Depending on how old you are, your memories of buying video games likely involve driving to the local GameStop (GME) – Get GameStop Corp. Class A Report to pick up a physical disc in a shiny plastic case.
But as Netflix (NFLX) – Get Netflix, Inc. Report has taught us, we don’t have to budge from our couches to enjoy our media today, and naturally the game industry followed that trend. Today gamers can download games digitally everywhere from their video game consoles to PC platforms like Steam.
Many wondered when the game industry would launch a streaming service for brand new titles, basically a “Netflix of gaming.” And Microsoft (MSFT) – Get Microsoft Corporation Report was first to do that with the 2017 launch of its Game Pass service, which is the only one that offers access to brand new games for a monthly subscription fee of $9.99.
This move dialed up the pressure for Sony (SNE) – Get Sony Corp. Report to step up its game, as its own streaming offering, PlayStation Now, only offered access to older titles, meaning Sony’s users still had to pony up the full price to try out a game.
But Sony has been hard at work on a project codenamed Spartacus that could pose serious competition for Microsoft. And today, it unveiled its new plans, which are very interesting indeed.
What is Sony’s New Streaming Game Service?
What we knew as Project Spartacus before this reveal is now simply known as PlayStation Plus, which is a name Sony has used for a while to define a subscription option that it originally launched in 2010.
Before the new announcement, the PlayStation Plus subscription offered users two older free games per month, a discount on new games, cloud storage, and access to online multiplayer options.
Sony also previously offered a second subscription option called PlayStation Now, which provided access to games from the PlayStation 2, 3, and 4 libraries.
The new PlayStation Plus combines these options and offers three different plans for gamers to choose from: PlayStation Plus Essential, PlayStation Plus Extra, and PlayStation Plus Premium.
The PlayStation Plus Essential package is the same as the old PlayStation Plus used to be, and the price remains the same at $9.99.
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The second package, PlayStation Plus Extra, will cost $14.99 a month and offers the benefits of the Essential package plus access to “up to 400 PS4 and PS5 games,” although those will not be brand new releases. Think of it as a more modern back catalog then what PlayStation Now offered before.
The final package, known as PlayStation Plus Premium, offers all of the above plus access to PlayStation games from past generations, including the PS1, the PSP, and PS2 (but not PS3. Subscribers will also get access to time-limited game trials, something Nintendo has been testing out recently as well for its own Nintendo Switch Online subscription service.
Can Sony’s PlayStation Plus Service Compete with Microsoft Game Pass?
While Sony’s new PlayStation Plus plans do offer a lot of content for the price, there is one major difference between them and Game Pass: The latter offers subscribers to download new games on release day, while Plus does not.
This seems like a glaring oversight, but Sony is quite aware of its choice to leave that option out. PlayStation Jim Ryan elaborated in an interview with Games Industry, explaining why the company chooses not to go down that road at this time.
“We feel like we are in a good virtuous cycle with the studios where investment delivers success, which enables yet more investment, which delivers yet more success,” he said.
“We like that cycle and we think our gamers like that cycle…we feel if we were to do that [meaning day-one Plus releases] with the game we make at PlayStation Studios, that virtuous cycle would be broken. The level of investment that we need to make in our studios would not be possible, and we think the knock-on effect on the quality of games we make would not be something gamers want.”
Mat Piscatella, NPD Group Video Game Advisor, told TheStreet in a phone interview that he believes Sony’s math is saying it’s not the right time to launch a day one streaming option.
“Microsoft is relying on establishing a big user base and building games for a social component,” Piscatella said. “Sony’s players are more single-player focused, so its not as important to generate day one there. There’s a big difference between the strategies.”
“We’re still so early in the idea of day one subscription services and the sample of titles that have done it are so small. There’s still a lot of room [to grow].”
So while buying games one at a time is not out the door just yet, Sony’s latest move nudges us that much closer to an all-streaming future.