With Microsoft’s bomb acquisition of Activision Blizzard announced this morning, on top of its other major acquisitions in recent years, the Xbox family is far above stacked. With their competitors’ first-party lineup growing and subsequently shrinking selection of major third-party partners, Sony has, to say the least, a challenge ahead of it. But instead of staying toe-to-toe with the Xbox by acquiring studios to keep up, it’s more important right now for Sony to develop a rival to Microsoft’s biggest blessing of this generation: the Xbox Game Pass.
On paper, Microsoft has the ability to shield franchises like Warcraft, Diablo and Call of Duty as exclusive Xbox consoles. Instead, in fact, all existing games from these massive names are up for grabs to use in Game Pass, as demonstrated by the Bethesda absorption in 2020. PCs, consoles, cloud streaming through browsers and mobile; anyone can deliver a classic Modern Warfare campaign or battles from Overwatch. It’s easy to compare how many studios and IPs are now available for the Xbox compared to Sony, but Microsoft’s real and significant advantage is the easy access the average consumer has to its games.
Fortunately, Sony already has a lot of pieces in place to implement a Game Pass-like service, and if one is to believe the rumble surrounding the industry, it may happen sooner rather than later. Games, of course, have to be the core offering, and PlayStation Now is a nearly decade-old way of delivering these games to a wide audience. Through this subscription, you can already stream games to PlayStation and PC. Without many knowing it, many PS Now games can be downloaded, though only PS2 and PS4 titles work this way. Ideally, this would change.
Sony has a hell of a back catalog of classic games that would convince people to subscribe to a full-access PlayStation subscription service. An important part of making a Game Pass competitor work is figuring out the persistent backward compatibility issues that are holding Sony back from making PS1 and PS3 games available on current hardware. Whenever possible, the sky is the limit for what enticing products to use on the service. Nostalgia is a powerful weapon, and letting people play all the generations of God of War, Twisted Metal, Warhawk, and, if the license is available, Final Fantasy with one subscription is terribly enticing.
Next would be an expansion of the PlayStation Plus Collection to include the PlayStation Now game library and wrap them in PlayStation Plus prices. It is no longer acceptable to pay for online games alone, and that feature should be absorbed into one super-service with one price and one expansive digital library of games that can be streamed or downloaded. A reasonable simplification of the various parts that Sony already has available.
And we have not even talked about Sony’s secret sauce for this renewed PlayStation Plus. Remember that Sony is not just a gaming company. Sony movies, TV shows and music will be the x-factor that brings the breadth of its content to entice potential subscribers. Catch the latest Spider-Man movie because it happens to be wrapped up in the price of your game sub. Funimation and Crunchyroll, two popular anime companies, are already under the Sony umbrella and can easily be used to flex the unique entertainment available with a membership. It’s not just about games anymore, and Sony should have the foresight to use everything at hand to differentiate itself.
All the pieces are there to compete without spending billions on buying another game publisher: a potential killer catalog, game streaming, movies, anime, music. A few technical obstacles and good licensing partnerships can be the few obstacles that stand in the way of having a functional and distinctive Game Pass competitor. Sony is not out of the game because it may not have Call of Duty in a few years, but it needs to adapt the services it provides before it is left in the dust.