Microsoft has drastically changed the landscape of the video game industry over the last few years, from its Xbox Game Pass subscription offering to its yet-to-be-finalized purchase of Activision Blizzard. Even as Xbox lags behind in terms of first-party software, Game Pass has helped the platform surge ahead, and won over millions of new fans in the process. This has left Sony to play catch-up, and a new statement from the company seems to underscore a key flaw in its own subscription offering.
Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard is still in the midst of approval by regulatory agencies across the world. Documents recently made available by Brazil’s regulatory body include responses from companies like Sony, Ubisoft, Warner Bros., and more. There’s a ton of info in the responses, all of which have been translated by ResetEra user Idas, but Sony’s response on Game Pass is particularly interesting.
According to Sony’s statement, “Game Pass has grown to capture approximately 60-70 percent of the global subscription services market.” With that, the Sony representative also notes it would take a competitor several years, even with “substantial investments” in order to catch up. Sony has been putting a ton of effort into attracting subscribers to its PlayStation Plus offering since June 2022. But the biggest problem with New PlayStation Plus is that it practically takes a spreadsheet to understand how everything works.
Deciphering all three pricing tiers, how they carry over for existing subscribers, and which games are included requires a lot of work on the part of the user. At the same time, the fact the new system is still simply called PlayStation Plus creates a disconnect with user, not conveying that there’s something new with the program.
Something similar happened when Nintendo released the Wii U — potential customers weren’t sure this was a new console. Devoted gamers certainly knew about the Wii U, but the casual players and families who flocked to the Wii for its motion-controlled party games weren’t as clear on the transition.
The vast majority of PlayStation users aren’t going to be keeping up on every granular announcement or press release. So it’s important that a new Sony subscription offering grabs their attention immediately. Game Pass is a masterfully named system that immediately conveys what it is — you can use it on Xbox consoles or PC, or both. Game Pass is displayed prominently on the Xbox Dashboard, and the Game Pass section simply shows everything you can access with that one subscription, no tiers or catches.
Sony has also struggled with ease of use when it comes to digital ownership and moving players over to PS5. In July 2022, Sony confirmed that owners of Persona 5 Royal on PS4 won’t get a free upgrade to the PS5 version, but will instead need to purchase it. With Horizon Forbidden West, Sony reversed an unpopular decision after having intially asked players to pay $10 to upgrade from the PS4 to PS5 version. Meanwhile, Microsoft routinely releases free Series X|S upgrade patches for its library of games, in a way that doesn’t intrude upon the player’s experience. It just... works.
It’s a little baffling that Sony has taken this convoluted approach to its digital offerings, as the company has wildly succeeded in the past by keeping things “simple.” There’s the notorious moment at E3 2013, when the company released a video showing how you share games on PS4, with two people simply exchanging a game. That video was in response to Microsoft’s widely criticized decision to have DRM that limited players from sharing games.
Microsoft seemed to learn its lesson, and part of the response to all that was Game Pass, which gives consumers real value for money. Almost ten years later, the shoe is on the other foot for Sony.