Sony is preparing a new subscription service, just don't expect a PS Game Pass
The Japanese plan to strengthen their position according to a new report, this is how they can make it all work
Rumours are constantly flying around the Web about all sorts of possible developments in the home entertainment market, but some of them turn out to be true simply because they made sense in the first place - and that's exactly what's happening during the last few days with Sony's alleged plans regarding a new subscription service. The rumour in question has been discussed before, but now Jason Schreier is reporting on Bloomberg that the Japanese giant is getting ready to offer such a service in a few months.
Exciting news. But is it really the move that a number of outlets have described as "Sony's answer to Xbox Game Pass"?
Schreier's report offers enough details to make this scenario quite believable (and probable): Sony is planning to essentially expand the current PlayStation Plus service in order to offer more tiers and, therefore, more options to PlayStation owners. The "Project Spartacus", as it is allegedly called, will merge PS Plus and PlayStation Now (Sony's cloud gaming that has seen moderate but not great success so far) into one service for PS4 and PS5 owners. The first tier will continue to offer what PS Plus does right now: online multiplayer, some free games each month and a few more extras. The second tier will offer those too, but also "a large catalogue of PS4 and, eventually, PS5 games". The third tier will include all of the above, plus the option of game streaming (which PS Now currently offers for PS3/PS4 titles), as well as access to "a library of classic PS1, PS2, PS3 and PSP games".
Assuming that Schreier's information is accurate, Sony's plan is a solid, sensible one. In its current form PlayStation Now was unlikely to become a wild commercial success any time soon: it's already been four years since it's been introduced and, while Sony has not been promoting it at any point, it's fair to say that had PlayStation owners deemed it a worthwhile investment, they would have shown much more interest in it. They didn't. PlayStation Plus, on the other hand, is steadily expanding its user base each year, but ever since the introduction of Game Pass, it's been regarded as a weak offering in comparison. It was clear to all that the Japanese would have to address that imbalance in some way at some point.
But calling Project Spartacus "Sony's answer to Xbox Game Pass", essentially putting the two services into the same frame, is wrong. Xbox Game Pass has two specific, equally important things going for it: the extremely extensive library games it offers at any given time (almost 450 at the time of writing), as well as the inclusion of each and every new Microsoft-published game on that list on the same day of its release. Regardless of its monthly cost - which is obviously very attractive too - it's these two features that helped Xbox Game Pass enlist more than 20 million subscribers, becoming the "Netflix of video games"... in a way.
The Japanese, though, have made their intentions quite clear in the past - several times, in fact: they do not plan on ever offering their top new games for free as they simply cannot afford to. Each new Horizon, Gran Turismo, God of War or Spider-man has to recoup its development cost (which is usually enormous) in retail sales and return as much of a profit as possible before its inclusion in a subscription service's library is considered. Sony does not have money to burn as Microsoft does: the Americans can afford to play the long game, investing now on Game Pass in order to reap the benefits later down the line. Sony is not in a position to do the same. It's simple as that.
Furthermore, it is not likely that Sony will include as many as 450 games in the library of the subscription service it's planning to offer. Sure, a lot of those games on Xbox Game Pass are just fillers or catalogue titles so old as to be practically irrelevant. But even if Sony includes a great number of such games too, such as the PS1/PS2/PS3/PSP titles Schreier's report mentioned, it wouldn't matter. What gamers really want out of a Game Pass or Project Spartacus-like subscription service is a deep enough, but curated selection of modern, AAA-quality games worth their time. Those cannot be more than e.g. 50 different titles on Game Pass at any given time, but it's doubtful that Sony will even match that number initially... or ever for that matter (assuming that a lot of games in that Project Spartacus catalogue will be rotating just as Xbox Game Pass's or Netflix's is).
In other words, no: the subscription service this Bloomberg report is describing is not "a direct answer" to Xbox Game Pass from Sony and it's just plain wrong to be described as such. It will be a much better offering than either PlayStation Plus or PlayStation Now in their current forms and that's great. Really great, even. But Sony is not Microsoft, so Project Spartacus cannot be Game Pass (let alone a Game Pass-killer). That's not a bad thing or a good thing: it is what it is.
What will be, admittedly, very interesting to see - again, assuming that Schreier's report is accurate - is how much each tier of the new Project Spartacus service will cost, what the exact benefits of each will be and what the PlayStation community is going to think about Sony's new proposition. Schreier's report mentions "Spring 2022" as a time frame for the new subscription service's unveiling - and it will probably be after Sony's current financial year ends, on March 31st - so it'll be a few months before we all find out. Can the Japanese offer something truly great, attractively priced and unique enough so as to avoid comparisons with the Americans' popular subscription service? Here's hope that they, in fact, can.