Sony’s revamped PlayStation Plus is a confusing mess

Hello and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, Your guide to gaming and media industry business. This Tuesday, the final details on Sony’s revamped PlayStation subscription service, the latest Metaverse thoughts from Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, and Fall Guys’ free-to-play transition.

PlayStation Plus annual plans are sloppy but cheap

Sony has made its stance on subscription gaming loud and clear. For the PlayStation maker, these services will always come second to its bread and butter: selling games at full retail price, as long as it can maintain high prices and healthy margins. Whether subscriptions represent a promising new distribution model in the games industry, well… Sony’s PlayStation chief executive believes the jury is still out on that.

Which brings us to PlayStation Plus, and how Sony is positioning the revamped subscription service as launch nears the end of the month. The company on Monday finally released a partial list of bundled games it intends to make available at launch for the more expensive tiers of PlayStation Plus, which cost $15 and $18 a month. The whole thing is a confusing mess, to say the least.

  • Where there used to be only one, there will now be three stages. Across these tiers, two of them – PlayStation Plus Extra and PlayStation Plus Premium – offer the same catalog of free PS4 and PS5 games to download, although Premium will also offer classic games for both download and streaming. Most games are at least a year old, some much older.
  • The entire pitch for Premium is cloud gaming, with a selection of PS3 games available via streaming, but the confirmed launch catalog is filled with random additions and just a single PSP game.
  • The announcement listed only 29 titles available to stream and only 28 downloadable games from older hardware generations. PS2 games are mysteriously absent, save for a number of remasters that have been released for the PS4. The small selection and confusing animal differences make the effort feel sloppy, unfocused and incomplete, and I’m curious as to why Sony hasn’t detailed the entire collection at once.
  • “The list of classic PlayStation games coming to Sony’s new tiers of service reads like they’ve been handpicked by a company that genuinely believes you hate old games and will never bother playing them says Jeff Gerstmann, co-founder of Giant Bomb tweeted.

PlayStation Plus has become stale, and its value has decreased, so an overhaul was definitely needed. Much like Xbox Live Gold, PlayStation Plus was primarily a way for Sony to monetize its console hardware’s online services, including online multiplayer capabilities.

  • With the advent of free-to-play games, the value proposition of paying $60 a year or $10 a month for PlayStation Plus made less and less sense over time. The most popular games on PlayStation, like Fortnite, do not require a subscription from Sony in order to be played.
  • PlayStation Plus’ other benefit was a small handful of monthly free games, but Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass offers hundreds of free games for between $10 and $15 a month, pushing Sony over the years to respond with something more substantial.
  • Sony reported 47.6 million PlayStation Plus subscribers in June last year. But that number has fallen to 47.4 million in the most recent quarter. To adapt to a changing industry that values ​​recurring revenue, Sony needed a more enticing proposition that could grow over time.

Game subscription services aren’t hard sales to begin with. Unlike television, film and music, the cost of a single game far exceeds that of a standard subscription. If you don’t own Spider-Man: Miles Morales or Ghost of Tsushima, paying Sony $15 to play both titles for a month is a lot cheaper than buying them outright. However, the hurdle will be keeping customers signed in.

  • Sony has promised more than 700 games on PlayStation Plus, but at the moment only a little over 100 titles are confirmed at launch, many of which its die-hard fan base likely already owns. The plan is to expand all three tiers once a month in a constant clip, but if these are the launch slate’s most impressive standouts, it doesn’t feel anywhere near ready to compete with Xbox Game Pass.
  • Sony has already said it has no interest in releasing brand new titles directly to the service at launch like Microsoft does with its service. “The investments that we would have to make in our studios would not be possible,” said PlayStation boss Jim Ryan about his competitor’s strategy.
  • Sony has struck a deal with Ubisoft to offer a slimmed down version of the French publisher’s own subscription service, including 27 games at launch, as an added perk for Extra and Premium subscribers.
  • But there’s no telling what will come down the pipeline and at what frequency. However, Sony hopes players will ignore the lack of a roadmap, as the service’s annual subscriptions come at a significant discount compared to the monthly plans. For PlayStation fans, that means taking a leap of faith and counting on Sony to sweeten the deal over time.

– Nick Instead

overheard

“I think we can build this open version of the metaverse over the next decade based on open systems, open standards, and companies willing to work together based on respect for their mutual customer relationships. You can come in with an account from one ecosystem and play in another, and everyone just respects those relationships. And there is healthy competition for every facet of the ecosystem.” – Epic CEO Tim Sweeney spoke to Fast Company last week about his vision for the Metaverse and what role Fortnite and Unreal Engine will play in the years to come.

“For us as a wholly owned subsidiary, there would be a significant impact…including any progress we could make in supporting change [Sony Interactive Entertainment’s] Approach would be stopped immediately. We would likely be severely restricted from doing important public work in the future as well.” —Ted Price, CEO of Insomniac Games, emailed employees to explain why they weren’t allowed to speak out about abortion rights because Sony had banned its studios and employees from making public statements on the subject, so the Washington Post.

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In other news

Microsoft’s tough 2022 release cycle. Two major Microsoft releases, Bethesda’s Starfield and Arkane’s Redfall, have been pushed back to 2023, leaving the Xbox platform with even fewer exclusives for the second half of the year.

Nintendo’s contractual partners speak out. Nintendo of America contractors continue to speak out about poor working conditions, according to a new report from Axios. The pressure is mounting, but Nintendo has yet to comment publicly on the matter.

Critics are urging Twitch to review its platform. In the wake of last weekend’s mass shooting in Buffalo, which was livestreamed on Twitch, nonprofit organization Color of Change is asking the Amazon-owned streaming platform to conduct a racism audit.

Epic takes on Roblox. The Fortnite creator said last week it would be releasing an official Unreal Engine editor for the battle royale game later this year, with the intention of letting creators monetize their work, much like its Metaverse competitor Roblox.

Activision Blizzard apologizes for its diversity tool. The company published a blog post last week in which it revealed an internal tool it had been testing to improve video game character diversity, only to face immense setback for the reductive rendering of the rendering.

Netflix is ​​considering live programming. The company is exploring live streaming for comedy specials and competitive reality TV that includes voting, Deadline reported this weekend.

Facebook and Instagram disable AR in Texas and Illinois. Meta shut down AR filters in both states following a facial recognition lawsuit against Clearview AI.

Apple may make a cheaper Apple TV streamer. The device could debut later this year to better compete against cheaper streaming hardware.

Fall Guys sees its future in free-to-play

Fall Guys developer Mediatonic on Monday joined a growing band of indie developers embracing free-to-play. The cartoon battle royale, modeled after Japanese game shows like Takeshi’s Castle, will drop its price next month when it launches on Xbox and Nintendo Switch.

What was once an unusual post-launch business model transition is much less remarkable these days. Mediatonic was acquired last year by Fortnite maker Epic Games, which also acquired Rocket League developer Psyonix. And like Rocket League, Fall Guys is now going free-to-play because it reflects Epic’s preferred business model of maximizing the number of players a game can attract. Other games have done the same over the years, including Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Bungie’s Destiny 2.

Perhaps the most telling of these examples is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The 2017 hit that inspired the modern battle royale craze originally launched on Steam for $30. Parent company Krafton removed that price tag earlier this year after almost five years on the market. The number of paying players doubled and monthly active users tripled in the months since, Krafton said in an earnings report last week. Fall Guys probably won’t make that big of a financial profit, but it’s now apparent why so many games are embracing gaming’s live service future.

– Nick Instead

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