PlayStation Plus Essential — what everyone used to call good ol’ PlayStation Plus — once again turned in an outstanding roster of free games for players who subscribe, and of course, players have to subscribe if they want multiplayer access.
But at the subscription’s new Extra and Premium tiers of service, which launched in June, it is, candidly, hard to see where the value is. And I say this as a PlayStation Plus Premium subscriber, which is mainly because of the job I do.
No one expects PlayStation Plus to mimic Xbox Game Pass; a copycat would be five years late to the party, anyway. But even the raw number of games available to PS Plus Extra and Premium members — most of which were inherited from the old PlayStation Now service — does little to make the PlayStation 4 and PS5’s add-on program competitive with Microsoft’s.
By year’s end, PlayStation Plus Premium subscribers — the top level of service — had access to more than 1,000 games. (About 450 are PS4 and PS5 games, which form the core of the service and are available to PlayStation Plus Extra subscribers. The rest are streamable classics from the PlayStation 3 generation and earlier.) That’s a lot of games, more than double what Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers currently have access to (thanks to the inclusion of the EA Play library).
But that’s also because Xbox Game Pass is curated, with games rotating out as new ones are added. PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium feels like Sony, with help from third-party publishers, is throwing things at the wall in hope something sticks. The problem is that everything does stick, making it next to impossible for the subscription to have a big name game that stands out, much less justifies the $14.99 (Extra) or $17.99 (Premium) every month. PlayStation Plus Essential is still $9.99 a month.
Second is the fact Sony is on the record saying it won’t launch first-party games on PS Plus’ upper tiers of service. That’s Sony’s choice, for sure, but it’s not like it’s roping third party publishers into launching on Extra or Premium, either. Stray, a console exclusive — and an acclaimed one, to be sure — is the only title to launch on PS Plus Extra the same day as its general release.
It seems strange that Sony would be such a holdout, when day-and-date launches are perhaps the defining feature of Xbox Game Pass, and especially when PlayStation Plus Essential has had no problem with day-and-date launches over the years — spanning titles like Rocket League to smaller indie games exclusive to the platform. PS Plus Essential even had two day-and-date PlayStation launches in 2022.
The flood of games added to the two higher tiers of PS Plus — 240 in all — isn’t really worth parsing out in the same way we analyze the smaller collection of PS Plus Essential games. Not when data points like age (dozens are years old, if not a dozen years old) and whether the titles are offered on other services (many have shown up on the old PS Plus over the years) are basically moot points anyway.
This analysis will focus instead on what PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium could do in 2023 to make for a more worthwhile subscription, rather than dwell on what Sony didn’t do in 2022.
Add value to PS Plus Premium, or kill it
The only real distinguishing trait of PS Plus’ top tier of service is that subscribers can stream hundreds of games to their PS5, PS4, or PC — but, importantly, not to a mobile device, as Xbox Game Pass Ultimate does. And the games that are available only to Premium subscribers — mostly PS3 and PlayStation Portable games at least a decade old — are not worth the extra $3 per month.
Sony Interactive Entertainment should either beef up the streaming opportunity — mobile device support at minimum — or simply extend what streaming capability they do have to Extra and do away with Premium. The extra tier of service only adds to customer confusion about what the new PlayStation Plus really offers them. The generosity at the Extra level might bump subscription figures, too.
Pick a star each month and stick with it
SIE’s approach seems to be to open a firehose of content, where their competitors at Game Pass have a more targeted approach. Notably, PS Plus Extra games don’t leave the library, and sure, that’s value to the paying subscriber. But the new game additions each month — the biggest opportunity Sony has to market PlayStation Plus — feel like more of a theme week, or an overload, than a buffet that guarantees you’ll like at least one thing.
For example: in addition to Stray’s launch, July saw four Assassin’s Creed titles — including The Ezio Collection, which is actually three games — added to PlayStation Plus Extra’s library. That’s along with Marvel’s Avengers (a PS4 and PS5 game that launched in 2020) and Final Fantasy 7 Remake for the PlayStation 5. Then, in September, Deathloop’s availability competed with Assassin’s Creed Origins and Watch Dogs 2.
It might seem peevishly ungrateful to complain about so many AAA games coming to a monthly subscription. But again, Sony’s shotgun approach doesn’t seem to be working, as far as distinguishing PS Plus or telling players what unique value the service has. In November, the company told investors they’d actually lost about 2 million paying subscribers, even if overall revenue from PlayStation’s network services was up 10% for that quarter. That means some folks opted for the more expensive plans, but a 10% bump doesn’t sound like much cause for celebration.
At minimum, the game additions should fall along clearly drawn genre lines (a sports title here, a driving title there) rather than a flood of open-world adventures drowning out a console timed exclusive that launched barely one year before.
Please reconsider day-and-date launches
Sony seems rather firm in its stance that first party day-and-date launches will not happen on PlayStation Plus. But they’re putting out a product whose customer expectations have been set, for the most part, by Microsoft over the past five years. This might be fine in a 2022 when Xbox brought little to the table — but the disparity will become a lot more glaring in 2023.
If Sony doesn’t want to peel off a title from its stable of in-house developers, or if it can’t convince another big publisher to go in with them, that is indeed their business. But Sony will then have to be content with most of its subscribers standing pat at the PlayStation Plus Essential level only, as most seem to be at the end of 2022.