mediatonic on Monday joined a growing crowd of indie developers embracing free-to-play. The cartoony battle royale, modeled after Japanese game shows like “Takeshi’s Castle,” will drop its price tag next month when it launches on Xbox and the Nintendo Switch.
What was once an unusual, post-launch business model transition is much less notable these days. Mediatonic was acquired by Fortnite maker Epic Games last year, which also acquired Rocket League developer Psyonix. And like Rocket League, Fall Guys is now going free-to-play because it reflects Epic’s business model of choice for maximizing the number of players a game can attract. Other games have done the same over the years, including Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Bungie’s Destiny 2.
Perhaps the most telling of these examples is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The 2017 hit, the inspiration for the modern battle royale craze, originally launched on Steam for $30. Parent company Krafton removed that price tag earlier this year, after nearly five years on the market. The number of paying players doubled and monthly active users tripled in the months after, Krafton said in an earnings report last week. Fall Guys likely won’t enjoy such lofty financial gain, but it’s obvious now why so many games are embracing gaming’s live service future.
A MESSAGE FROM TRUSTED FUTURE
The most important element for building trust in the digital ecosystem is to have producers of products and services dedicate themselves to infusing trust into the lifecycle of their products and services. Only with trust can we maintain a global information infrastructure and obtain the full benefits of technology into the future.
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