When it comes to the matter of media streaming, the games industry continues to follow the example set by television and film. The days of in-person rentals have passed, replaced by the distribution model that Netflix helped to codify. Services like Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus have found a reliable audience, ensuring that this will be part of the status quo for the foreseeable future.
Not every company has adapted to this new reality with that same degree of efficiency and quality content, though. Sony clings to an older business model, selling games for $70 instead of releasing their exclusives on a dedicated service akin to Game Pass. Though this remains a source of concern for many in the wider industry, Sony’s PlayStation Plus service has proven valuable enough to maintain audience goodwill.
Though it’s an inferior service compared to Xbox’s equivalent, PlayStation Plus has received record numbers with the PlayStation 5 launch. The subscription service, which unlocks online play and offers free games, has 47.4 million users. This is an 8.6 million increase from last year and it accounts for 87 percent of PlayStation 5 users. It’s clear to anyone paying attention that Plus can serve Sony well, given how it continues to trend upward.
There’s no doubt in our minds that 2021 will be remembered as a strong year for PlayStation Plus. Between its current gains and its future plans, Plus has the means to succeed like never before.
The PlayStation Plus Collection
One of Sony’s wiser decisions as of late was to offer the PlayStation Plus Collection to all subscribers. This collection includes 20 of the PlayStation 4’s best games, of which 10 are Sony-exclusive titles like God of War and The Last of Us. Every game offered is prestigious, with a handful standing out as some of the best games ever made. Sony’s choice to showcase their first-party offerings alongside other works was a clever way to increase the perceived value of the collection, which in turn seemed to help PlayStation Plus.
We don’t doubt that the obvious pedigree of Sony’s games played a major role in selling Plus subscriptions. After all, these games have impacted the industry and the wider gaming audience in countless ways. 10 of these games being free via the PlayStation Plus Collection is a hard bargain to refuse. Of course, Sony also has the good fortune of an optimal moment for such a deal.
Now that a new console generation has started in earnest, many gamers are being drawn to the PlayStation ecosystem for the first time, taking their place beside Sony’s existing fan base. Newcomers to the PlayStation brand will want to take advantage of a Plus subscription, as it grants them access to games that couldn’t be played elsewhere. Meanwhile, long-time PlayStation fans can clear space on their consoles and their shelves, since their favorite games are easy to access on the PlayStation 5. With the combined interest of both groups of players, Sony has the goodwill and broad support to justify being bolder and more ambitious about their plans for PlayStation Plus.
Free Games At Launch
For reasons that remain unclear, Sony seems to have adopted the habit of making day one releases available via the PlayStation Plus’ monthly free games. If we were to speculate about the intent behind this behavior, we would be inclined to suggest that Sony is testing a release model similar to Game Pass, in order to determine its long-term viability. Going by the numbers, that theory might not be far off the mark.
Consider Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, one of Sony’s first free day one releases. This battle royale game about competing in wacky mini-games and obstacle courses was front-page news following its release. Making it free with PlayStation Plus ended up working wonders for Fall Guys; it was the most downloaded PlayStation Plus title in history.
Furthermore, PlayStation Plus served as an excellent way for gamers to experience games of unknown quality, acting as a risk-free investment. Such was the case for Bugsnax, an endearing yet unsettling game in which island residents ate sentient food that proceeds to replace one of their body parts. Many people might have missed out on this game if not for PlayStation Plus.
Other titles have benefitted from their inclusion in Plus’ free lineup. The demolition derby game Destruction All-Stars may not have garnered much acclaim, but it was still spotlighted as a first-party Sony title available for free. PlayStation Plus subscribers also got access to the indie puzzle game Maquette, with the highly anticipated platformer Oddworld Soulstorm still to come. Besides helping to get such games into the hands of eager players, this also speaks to an emerging pattern in Sony’s approach to game curation.
As one can surmise, PlayStation Plus has transitioned from a strict focus on older games to a more balanced approach that allows them to support the launch of new games. The service still adds well-regarded existing games like Control and Maneater, but Plus’ catalogue has been bolstered by the influx of new releases. Without a doubt, this has served to lend PlayStation Plus more credibility and attract a greater number of potential subscribers to the service.
Based on its performance in 2021, there seems to be two possible futures for PlayStation Plus. The first and most bleak outcome involves Sony returning to lackluster monthly games, barring the rare standout. The second, however, has Sony seeing the value of the Plus service and beginning to shape it into a true competitor to Game Pass. Either way, the path forward will be shaped by how Sony supports PlayStation Plus at this moment.
One solution to this dilemma would be to strengthen the PlayStation Plus offerings while the PlayStation 5 is still new. Apart from a few critical darlings like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, there are not many exclusives to play on Sony’s shiny next-generation console. The Plus titles mentioned above give people a reason to invest money into the newest console by making up for that absence of major releases. If Sony wants to drive sales and keep the PlayStation 5 in the public eye, then Plus needs to reflect that effort and desire for success.
We’re confident that PlayStation Plus represents Sony’s best chance to not only enter the service-based era of gaming, but to gain a significant foothold. One only needs to look at how the service has skyrocketed thanks to its apparent adoption of Game Pass’ tactics. Whatever happens with PlayStation Plus, it goes without saying that the present service is a worthy investment.