After months of reports, rumors, and hopes, Sony has finally announced an overhaul to its subscription service plans, with the rebranding of PlayStation Plus in June. While the name remains the same, the service has evolved with some new additions, such as limited-time game trials, and the shift of another PlayStation service under the PS Plus umbrella, with PlayStation Now’s capabilities being brought into the Plus fold.
So with the new version of PlayStation Plus on the way, how closely does it compare to its competition? To better understand the rebrand’s offerings in conjunction with other subscription services, let’s take a closer look at how it has not only evolved from its initial form but also how it differs from Xbox Game Pass and Nintendo Switch Online. The short answer? All three certainly share some commonalities, but there’s actually some quite different focuses when it comes to how these services are enticing would-be subscribers, so let’s dig in.
PlayStation Plus vs Xbox Game Pass
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: it will be easiest to compare PlayStation Plus to Xbox Game Pass, given the timing of PlayStation’s announcement and the way Game Pass has revitalized Xbox. While the two are very similar on paper, there are some stark contrasts that do not make this necessarily a one-to-one comparison. And those differences help showcase the varying strategies at work.
PlayStation Plus’ rebranding will, broadly, consolidate the original PlayStation Plus service and PlayStation Now, Sony’s cloud gaming service. Xbox Game Pass is primarily billed as a Netflix-like approach that delivers access to a wide library of first and third-party games you can play on Xbox hardware.
Microsoft would then expand on that idea with the release of PC Game Pass for Windows 10 computers and Game Pass Ultimate. The latter aligns more closely with the PlayStation Plus rebranding, as it combines both versions of Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold into one service, with additional incentives like EA Play (which also comes with Game Pass PC), a gaming subscription service with games developed and published by Electronic Arts, and access to Xbox Cloud Gaming.
The new PlayStation Plus rebrand is split into three tiers: Essential, Extra, and Premium. You still have access to the features previously seen in the original PlayStation Plus, such as multiplayer access, free monthly games, discounts, and cloud storage, with Essential. The Extra tier adds onto it up to 400 PS4 and PS5 games from both first-and third-parties, with everything available to download, while the Premium tier adds 340 more games on top of that, with PS3 games via cloud streaming, and a library of PS1, PS2, and PSP games (as well as some cloud streaming for PS2, PSP, and PS4 games), plus time-limited game trials. Essential is, essentially, just your usual PlayStation Plus subscription, but the other, more expensive tiers add additional incentives that both bring in the technology of Sony’s lesser-used PS Now, and inch closer to a Game Pass-like library of offerings. Depending on the offerings, that middle-tier, Extra, may be the closest thing to a Game Pass one-to-one, but that certainly will also be dependent on what games are included, how often new games are added, and whether anything might come from third parties to the service on day one. Sony has not yet laid out its full plans in this regard.
Sony’s service has a few notable differences, though. While it seems Sony is enticing those to subscribe by offering access to over 400 additional modern games with the promise of some newer titles like Returnal and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales anticipated to come at launch, there is no plan for new first-party releases such as God of War: Ragnarok and Marvel’s Wolverine to arrive the same day as they are officially released. And as the PS5 is only backward compatible with PS4 games, this essentially means the Premium tier is the most accessible, and really the only way for people that do not have access to older PlayStation consoles or games to play those legacy titles.
In contrast, Microsoft has taken a radically different approach on those two fronts, where the company pledged that all first-party games will be launching day one on Game Pass, which has led to games like Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 seeing huge launch player bases. As for Sony’s reasoning for not adopting this policy, PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan told Gamesindustry.Biz that “The level of investment that we need to make in our studios would not be possible, and we think the knock-on effect on the quality of the games that we make would not be something that gamers want.”
Much of Xbox’s Game Pass work has helped create a favorable, consumer-focused approach for the company after its tumultuous Xbox One launch and early years, and those issues, like a lack of consistent first-party releases, is something Microsoft has pushed to fix. That’s primarily been done by making a ton of acquisitions and expanding its portfolio of franchises under the Xbox umbrella, such as Obsidian, Double Fine Productions, Bethesda Softworks, and more recently, acquiring Activision-Blizzard – with all their games expected to be available to subscribers day one on Game Pass. Given Sony’s success in the past generation, conversely, it seems the company does not feel currently the same need to put its first-party games onto a service like this just yet.
