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PlayStation Plus Premium: Is it really an Xbox Game Pass rival?

The VG247 team reacts to Sony's big PS Plus revamp, and opinions are… tepid.

Today's big gaming news was Sony's announcement that PS Plus will be split into three tiers going forward: PS Plus Essentials, PS Plus Extra and PS Plus Premium. On the top end of the subscription, Sony notes that we can expect "a catalog of beloved classic games available in both streaming and download options from the original PlayStation, PS2 and PSP generations" – which will join a library of about 400 PlayStation 4 and 5 games on the mid-tier, as well as all the basics on the entry tier (online play, four games per month, and so on).

It's a fairly big announcement to drop without ceremony on a dreary Tuesday afternoon, but that's in keeping with some of Sony's latest announcements. To digest the information – and invariably get sidetracked and talk about Final Fantasy and Street Fighter – three VG247 staff members frantically chatted about the situation, in the hopes of understanding what Sony may be thinking with its tepid reply to Xbox and its Game Pass regime.

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Alex Donaldson: Okay, I’ll go first, I guess. I’ve got thoughts on the price, but I’ll start with content, since I’m probably the biggest retro nerd here. So… I’m pleased to see PS1 games back, but probably the most interesting and exciting bit of this is PSP games? There’s some real gems on that platform. Shame it isn’t Vita too. And unlike the PS1, I think a lot of PSP stuff has aged tremendously well, at least based on my experience with emulation.

PS1 is a funny one. There’s a nostalgic charm to the look of PS1 games, which is why a lot of indie developers have started to make games that echo that style. But I think when you actually play a PS1 game, how they run, the feel of them, it’s brutal today. The same is true of that whole era; Saturn and N64 too. There are exceptions, but those exceptions are, y’know, some of the best games of all time, and rare.

Plus, a hell of a lot of the best of the PS1 has been remade or remastered – stuff like Symphony of the Night, the Final Fantasy games, Crash, Sypro, soon Chrono Cross, the PS1 Resident Evils – even if you don’t want the RE Remakes, you’re better off emulating that GameCube port for the original, right? Obviously there’s a lot of PS1 stuff that hasn’t had that treatment though – so I look forward to stuff like Wipeout, MGS (Twin Snakes? Never heard of it), older Tekkens, etc. And the Tony Hawk remake just wasn’t quite the same.

It’s a shame publishers haven’t cottoned on to the Sinden Light Gun yet, too, as the PS1 was a real haven of light gun shooters – you just need the tech to use them on modern TVs, which Sinden has. License it and release a damn gun, Sony!

…anyway, I’m rambling. Point is, I’m more excited for PSP and PS2 than PS1, definitely, because those games have aged much better. With that said, I can’t see myself playing anything streamed. If it’s not a local download, I might as well just emulate it in another form.

Tom Orry: I'm underwhelmed. Retro titles are great, but like you, Alex, I'm not sure how many of those PS1 games I actually want to go back and play. Had we been seeing this service on a handheld, I reckon I'd be more likely to burn through the back catalogue.

Streaming-only for PS3 games is also a big disappointment. There's a bunch of games on PS3 I could see myself putting time into, but I doubt I'll bother if these games aren't running natively on the PS5. On Xbox I can play plenty of older games from the OG Xbox onwards at higher resolutions and with better frame rates. The complex architecture of the PS3 is no doubt to blame, but as a consumer that doesn't really matter.

It's fair to say I get more excited over Microsoft's twice-monthly Xbox Game Pass announcements than I did with this.

Dom Peppiatt: I pay about £100 per year for my Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription; and that’s great! About £33 per quarter, if you think of it like a taxman, is stupendous value for money given everything you get lumped in with that – including new EA games that come to the service within 6-12 months. There is already a conversation in the wider media world about how many subscriptions we all have, and how they’re eating away at our coffers – Disney+, Spotify, Netflix, Xbox Game Pass, Nintendo Switch Online, PS Plus… at some point, something has got to give.

