In the eight years between 2002, when Xbox Live first launched and demanded a monthly payment for online play, and 2010, when PlayStation Plus first launched, Sony was busy mocking Microsoft for demanding payment for the service.
Sony was basically comforting its fans with the “privilege” of playing online for free, which has never been an issue in the history of PC gaming.
But consoles are essentially walled gardens, and the “gardeners” generally tend to treat their visitors as cash cows due to a simple fact: a console relies on a single corporation to survive, and players need that single firm to continue supporting the device that they love playing on.
But as years have passed and Xbox Live proved to be a success, Sony backtracked on its “free online play” stance and wanted to have a piece of the “monthly subscription fee” pie – which, naturally, provides a constant stream of revenue to the company that runs a game console business.
So, PlayStation Plus was born as Sony’s belated answer to Microsoft. Now, an arguably traditionally run Japanese company has again belatedly given an answer to its American rival on the “Game Pass” side of things, with a little bit of sauce on top. Let’s take a look.
In another column titled “Strategy showdown in gaming: Nintendo vs. Sony vs. Microsoft” that I published last year, I explored the idea that today’s console gaming scene is fractured by roles.
Sony focuses on selling high-quality, story-driven triple-A games for a premium while Nintendo continues to have a tight grasp on its relatively niche fanbase (many of them retro gamers, too) who generally care more about the experience and convenience rather than graphical fidelity. And there is Microsoft’s Xbox, which is basically home to the best price-performance ratio on the market with its miraculously affordable Game Pass – which also includes Electronic Arts games thanks to a Microsoft-EA deal – that lets you access a giant library of quality games including Xbox’s trademark Halo series, terrific EA titles like Mass Effect and Titanfall in addition to countless other games.
But as I said, times are changing and so are roles, with a catch: The fracturing that I defined above is generally here to stay.
That's because Microsoft and Nintendo continue to do their thing as usual; and the company that has altered its strategy to adjust to the zeitgeist, Sony, will still not bring triple-A titles to the new PlayStation Plus service on day one; unlike what Xbox is doing. Is Forza Horizon 5 out? Bam, you got it on Game Pass, on day one. But will, let’s say, God of War: Ragnarök come to the PlayStation Plus when it launches? Hold my controller.
The new PlayStation Plus service consists of three tiers: PlayStation Plus Essential, which is basically the same as the current service, the mid-tier PlayStation Plus Extra, and the high-tier PlayStation Plus Premium. What a wacky name that is by the way.
According to the official PlayStation blog, the entry-level PlayStation Plus Essential, which will run you $9.99 monthly, $24.99 quarterly or $59.99 yearly, will be exactly the same in price and service for the existing subscribers of PlayStation Plus.
“Two monthly downloadable games, exclusive discounts, cloud storage for saved games, and online multiplayer access” are all features of this tier.
“There are no changes for existing PlayStation Plus members in this tier,” the blog adds.
And there’s the mid-tier PlayStation Plus Extra, which will cost you $14.99 monthly, $39.99 quarterly or $99.99 for a yearly subscription.
PlayStation Plus Extra “provides all the benefits from the Essential tier,” Sony says in the blog, adding that “a catalog of up to 400* of the most enjoyable PS4 and PS5 games – including blockbuster hits from our PlayStation Studios catalog and third-party partners” will be included. That asterisk at the bottom of the page reads, “Local pricing may vary by market. PlayStation Plus catalog titles may also vary by market and tier, and may change over time,” so don’t get overhyped about the possibility of your favorite yet pricey game coming your way; you will possibly find the mainstream titles you want in the library but niche games may prove challenging according to where you live.
Lastly, there’s the top-notch yet janky-named PlayStation Plus Premium, which will set you back $17.99 monthly, $49.99 quarterly or $119.99 yearly.
The service that “provides all the benefits from Essential and Extra tiers,” the top-tier adds up to 340 more games, again, according to where you live.
And those 340 more games include “PS3 games available via cloud streaming, a catalog of beloved classic games available in both streaming and download options from the original PlayStation, PS2 and PSP generations.”
Sony has been offering a service called PlayStation Now, which lets players play games through cloud streaming but it is not widely available around the globe. I doubt whether Sony will eventually bring cloud streaming everywhere on the globe now that it has merged the PS Now with PS Plus. Let’s wait and see.
Nevertheless, the fact that PlayStation 3 titles are only available through cloud streaming is disappointing, to say the least. Sony used to care about backwards compatibility in good old times, but that’s no more. Still, it’s at least a step in the right direction.
The top tier also offers “cloud streaming access for original PlayStation, PS2, PSP and PS4 games offered in the Extra and Premium tiers in markets** where PlayStation Now is currently available. Customers can stream games using PS4 and PS5 consoles, and PC***,” the website reads, underlining that countries with PS Now continue to be privileged while others will just wait for Sony to bring in the service. Now, to the two asterisks.
“Current markets where PlayStation Now is available: US, Canada, Japan, UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden,” the first asterisk in the sentence reads. I can already see some spoiled YouTubers complaining about how cloud streaming on their shiny new PlayStation 5’s result in occasional stutters. First-world problems, eh.
The last asterisk says, “PC streaming is not available in Japan at launch and will be supported in a future update,” which is surprising because Sony usually brings its new goodies to Japan first. Again, times are changing.
But to give the devil its due, Sony also offers a special package for countries where it fails to deliver on cloud streaming.
The weirdly named “PlayStation Plus Deluxe” will be “offered at a lower price compared to Premium, and includes a catalog of beloved classic games from the original PlayStation, PS2 and PSP generations to download and play, along with time-limited game trials,” the blog adds.
“Benefits from Essential and Extra tiers are also included. Local pricing will vary by market.”
Sony has finally taken a step in the right direction to offer a glimmer of hope with regards to the possibility that we may no longer need to invest $60 to $70 in a single game that may not suit our individual tastes later on, letting us try it first to make sure we love it before buying it to keep forever. Or, you can also opt to never really own a game and choose the convenience of having access to a huge library of titles for a decent monthly payment.
Before I end the article, I want to point out one frustration with regard to the modern gaming scene, inspired by a single phrase from the blog post.
“Time-limited game trials will also be offered in this tier, so customers can try select games before they buy.”
What a cruel world we’re living in. In the good old days, “demos” were plentiful and free of charge so that you could easily understand whether you’d love a game or not.
But in these trying times, you need to spend $17.99 to access game trials.
What a cruel world indeed.