PlayStation Plus’ pipeline problem
Hi, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Tuesday, we’re reviewing the current state of Sony’s PlayStation Plus subscription service and how it stacks up to Xbox Game Pass. Also, the game industry’s love of remakes and remasters is taking on an all-new form.
Sony’s Game Pass lite
Microsoft’s push into subscription gaming has become too big for its prime competitor to ignore. And last week, Sony finally answered with the launch of its revamped PlayStation Plus platform in the U.S., which now includes three tiers, hundreds of games and a suite of other perks designed to appeal to those who want more bang for their buck.
I’ve been using the platform’s Extra and Premium tiers for the last week, perusing the collection and making sense of how much value Sony has packed into them. It’s clear there are enough high-quality games to justify at least a few months to maybe as long as a year of the new PS Plus. But a confusing tier system, poor marketing and the lack of a concrete road map of new additions makes this more of a Game Pass lite than a true subscription competitor.
PS Plus is great for newcomers. If you’re not a diehard Sony fan or have only just gotten your hands on a new PlayStation 5, then the revamped PS Plus’ middle tier, called Extra, is a solid deal. (The standard version of PS Plus, now called PS Plus Essential, remains unchanged, and I see no reason to ever pay for it again.)
- Extra includes some of the platform’s best games of the last decade, like 2015’s Bloodborne, 2018’s God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2, and 2020’s Ghost of Tsushima. It also has two of the best indie games ever made: Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight and Maddy Thorson’s Celeste.
- For PS5 owners, the subscription also includes expensive PlayStation exclusives you no longer have to buy, which is an especially sweet perk considering Sony’s resistance to discounting digital games. That includes Death Stranding Director’s Cut, the Demon’s Souls remake, Returnal and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
- For the very generous annual price of $100, the Extra tier is a solid Game Pass competitor that justifies its cost for at least the next 12 months, given that it’s $14.99 when billed monthly.
- But it’s hard to recommend Extra on a monthly basis because Sony hasn’t talked too much about how often games might leave the service or what might be added in the future.
- Unless you’ve already played most of the service’s biggest games, you’re better off 12 months at a discount, getting your money’s worth and reevaluating next year.
The Premium tier needs a lot of work. Instead of creating just two tiers, Sony opted for three. And that’s where PS Plus starts to run into trouble, which is only made worse by the company’s poor marketing efforts.
- The Premium tier includes everything the Extra tier does, but also tosses in cloud gaming via its PlayStation Now service and a new assortment of more than 350 classic games.
- To the casual observer, however, differentiating between the tiers is a confusing mess, especially when trying to figure out what exactly you’re getting for your money. Some games can only be streamed while others have to be downloaded, and Sony has a number of other restrictions on which platforms and hardware these games can be accessed through.
- The classic games collection feels random and shallow, and I can’t imagine anyone outside the most dedicated Sony enthusiast wanting to go back and play some of these titles on a regular enough basis to justify paying a higher monthly fee.
- It’s not clear why Premium needs to exist right now. Sure, it gives Sony something to point to when comparing its offerings to Game Pass, and lets it conveniently pivot the PS Now service into something more immediately useful to its business.
- But for an extra $36 a year (or $20, when billed annually) on top of the already-pricey Extra tier, PS Plus Premium doesn’t do enough to justify the cost.
PlayStation Plus has a pipeline problem. Much of PS Plus is composed of older games, many of which longtime Sony customers have likely already bought and played.
- I already own and have played to completion all of the top 10 highest-reviewed games on PS Extra/Premium, according to Metacritic.
- I would subscribe only to this service for a month or two, specifically to play Death Stranding and perhaps one or two games on my must-play list. That’s a problem for Sony: There are plenty of PlayStation owners just like me who don’t see a lot of value right now.
- The bigger issue: We don’t know at what clip Sony will add classic games to Premium, or how many first-party and third-party games will be added to Extra.
- Sony has already said it has no intention of adding new first-party releases to the service at launch. Instead, we’ll have to wait an undetermined amount of time (likely around a year or longer) for newer games to be added.
- Microsoft, on the other hand, has dozens of new releases over the next 12 months, all of which are confirmed to be arriving on Game Pass.
Sony’s biggest issue is its messaging. When talking to an assortment of my gaming friends about the new PS Plus, a few of them had no idea it existed, and those who did had little idea of what it included. Many of them have let their PS Plus subscriptions lapse months or even years ago because so few games require it to use online multiplayer anymore due to the rise of free-to-play.
Sony made the choice not to rebrand PS Plus, and that may have been a smart move considering the lack of faith PlayStation’s top exec Jim Ryan has expressed toward subscription gaming. But if the company wants to turn the platform into something that can sign up and retain subscribers for the long term, it may need to do a better job communicating with casual consumers. It doesn't need to go toe to toe with Game Pass, but it would help if Sony would open up about its plans to add more value over time.
— Nick Statt
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Unionization support is on the rise. A new report by UNI Global Union found that 79% of video game workers support unionization, GamesIndustry.biz reported, with developers in 29 countries pointing to low pay and excessive work hours as reasons why they’re interested in labor organizing.
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Game companies are reinventing the remake
No gaming product is more reliable than one that’s already sold well. Given the industry’s ever-advancing hardware and graphical fidelity, as well as a new(ish) generation of console hardware, big game makers are turning to remasters and remakes at an increasing clip to resell customers titles they’ve already bought. Some studios are going even further and transforming popular classics into sprawling commercial entities.
Take Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII. The game is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and last week the Japanese publisher held a special event to announce a bevy of spinoffs, remakes and remasters. There’s now a remaster of PSP game Crisis Core, a sequel to 2020’s Final Fantasy VII remake called Rebirth, and a mobile reimagining of the original 1997 release called Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis. The whole FFVII compilation now numbers more than a dozen releases.
Sony is taking a less flagrant, but still financially motivated, approach to The Last of Us. Earlier this month, the company announced an official remake of the 2013 game, building upon the 2014 remaster that was released for the PlayStation 4. It gives Sony an opportunity to sell the game for a third time — it will retail for $70 this September — while also debuting it on PC for the first time. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before 2020’s The Last of Us Part II gets its own remaster or remake, setting up the cycle to continue yet again.
— Nick Statt
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