And I think it’s going to be one of my gaming services… I already do most of my multiplayer gaming on Xbox because the UI isn’t an absolute pig (and there’s better utility with PC players), so – if anything – this Sony announcement is probably going to make me give up my PS Plus subscription outright… I don’t even want the free games per month, because I’ve usually played them, I own them… or they’re available on Game Pass! The fact I need an active sub to play online on PlayStation (and Nintendo, and Xbox) continues to be an insult – I got my first gaming PC late last year, and it’s made me realise how egregious this practice is.

Alex: I definitely think the price is too much. It’s interesting that the monthly price is more expensive than Game Pass, but thanks to a hefty yearly subscription discount, it’s cheaper in that format. Maybe Microsoft will want to think about a yearly discount, but at the same time, I can’t see them feeling very threatened in this scenario. They have the argument of the day-and-date games, and they are obviously going to have a lot of those coming as the new studios settle in and all that.

Sony’s argument of wanting to put more money into new games and therefore needing that $70 initial purchase price at least for a year or so tracks, but I’m not sure how that lands with average Joe. It’ll be interesting to see if Jim Ryan’s logic that being included in a subscription could lead to lower budgets and lower quality ends up being reflected in the metascores once Xbox gets rolling with the new studios. PS has been whipping Xbox on that front for years, but you can sense that Microsoft is keen to turn the tide.

The thing that breaks me on the price is the amount of stuff that’ll potentially be streaming. We know it’ll be all PS3, and then even possibly some beyond that. And streaming is great, but it’s nice as a bonus. To use the Xbox comparison again for a second - sorry - the beauty of Xcloud being in Game Pass Ultimate is I have hopped on to pay a few rounds of Halo or a bit of Forza on my phone using the Razer Kishi controller, but I would never make that the main method of playing my games. At least, not right now. It’s a cute add-on bonus, not a core piece of the puzzle.

Tom: Yearly the price isn't too bad, but I just don't see myself using most of what it offers. Had they put Trophies into PS1 games, or something, maybe I'd have seen the value. I'd have had more reason to dip my toe in.

Dom: Yeah, I agree with that: Trophies in PSOne games would make me reconsider my position. For a second or two. And then just get them on GOG or something instead.

I think it’s also worth noting that the retro titles are streamed – Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One titles on the Series X/S can all be downloaded and played locally. It’s a small thing, but streaming PS2/PS3 games (and needing a solid connection/unlimited data to do so) is going to be a barrier for a fair few players, still – even in the UK.

Alex: See, something like PS1 or PS2 trophy support doesn’t really do anything for me. I think the way original Xbox stuff works on new hardware is all I want; I want it to run natively, not streamed, and ideally a little bit better. A big thing about the 360 games in that backcompat solution is that they run so much better; I wouldn’t play something like Lost Odyssey any other way, really.

Dom: You’ve reminded me to go download FFXIII: Lightning Returns on my Series X, actually…

Alex: Well, this is exactly what I mean. The Xbox versions of the FF13 trilogy through BC are hands-down the definitive versions of those games, which is wild. Even better than PC, since SE sucks at keeping PC versions updated. And this is true for a lot of OG Xbox and 360 games, too. Will PS5 be the definitive place to play any PS1/2/3 games? I hope so, and if it is, it'll move the needle on this offering’s value to me, but I don’t feel hugely hopeful…

The other inevitable comparison there, by the way, is that even if you’re not subscribed to Game Pass or whatever, backwards compatible 360 games that you digitally own… are just there. This is without getting into the weeds on discs ‘working’, too. I bought absolutely loads of PS1 games digitally to play them on PSP back in the day And native PSP games, of course. Even if I don’t sign up, will those digital ownership rights be respected in this new service, now they technically work on PS5?

Tom: I just don't see this as Sony's Game Pass. I know it's what everyone is calling it, "Sony's Game Pass rival," but it's not the same. When you break it all down, it's not a bad offering (if you can tolerate the game streaming element), but it's just not as industry-shattering as Game Pass. It's more or less PS Plus with PS Now folded in.

