Sony’s PS Plus tiers complicate the simplicity of subscription services

Sony has announced a new range of PlayStation Plus subscriptions: PlayStation Plus Essential, PlayStation Plus Extra and PlayStation Plus Premium. Prior to their official unveiling, the plans were characterized as an attempt to cater to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, offering various selections of games to download or stream as part of a single monthly subscription. But now that they’re official, the truth is much more complicated.

Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass pitch is relatively straightforward. You get access to a wide range of games as part of a subscription, and Microsoft is committed to releasing its top first-party games to its subscription service on the day they’re released. $9.99 gets you games on either Xbox Where PC, or $14.99 gets you both, plus the ability to stream games to the cloud (handy if you want to play them on more portable devices like phones) as well as access to online multiplayer through the inclusion of Xbox Live Gold.

But Sony took a different approach. This is do not engage to release its first-party games on its subscription service when they launch, and it splits PlayStation Plus into three different tiers, which offer more games the more you pay. They will launch in Asian markets in June, followed closely by North America, Europe and others. It’s a necessary step to improve Sony’s subscription offerings, but in the process Sony has created a convoluted range of prices to choose from.

The $9.99 PlayStation Plus Essential tier will offer the same as what PlayStation Plus has now – including the dozen games already available as a PlayStation Plus collection. Then the $14.99 PlayStation Plus Extra lets you download up to 400 PS4 and PS5 games. Finally, the $17.99 PlayStation Plus Premium gets you up to 340 additional games, which include games from the original PlayStation, PS2, PSP, and PS3. Some of these additional games are available for download, but others, like those originally released for the PS3, can only be streamed.

Discounts are also available if you choose to pay for a subscription on a quarterly or annual basis. I won’t list all the prices here (you can check Official Sony press release for this), but in total there are nine different ways to pay for PlayStation Plus in the US only. That’s a lot of choices, and that means there are a lot of decisions to be made.

If you find it complicated, I won’t blame you. With Xbox Games Pass Ultimate, you could never pay for any of Microsoft’s games separately again – they’re all included. But Sony seems to present its subscription tiers as an additional purchase. In Sony’s world, you’re still paying up to $70 for its big-budget games at launch, but you might also pay for a subscription that swells your library with a selection of slightly older and even retro titles. And the exact number of games you get depends on how much – and how often – you’re willing to pay.

In the absence of hardware backwards compatibility, Sony uses streaming to deliver PS3 games.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Yet despite its complexity, Sony’s new PlayStation Plus tiers are arguably simpler than the subscriptions it already offers. Currently, if you want to stream both games via PlayStation Now and access PlayStation Plus, you must then pay for two entirely separate subscriptions. This is not an uncommon situation, apparently, with PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan says GameIndustry.bizthree-quarters of PlayStation Now subscribers also have a PlayStation Plus subscription.

The price of the new PlayStation Plus Premium tier, as an analyst Daniel Ahmad points it out on Twitter, suggests that it targets exactly those users. PlayStation Plus (soon to be rebranded from its “Essential” tier) costs $9.99 per month, and PlayStation Now also costs $9.99. Paying for both together would cost you $19.98 per month, compared to $17.99 for the new PlayStation Plus Premium. Pay annually, and both cost you $119.98 separately or $119.99 as part of PlayStation Plus Premium. In other words, paying for PlayStation Plus Premium will be a no-brainer for three-quarters of PlayStation Now subscribers.

But that still doesn’t explain PlayStation Plus Extra, Sony’s mid-tier that offers PS4 and PS5 games. At $14.99, it directly competes with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate but lacks any of its cloud gaming features. With just $3 separating it from the PlayStation Plus Premium tier, it almost feels like an attempt to push customers towards Sony’s most expensive subscription.

It’s not uncommon for music or video subscription services to offer several different tiers. Netflix offers three different tiers, which differ in terms of video quality (4K vs HD vs SD) and the maximum number of streams you can watch at once, while HBO Max offers a cheaper ad-supported tier. On the music front, Spotify has one paid tier but offers discounts if you subscribe as a family or couple, while Apple recently added a discounted plan that limits it to being controlled with Siri commands.

In all of these non-gaming cases, the different price tiers all offer exactly the same content and lower their quality tiers if you pay less. But each tier of PlayStation Plus offers drastically different amounts of content for your money.

By ditching PlayStation Now and merging it with PlayStation Plus, Sony seems to be trying to simplify its subscription offering. But, by contrast, Microsoft has spent years building an all-in-one service from the ground up. When Sony dropped PS3 backwards compatibility with PS4, Microsoft continued to make hundreds of original Xbox 360 and Xbox games playable on Xbox One, and it continued the initiative on Series X and S. While Sony allowed its PlayStation Now service to languish in relative obscurity, Microsoft expanded its cloud gaming service and released its the biggest Games there the first day. Perhaps more importantly, Microsoft has been on the kind of acquisition spree that will have gamers sitting up and noticing when it promises to include its first-party titles in its subscription service.

The result is that Sony feels like it’s taking a patchwork approach to its PlayStation Plus tiers. It consolidates here, consolidates there, and makes its older titles available by subscription long after their initial release. Some games for older Sony platforms will be available for download, but cloud streaming is required to offer PS3 games as hardware backwards compatibility is not possible. It brings together these different initiatives, but there are gaps in its approach.

That doesn’t make Sony’s revamped subscription deals a bad deal. It just means that you may need to pay special attention to the fine print.

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