In 2017, Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan attended a Gran Turismo event where they featured the games across PS1, PS2, PS3 and PS4. He commented on the PS1 and PS2 games, stating ” they looked ancient, like why would anybody play this?” Yesterday, PlayStation unveiled a three-tier revamp of PlayStation Plus which will add over 340 classic titles from those ancient consoles. If one thing is made quite clear, PlayStation Plus and Xbox Game Pass are aiming for very different results with their subscription services.
To understand how these approaches differ, we need to look at the most pivotal generation in both companies’ histories that brought about these changes: the PS4 and Xbox One era. It’s no secret that PS4 dominated that generation, boasting strong first-party sales and even stronger console sales while Xbox One trailed behind in both aspects.
PS4’s exclusive library saw the release of hits like God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima and more – all of which propelled PlayStation during the generation into being the leading console of the era, only recently inched out by the Nintendo Switch in hardware sales.
On the other end, Xbox’s first-party titles began dipping in quality. The Xbox One may have thrived on the Forza series in critical and some commercial success, but they simply weren’t enough to make a compelling argument to own an Xbox. Things needed to change. In steps Phil Spencer who introduced Xbox Game Pass, a new subscription service that seems niche at first, but swiftly gains momentum over the years to become the juggernaut service that it is today.
At this point, PlayStation and Xbox begin to diverge paths. Xbox prioritises Game Pass as their major selling point, while PlayStation continues to rely on hard-hitting exclusives. Xbox begins a reign of studio acquisitions to bolster (and now surpass) PlayStation’s own first-party developers. PlayStation leans into exclusivity deals with the likes of Capcom and Square Enix, but still maintains that their AAA offerings are of the highest quality in gaming – and rightfully so.
We now approach the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S generation, and we can see ideologies have changed for both parties, but more drastically for Xbox. Suddenly, it’s not a case anymore of which company can outmatch the other, but rather which company boasts the strongest unique edge. You want the best exclusives on the market, you buy a PlayStation. You want a cost-effective solution to the escalating premium prices of games, you buy an Xbox. Win-win, right? Well…
PlayStation Plus’ recent rebranding of a long-standing subscription service could arguably be seen as a knee-jerk reaction to Game Pass. While there’s some truth to that, it goes a little deeper. PlayStation made it clear that their focus is still on producing strong first-party exclusives since that’s where their sales come from hence the decision to exclude day one launches on Plus.
However, Xbox’s financial capabilities far exceed PlayStation thanks to the enormous backing of Microsoft. Call it a safety net for Xbox. In this regard, Xbox can mostly afford to cut a few losses by placing their major exclusives on day one of their services, while Sony and PlayStation are still seeing the rewards of first-party games sales. This leaves the new PlayStation Plus in an odd position, as it simply looks like they’re offering a digital library similar to Game Pass but without some of its most exciting features (including day one drops and native backward compatibility). As many have already pointed out, this doesn’t exactly make it the “Game Pass competitor” that’s been built up.
Until we actually see just how expansive this library of PlayStation games is, it’s hard to pin it against Game Pass in any capacity, especially knowing that Ryan’s stance on excluding day one first-party games from the service seems set in stone. After all, why would PlayStation throw away certified big sales numbers of their exclusives? Being PlayStation and seeing their numerous exciting projects in development, it’s almost a guarantee that strong sales will be the outcome.
There’s also a very clear-cut answer to all of this. PlayStation has reiterated that they don’t see subscription services as the future of gaming, while Xbox confidently pushes the opposite notion forward. Historically, Xbox didn’t have nearly as impressive sales figures as PlayStation last generation, so their methods have changed to accommodate the subscription service model as a means of it being their biggest financial pull. Is it working for Xbox? Yes, it absolutely is.
One might question why this new PlayStation Plus even exists if it’s not the priority for Sony. There’s no definite answer, really. Some might call it industry pressure following Game Pass, while others see it as Sony catering to nostalgic fans and bridging generations. It could be both. Personally, a library of PlayStation classics sounds pretty enticing, even if we still have to shovel out premium prices for new exclusives.
That said, PlayStation and Xbox don’t view subscription services in the same light. In the end, consumers will have more options and that is probably the biggest takeaway from all of this whether we’re for or against it. Either way, we’re now entering a very strange and exciting time in this generation, where there are arguments for PlayStation and Xbox to almost stand on equal footing – a first in a very, very long time.