There had been rumors over the past few weeks and months that Sony was going to unveil a revamp of its subscription service to compete with Microsoft’s Game Pass; he had a code name of ‘Spartacus’ for more effect. That’s what he did in the end, unveiling three new PS Plus tiers – the lowest tier broadly represents the current standard PlayStation Plus, a middle tier also includes much of the soon-to-be-gone PlayStation Now content (adding hundreds of games), and a premium option adds access to a substantial range of retro titles on PS1, PS2, PS3, PS4 (streaming) and PSP. It goes live in June and it will be fascinating to see what PlayStation owners choose.
Of course, this is yet another development in the subscription wars. It was the console wars, and we have nostalgic memories of terms like BLAST processing and Mode 7 in the 90s, when in more recent generations the battle was over exclusive games. Exclusives are still key for Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, but we’re also slipping into this subscription battle, largely because Game Pass took the established model of selling big first-party games and threw it in the trash. It’s a clash of ideologies and wealth, with a collision between prioritizing game sales profits and user acquisition.
First, if you want a variety of beautiful tables and breakdowns of each service, our friends at Push Square have made a wonderful guide with just that, below.
As we are Nintendo Life, let’s talk about the current location of Switch Online and its expansion pack. In terms of basic service, it’s still a bit cheaper than the equivalents from Sony and Microsoft; this is if you are looking for the cheapest option to enable online play and cloud saves. Microsoft likes to claim brownie points for making free cloud saves, but you need to subscribe to at least Xbox Gold to play online (excluding free games). Whichever system you use, you most you have to pay to play online. Nintendo’s Basic Membership is comfortably the cheapest of these options, usually around half the price of the alternatives (at full price).
|Wrap||1 month subscription||3 month subscription||Annual subscription (12 months)||Annual family subscription (up to 8 users)|
|Nintendo Switch Online||$3.99
|Nintendo Switch Online + expansion pack||N / A||N / A||$49.99
The weather may be gradually getting kinder for this default subscription, as it includes offers and bonuses (like eShop “vouchers”), exclusive online games, and a bunch of SNES and NES titles. Unlike the base PlayStation Plus, however, at present you won’t get any notable modern games included beyond the ’99’ range.
The expansion pack more than doubles the annual price unless you get a family membership, and that’s where Nintendo’s approach is more interesting (and controversial to some). Debates about its value still rage; At present, it adds Nintendo 64 and SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis retro games, which is not enough. Yet Nintendo is also testing the waters by including desirable add-ons in the deal; so far it’s been Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Happy Home Paradise and the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass. Suddenly, for those of us eager to play this DLC without necessarily worrying about “owning” it, the expansion pack offers some serious savings.
By Nintendo’s standards, and given its history of small steps in changing any aspect of its business model, it’s pretty bold to “give away” premium DLC in a subscription.
By Nintendo’s standards, and given its history of small steps in changing any aspect of its business model, it’s pretty bold to “give away” premium DLC in a subscription. It’s small fry compared to what Sony and Microsoft are doing, but it’s still significant and shows us that Nintendo Switch Online isn’t going anywhere; Nintendo Online Subscriptions are here to stay.
What’s fascinating about Sony’s latest decision is how inconvenient it seems. Sony runs its gaming business similarly to Nintendo in some ways. As far as the two companies are concerned, the approach is simple; make little or no profit from hardware, but generate significant revenue from game sales. Sony gets a lot more of its business from digital sales than Nintendo does, not just games, but massive revenue from microtransactions, season passes, and the like. (Call of Duty and FIFA are essential for this). In fact, these revenues indicate the big difference between the companies – Sony now seems to be going all out for live gaming and its potential revenue. It recently acquired Bungie with that market in mind, and PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan again pointed out (in this interview with GamesIndustry.biz) that it is an important objective for the company.
What the two have in common, however, is applying value to major game releases; Nintendo’s first-party games rarely get discounts above 33%, even years after release. From Sony’s perspective, its new PS Plus deals add older PS5 games – with Return being a big headline – but said the new first-party games won’t be available to subscribers on day one. Sony seeks that magical balance to attract subscriptions while encouraging day one purchases of major releases.
This is the key area where the new PS Plus still won’t draw a direct comparison, in terms of value, to Game Pass. While Switch owners will buy The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 day one, and PS5 owners will do the same with God of War RagnarokGame Pass subscribers will be able to simply download star field as part of their subscription without spending $60. This remains the main differentiator, although Sony and Nintendo (especially the former) are happy to offer many older games to subscribers. For Game Pass converts, part of the attraction is the money saved on major new games, forgoing owning the game for the cheapest option and ease of access.
|Premium Game Subscription Services||Content included||Price – single user 12 months (Xbox Game Pass renews monthly)|
|Nintendo Switch Online + expansion pack||Online play and cloud saves, 100+ games (NES, SNES, N64, SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive), select DLC expansions, promotions and game items||$49.99
|PlayStation Plus Premium||Online play and cloud saves, over 700 games (PS1/PSP up to PS5), monthly game downloads, promotions and game streaming||$119.99
|Microsoft Game Pass Ultimate||Online play (cloud saves are free on Xbox), 100+ games (PC, Xbox up to Xbox Series), day one exclusives, monthly game downloads, promotions and game streaming||$179.88
As it’s been written a million times before, Microsoft’s approach is made possible by deep pockets. The company highlights trends and data showing Game Pass players are trying more games and spending more on the Microsoft Store, although understandably a number of players will skip a $60 purchase if they can play the game. as part of their subscription. As services like Netflix, Disney+ and so on in the TV streaming space, short-term financial losses can be swallowed up in the pursuit of the largest user base. This was the model also followed by social media networks in previous years – get the users and the profits will follow down the line.
Sony, obviously, isn’t ready to go that route, in terms of overhauling the value of major new releases and abandoning the ‘buy day one’ model. Nintendo, meanwhile, still seems to have a sizable following that waits pay $60 for a new game, and he’s not in a position, as a company, to jeopardize that market.
In the current subscription war, then, Microsoft and Sony are fighting a rather new and strange battle, pitting not only subscription libraries against each other, but also the intrinsic “value” of their exclusives. Nintendo, in a very Nintendo way, continues to evolve in its own bubble.
What Nintendo Switch Online and the expansion pack show, however, is that the company knows the shape of games and subscriptions are changing; he will have to find his own space in the midst of all the upheaval.