It’s also worth noting that, in comparison to PlayStation’s backward compatibility with older generations being tied to the service, Xbox players can play a library of past Xbox and Xbox 360 games on Xbox, whether through digital ownership or via discs.
PlayStation Plus vs. Nintendo Switch Online
The comparison between PlayStation Plus and Nintendo Switch Online is similar to that of PlayStation Plus and Xbox Game Pass in that there are some clear similarities but also marked differences. Nintendo Switch Online’s focus is on the necessity for players to access online multiplayer features (e.g. visiting your friend’s island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons or participating in online races in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe) and the option to access and play retro games.
Similar to PlayStation Plus and Xbox Game Pass, Nintendo Switch Online has two tiers – the standard Switch Online and the newly-released Switch Online + Expansion Pack. Switch Online + Expansion Pack’s most notable difference is twofold: the addition of more historical games from the Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis, as well as the bundling of DLC for first-party games that can otherwise be purchased standalone. Rather than paying $24.99, NSO + Expansion Pack subscribers get paid DLC such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Happy Home Paradise and the Mario Kart 8 Booster Course Pass as part of their subscription.
While Game Pass does offer some older games, the back catalog of legacy games is clearly more a focus as a marquee offering for the new PlayStation Plus tiers, as well as Nintendo Switch Online. While Nintendo has taken to slowly updating its library of classic games monthly, we currently do not know the cadence with which Sony will or won’t add to PlayStation Plus’ library.
PlayStation Plus, Xbox Game Pass, and Nintendo Switch Online – Pricing
If we compare the pricing for all three, arguably, PlayStation Plus has the most expensive annual plan, costing $119.99 annually for the Premium tier. But that’s a bit of a technicality, as Xbox Game Pass Ultimate doesn’t actually offer a yearly plan. It is only available as a monthly subscription, so $14.99 a month for 12 months costs $179.88.
We obviously have to wait on the library to qualitatively judge the service, but that $120 price point functionally puts the new PlayStation Plus in the same price point spot as it seems to be in terms of offering: somewhere in between Xbox and Nintendo. Overall, Essential pricing is $9.99 a month, $24.99 quarterly, or $59.99. The Extra tier will cost $14.99 monthly, $39.99 quarterly, or $99.99 annually. And Premium costs $17.99 a month, $49.99 every three months, or $119.99 annually.
Microsoft is a lot more limited in its pricing structure, offering only monthly pricing at $9.99 for either Game Pass Console or PC Game Pass and $14.99 for Ultimate. There are three-month plans offered, too – $29.99 for Console or PC Game Pass and $44.99 for Game Pass Ultimate – but there’s no current yearlong option
On the other hand, Nintendo has more payment options than Game Pass but is slightly more limited than PlayStation Plus. Switch Online is the most affordable of the three, with individual memberships costing $3.99 a month, $7.99 for three, or $19.99 for an entire year. However, that’s where it only breaks down in specifics. If you want a Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack, it will cost $49.99 for one year. Family plans are also locked to annual pricing at $34.99 and $79.99, respectively.
Despite all the information Sony has shared on how the PlayStation Plus rebrand will work, there is still a lot unknown that will help players judge whether those pricing tiers are worth it to them. We do not know whether current PS Plus will have an option to convert their active subscriptions into the newer ones for a discounted price, though we do know that PlayStation Now owners will transition into the PS Plus Premium tier at no increase for their current subscription. We are also still unsure if PS1 classics, for example, that you purchased on the PS3 will be accessible to you because you already paid for them or not. IGN has reached out to PlayStation for comment on these topics and a representative for PlayStation said more information on the service will come closer to launch.
While there are some gaps and drawbacks from the PlayStation rebranding, it certainly signals a shift by Sony that it is aware of the increasing importance of subscription services in gaming. But it’s not taking a 1:1 approach to either of its competitors and so the proof of whether Sony’s gambit works will come from how its subscriber numbers change.
Hopefully, Sony will share more information as June draws near and more context and clarity will be added for those looking for more conclusive information that has yet to be explicitly detailed. Until then, check out IGN’s weekly PlayStation show, Podcast Beyond!, for more on the latest news in the world of PlayStation.
Taylor is the Associate Tech Editor at IGN. You can follow her on Twitter @TayNixster.