PlayStation Spartacus may not have been officially announced yet, but if the rumors are true, it’s got a big problem – access to Day One releases. While PlayStation gamers will no doubt snap up PlayStation’s answer to Xbox Game Pass for PS4 and PS5, I do wonder whether Sony will have learned the right lessons from the rival service. With Microsoft’s subscription service now almost five years old, whatever PlayStation does launch has a lot of catching up to do. But maybe it’s Disney Plus that has the answer to some of its potential downfalls.
The rumors so far suggest that Project Spartacus – also known as PlayStation Neo in some alleged leaks – won’t see Sony bring its biggest titles to the service on day one. That’s a complete contrast to Xbox Game Pass, where we’ve already seen flagship titles like Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 accessible from the day of release for subscribers of the service. This would mean that upcoming PS5 games such as God of War: Ragnarok wouldn’t be offered as part of a Project Spartacus subscription, instead, they’d still be available to buy through traditional methods.
Despite the fact that this will so clearly put Sony’s as yet unconfirmed service at a huge disadvantage to its Xbox rival, I think there’s some room for interpretation on the Bloomberg report. Just because major new PS5 exclusives won’t be available on day one as part of Project Spartacus, that doesn’t rule out a Disney Plus model. Disney doesn’t really have set rules when it comes to distributing its biggest movies via its streaming service, with some – like Turning Red – arriving on day one, while others – like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings – have a run of cinema exclusivity before coming to Disney Plus.
But there’s also Premier Access, an option Disney has used for movies like Black Widow and Cruella, where Disney Plus subscribers could pay £20/$30 – on top of your monthly subscription – to get permanent access to the film from release. Alternatively, viewers could just wait until the date when those movies got rolled up into the usual subscription cost. It’s an interesting concept, and something that I feel could work particularly well for whatever subscription service Sony is planning, mostly because of the sheer number of exclusives PlayStation has in its arsenal.
One reason that the PS4, and now the PS5, have sold so well is on the strength of PlayStation’s exclusives – including the likes of The Last of Us, Uncharted, Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, and Ratchet and Clank. There’s no doubt a feeling within Sony that adding all of its big AAA releases immediately to a subscription service would damage the prestige of those titles, even if it would expand the potential audience for each franchise exponentially – Forza Horizon 5 crossed 18 million players, and Halo Infinite 20 million, shortly after their respective launches last year, no doubt spurred on by their release into Game Pass across Xbox and PC. But, there’s definitely a compromise to be had for Sony with some kind of discount system a la Premier Access – as it’ll only add to the incentive of signing up for whatever Project Spartacus is eventually called.
Tiers before bedtime
Whatever Sony decides to do, it’ll need to be simple to understand. According to the report, Project Spartacus will combine two of its current services – PlayStation Now and PlayStation Plus – along with offering access to a collection of modern and more retro PlayStation titles. PlayStation Now, Sony’s cloud-based game streaming platform, is a solid service that is difficult to conceptualize or explain – it doesn’t benefit from the sort of word of mouth spread that has helped to propel Game Pass to beyond 25 million subscribers. With PlayStation Spartacus meant to launch with several different tiers of access, with the highest offering added benefits including game demos and game streaming, Sony could be setting itself up for a repeat mistake here. Seemingly different tiers will also offer access to different game collections too. It’s a lot to take in, and for me, small additions like demos and streaming won’t be worth whatever the additional price may be.
Honestly, this is sounding all kinds of warning bells. The beauty of Xbox Game Pass is its simplicity. It’s one membership option – okay two if you want to bundle in Game Pass Ultimate and its benefits to both Xbox and PC players – gets you access to hundreds of first- and third-party releases, along with exclusive discounts on games leaving the service, and other perks. Big games are confirmed (and can often be pre-installed) in advance of their release. PlayStation’s iteration has a huge mountain to climb from the start. It’s got to be clear how it compares to Game Pass from the moment it’s announced, without getting bogged down in the minutiae.
The moment you start introducing tiers, you get into a territory where confusion is rife. Just look at Nintendo Switch Online, which now comes in two varieties – classic Nintendo Switch Online, or Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pass, which for quite the price hike adds access to N64 and Sega Genesis titles along with the Animal Crossing: New Horizons Happy Home Academy DLC and the new Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass. It’s an odd differentiation and an ugly way to phrase the tiers, which only serves to make the membership proposition more convoluted.
Of course, I’ll hold judgment until Sony makes an official announcement, but no doubt Project Spartacus will live or die based on how it handles PlayStation’s exclusives.
For now though, here are the latest and greatest PlayStation Plus deals