With Game Pass on Xbox I feel like I could legitimately just play games on that service and not miss out on too much. I don't feel that's the case with PlayStation Plus Premium. Clearly, not every game comes to Game Pass, but it gives the illusion that you are part of the big launches thanks to the first-party on day one and the smattering of day one gets from third parties.

Dom: I think Jim Ryan and Sony’s reticence to bite the bullet and do the whole Day and Date thing is going to, quite quickly, come back to haunt them. Especially since we’ve got Bungie, Jade Raymond’s studio, and whatever is going on with Sony as a whole and its Live Service games on the not-too-distant horizon; will I need PS Plus to play these Live Service games? Will they come, at launch, on PS Plus Premium? Will I get any benefit at all whilst playing them for paying out for the top tier subscription plan if they’re free-to-play? There are lots of question marks, for me, over PlayStation’s new-gen ecosystem… and it’s making me think my PS5 will continue to sit, somewhat neglected, as I choose to play my Day One Xbox games instead of shelling out $70 for new PS5 titles.

Alex: I don’t mind paying $70 for a super high quality game outside the subscription. The fact that Xbox is all day and date is nice, but it’s not the end of the world to me. However… one thing I do think interesting is how this meshes with Sony’s newfound commitment to Live Service games. They have more than 10 in development, right?

To my mind, the best thing you can possibly do with Live Service games is get it in people’s hands, and cheap, because you can then hit them for DLC, expansions, cosmetics, whatever. Maybe by the time these launch Sony will make some considerations – but I definitely find it harder to stomach paying $70 for a game that I know will ask for another 20 a season or whatever than a ‘complete’ start-to-finish story experience, if that makes sense.

To take a mild tangent, this is why I feel Street Fighter 6 should be budget-priced, or better still free-to-play – because if Capcom follows the same structure as SF5, they’ll be charging me $20-$30 a year for 6 years anyway. It all varies from game to game, but if Sony has any truly hard live service games, they should probably toss them in here day one, really.

Dom: Yeah, just look at Destruction All-Stars – Sony’s first major foray into live service seemed quite confused, didn’t know how to monetise (really) and had a real scrappy PS Plus-based launch… let’s hope its next experiment is a little bit cleaner all around.

Tom: I can understand Sony's stance on day one titles on PS Plus Premium. The big hitters from its own studios sell extremely well on the whole, and for the time being Sony can point to its releases and say "well, these games are of a higher standard than what you get elsewhere," with a pretty straight face. Xbox first-party has generally not had the level of cache of the God of Wars, Horizons, Ratchets, Spider-Mans, but you can be sure that this is a changing situation.

When Starfield drops on Game Pass, without a doubt the biggest Xbox ecosystem exclusive in multiple generations, people might suddenly see things differently. That's a game that will hopefully go toe to toe with Sony's best and you'll be able to play it from launch for the price of a (admittedly quite fancy) coffee.

Dom: Even on that point, I’m a huge rogue-lite fan; 1000s of hours in Gungeon, Isaac, and so on. And I still haven’t played Returnal, because I haven’t found a spare $70 to drop on it since launch… whereas I don’t play racers, really, and had a killer time with Forza Horizon 5 because it would set me back nothing to give it a go.

Tom: You're right about Service games, though, Alex (well done on including Street Fighter in this article!). It's something I wondered about Xbox doing with Game Pass. Games that live inside the subscription to keep people engaged with the service no matter what new titles are added. I'd like to see the next Destiny (and the current one) on here. It makes perfect sense.

As an announcement this whole thing is also rather tepid. We've got some info, but very few hard facts about what's coming. The line-up might be brilliant, but we just don't know at the moment. Things are no doubt being finalised, but it's hard to get excited about something that is currently mostly just a new cost to account for. I'm not hyped about this. I struggle to believe anyone truly is.

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