While Xbox One sales were outnumbered two to one by PlayStation 4 during the last console generation, the Xbox Game Pass subscription service has been a winner for Microsoft, its 18 million subscribers towering over PlayStation Now’s 3.2 million.
Now, Bloomberg reports Sony is developing a new service, code-named Spartacus, that will combine PS Now with its preexisting PlayStation Plus subscription. Sony has yet to confirm such plans, but the report claims a spring 2022 launch for the service is being targeted, per documents and insiders.
With the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles having entered their second year on the market, here’s why Spartacus is an essential upgrade that Sony must get out the door.
PlayStation Plus Is Losing Momentum
PS Plus subscriptions enable online play for gamers on PS4 and PS5 while granting them access to monthly batches of free games.
In the second quarter of 2021, PS Plus saw its biggest dip in subscribers since Game Pass first launched in June 2017, highlighting that the service may be losing its value after PS Now failed to take off.
A major reason PS Now failed to build a subscriber base on par with Game Pass was its initial lack of downloadable games, which Sony didn’t amend until 2018. Before then, players could only stream games on PS Now, leaving them to the mercy of their Internet connections.
For those already getting free games through PS Plus, a PS Now subscription didn’t exactly change the game, especially since it was still only PS4 games that could be downloaded from it.
Xbox Game Pass had downloads enabled from launch, and Xbox One systems also offered extensive backwards compatibility that enabled offline play for games from earlier generations, a feature PlayStation only recently adopted, as PS5 supports most of the PS4 library.
Per Bloomberg, Spartacus will keep the current PS Plus model as its lowest tier, while the upper tiers will enable downloads for an extensive library of PS4 and PS5 titles, with the highest tier offering expanded access to games from prior generations via cloud gaming. Though prices remain unknown, this multi-tier approach is bound to cut down costs for players that currently pay for both PS Plus and PS Now, creating a new experience with a better chance of consistently adding subscribers.
PlayStation’s High Ground With Exclusives Is Nearing Its End
Much of PS4’s success over Xbox One was due to a higher volume of exclusive games, which prompted Xbox Game Studios to acquire a slew of developers toward the end of the console’s lifecycle, which culminated in Microsoft’s $7.5 billion acquisition of publisher Bethesda.
As such, 2022 will likely be the last year PlayStation has an edge over Xbox when it comes to first- and second-party game releases — though “Starfield” is big enough to counter that.
An open-world game set in colonized outer space, “Starfield” is the first new IP from Bethesda Game Studios in over 25 years, following games from the studio’s popular open-world franchises “The Elder Scrolls” and “Fallout,” which released on PlayStation and Xbox consoles.
Now that “Halo Infinite” has finally released following a year-long delay, PlayStation is facing an increasingly robust slate of exclusive next-gen titles from its competitor that can be played at no additional cost with a Game Pass subscription. With “Starfield” out in less than a year, Spartacus needs to create similar value on PlayStation’s end, as there are even wider issues at play.
Ongoing Supply Chain Issues and More PC Availability Could Reduce PlayStation Loyalty
It would be remiss to ignore that PlayStation 5 has been more successful than Xbox Series, as the system has sold considerably more units since the consoles launched in November 2020.
But the global supply chain crisis continues to impact semiconductor chips, which are essential to the production of next-gen consoles, resulting in limited availability for new PlayStation and Xbox systems ahead of the holidays.
Per S&P Global’s Kagan research group, the lead PlayStation had over Xbox in hardware sales lessened considerably over the second quarter of 2021 as chips dwindled, a possible sign that gamers seeking the next-gen experience aren’t as picky over the brand when finding a console turns into its own game.
Sony has even invested $500 million into a $7 billion Japan-based plant operated by TSMC, a Taiwanese company making semiconductor chips, that won’t see production start until the end of 2024, a hint that Sony expects the supply chain shortage to continue for years.
Amid all this, Sony has doubled down on releasing its exclusives to PC following their console dates, forming its new PlayStation PC label for such games.
If PC gamers looking for a next-gen console can now expect PS5 games to eventually arrive on PC, should they go the Xbox route and lose the chance to play those games at launch, then Sony must bring Spartacus into the equation now. If it doesn’t, the brand is at risk of losing customers whenever retailers restock on Xbox and see console seekers off to the races.