Right at the end of the workweek, Bloomberg‘s Jason Schreier dropped a major report detailing PlayStation’s long-rumoured response to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass.
Given that this comes from Schreier, perhaps the most credible journalist in the gaming industry, it’s safe to say that what’s in that report is on the money. I, for one, am excited about the possibilities.
SCOOP: Sony is planning a new subscription service, code-named Spartacus, to take on Xbox Game Pass. It's being pitched as a three-tier service that will merge PlayStation Now with PlayStation Plus. Highest tier could include PS1/PS2/PSP games https://t.co/rz5tC3ExcR
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) December 3, 2021
In case you missed it, PlayStation is said to be planning to consolidate its PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now services. Codenamed ‘Spartacus,’ this new service would offer a large catalogue of both modern and classic games. PlayStation Plus is required for online play and offers a handful of free games every month, while PlayStation Now includes hundreds of PS2, PS3 and PS4 games that can be streamed on PS4, PS5 and PC.
Spartacus, however, is expected to include all of this functionality and more across three proposed tiers. The first would simply be the existing $69.99/year PlayStation Plus membership, while the second would boast “a large catalogue of PS4 and, eventually, PS5 games.” Finally, the third tier would add game streaming á la PlayStation Now, as well as a library of PS1, PS2, PS3 and PSP games and extended demos. Spartacus is intended to debut sometime in spring 2022.
All of that sounds great and carries significant potential.
Firstly, PlayStation Plus and Now into one service just makes a lot of sense. It keeps things simpler while offering more value than either would on their own. It more directly compares to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, Microsoft’s $16.99/month all-in-one service which includes Game Pass for Console and PC, Xbox Live Gold, Xbox Cloud Gaming and EA Play.
Further, this would encourage more people to use PS Now. The service, which costs $79.99/year, was at 3.2 million subscribers as of March 31st, well below the nearly 50 million people who have signed up for PS Plus. To be sure, it’s not a completely direct comparison, as PlayStation Plus’ requirement for online play guarantees that many people will pay for it to play games like Call of Duty or Destiny. But that’s the point — by bundling PS Plus and PS Now, PlayStation will certainly get more people to use the latter.
More PS5 games
Of course, adding more games to the catalogue, particularly PS5 titles, would help Spartacus better compete with Game Pass. Currently, PS Plus provides one free PS5 game every month, but otherwise, the catalogue slowly adds new PS4 games each month. Xbox, meanwhile, has a slew of new-gen titles (that also work on PS4) come to Game Pass every month. Admittedly, we don’t know what kinds of games will come (i.e. will they be recent, well-received releases or shovelware), but the promise is certainly there.
Now, it’s important to note that Schreier said Sony doesn’t plan to offer PlayStation Studios games through Spartacus on day one. This means that you’ll still have to buy titles like God of War: Ragnarok and Horizon Forbidden West at full price. By contrast, Xbox has promised all Xbox Game Studios titles — including Halo Infinite, Microsoft Flight Simulator and next year’s Starfield — will be on Game Pass at launch.
Some people may take issue with this since it makes it “inferior” to Game Pass. But honestly, it’s completely understandable. For now, at least, it’s been easier for Microsoft to commit to day one Xbox Game Studios titles on Game Pass because it hasn’t yet had a slew of massive, AAA, highly budgeted games coming out like PlayStation has. Would Microsoft do the same if it had the likes of The Last of Us Part II, Marvel’s Spider-Man, God of War, Ghost of Tsushima and Death Stranding? It’s hard to say, since most of the day one Xbox Game Studios on Game Pass (outside of Halo Infinite) consist of comparatively smaller titles, like Psychonauts 2 and Grounded. It also helps that Microsoft basically has unending pools of cash — at least, certainly more than Sony — to invest into content for Game Pass.
That said, Bloomberg‘s report doesn’t rule out PlayStation shelling out some cash to secure big third-party titles on Spartacus, like Xbox has done with MLB The Show 21, Outriders, Back 4 Blood and more.
The most exciting thing to me, personally, is the notion of retro games coming to Spartacus. PlayStation has had a bad track record in the past with preservation, with the company coming under fire earlier this year when it announced it would shut down its digital PS3 and PSP/PS Vita storefronts. Fan outcry was significant enough that PlayStation ultimately scrapped these plans.
With all of that in mind, Spartacus offering not only PS3 and PSP games, but those from the PS2 and PS1 generations is incredibly tantalizing. Xbox has done a great job preserving many older games through its Xbox consoles’ backwards compatibility functionality, but PlayStation has really lagged behind in that regard. Even Nintendo, whose Switch retro games catalogue pales in comparison to what was available on the Wii U, has slowly improved its preservational offerings with Sega Genesis and N64 titles on top of those from the NES and SNES eras. Meanwhile, PlayStation’s only real effort in this area was its poorly received PlayStation Classic, which was released in late 2018 with 20 preloaded PS1 games.
All of this is to say that Spartacus offers PlayStation a real opportunity to step up its preservation game. Instead of having to resort to emulators or old hardware, how nice would it be to be able to play classics like Resident Evil 2 and 3, Tomb Raider, Parasite Eve, Legacy of Kain, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, Silent Hill 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots on PS4 and PS5? To be sure, it’s unclear exactly how extensive Spartacus’ retro offering will be, so we shouldn’t expect every single one of these kinds of quality older titles. Nonetheless, the potential for at least some of them is certainly there.
The power of the cloud
But perhaps the biggest bit of info from the Bloomberg report is the fact that PlayStation is “putting resources into expanding its efforts in cloud gaming.” While that’s undeniably vague, it’s easy to see what that could mean. Currently, Microsoft’s been taking the unprecedented approach of making many of its games available across a multitude of platforms through Game Pass.
Essentially, pay the single $16.99/month fee for Game Pass Ultimate and you can play games like Halo Infinite on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC and mobile. That’s huge. The streaming technology might not be fully there yet, but most importantly, Microsoft presents these as options. Mobile has already proven popular for Xbox, with the company recently revealing that 20 percent of Xbox Cloud Gaming players exclusively use smartphone/tablet touch controls. All the while, getting into the cloud business early ensures that Xbox can continue to improve its infrastructure over time.
“Streaming is a way to bring console games to the hundreds of millions of people who may only have a smartphone, tablet or even lower-end PC”
With PlayStation Now already streaming to PS4, PS5 and PC, PlayStation’s best course to expand its cloud gaming efforts would be mobile. This would also line up with recent comments made by PlayStation boss Jim Ryan. In October, Ryan expressed frustration over spending so much money on big-budget games that only get played by a finite number of people on consoles.
“I would also like to see a world where the games that we make at PlayStation can be enjoyed by many tens of millions of people. Perhaps hundreds of millions of people,” Ryan said during a keynote at GI Live: London. “Right now, success with the current console model, a really great PlayStation hit you’re talking ten or 20 million people being able to play that game.”
This is something Xbox, under Phil Spencer’s leadership, has understood for years now. Streaming is a way to bring console games to the hundreds of millions of people who may only have a smartphone, tablet or even lower-end PC. As the budgets of games continue to balloon over time, services like Xbox Cloud Gaming — and, potentially, Spartacus — can help companies reach more players to better justify spending so much money. Again, PlayStation wouldn’t make these games available for mobile players on day one, but bringing them down the line — as it’s done on PC lately — is still most welcome.
In the end, there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding Spartacus. As Bloomberg notes, plans haven’t been completely finalized, so some of these aforementioned features could change. Likewise, we don’t know exactly how many games PlayStation plans to add to the service, or, most importantly, how much it will charge for the three proposed tiers.
We’ll ultimately have to wait and see, but between the possibility of a bigger all-in-one game catalogue, better preservation and bringing in more PlayStation fans through cloud gaming, Spartacus definitely is promising.