Two months ago, Sony redesigned PS Plus, its long-standing membership program for PlayStation owners. Now it looks a lot like Microsoft’s Game Pass: for roughly the same amount of money, both offer access to a Netflix-style game-on-demand library. It is clear that we had to stack the two services against each other.
Game Pass is available as a subscription for console, PC or both. The two separate tiers cost $10 a month. Xbox Live Ultimate, which combines and provides access to EA Play Library (a similar game-on-demand service) and Xbox Live Gold, costs $15 a month. There is no way to pay for several months or a year in advance with a tiered write-down (at least officially).
PS Plus is also available for a subscription, but it gets very complicated very quickly. There are two new levels. Extra is $15 a month, or $100 for the year, and offers free monthly games, online games and a catalog of on-demand games including some of Ubisoft’s library. Premium is $18 a month, or $120 a year, and provides access to classic games, game samples, and cloud streaming for most of the games in the library. That’s a huge price difference, and while PS Plus Premium is more expensive month-to-month, it’s actually almost 50 percent cheaper if you commit to the whole year.
Winner: PS Plus
Game Pass allows for cloud streaming, provided you pay for the more expensive Ultimate tier. The streaming functionality is technically still “in beta”, but for all intents and purposes it’s up and running. Microsoft recommend Internet speeds of at least 10 Mbps for mobile devices and 20 Mbps for consoles and PCs. Based on Kotakutesting, is it… okay? Despite cloud gaming’s huge advances recently, streaming still can’t compete with downloaded games. Latency, no matter how small, cannot be ignored. As such, cloud gaming is best used for puzzle games, relaxing RPGs, light platformers, and other games that don’t require split-second reflexes.
Microsoft says that “more than 100” games can currently be streamed via cloud gaming on Xbox Game Pass, but more games are added every few weeks. Right now, the Game Pass library currently lists 381 games that can be streamed.
To unlock streaming on PS Plus you need to buy $18 per month. And even then, the streaming quality is nothing to write home about. At best, it’s as good as Xbox Cloud Gaming. Sometimes it’s worse. Around 320 games from the Premium library can be streamed on console or PC, and a good number of these are PS3 games and classics rather than the entire PlayStation 4 library. For example, Marvel’s Avengers and Stray is available on the console but not in the streaming library.
Most notably, you can’t stream PS Plus games to your phone. Currently, the service relies on Remote Play, which means you need a console to play on mobile and you need to be on the same WiFi network.
Winner: Game Pass
Of course, a game-on-demand service is only as good as the one thing it’s supposed to provide: games.
Right now, The Xbox Game Pass library has roughly 475 games, but that count includes the library across both tiers, including the 92 games that are currently part of EA Play. The main feature is, of course, that Microsoft puts its entire first-party portfolio on the platform. It also includes the large tent poles—which Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5along with upcoming blockbusters such as Starfield and Red fall— that become available the day they came out. Third-party games tend to stick around for a year at most, although some, like Rockstar’s open-world Hold ‘Em simulator Red Dead Redemption 2, becomes unavailable after a few months. It is unpredictable.
The library also regularly cycles in third-party games and often serves as a launching pad for indie gems. Only this year, the tweet Zelda-as Tunicsnowboard sim Shreddersand the puzzle-cum-dungeon-crawler Loot River all launched on Game Pass. (Here is Kotakuits list of the best under-the-radar games currently available.) Developers have acknowledged Kotaku that debuting on Game Pass cuts into initial sales, but is ultimately worth it for the trade-off in publicity.
PS Plus Extra currently includes around 430 PS4 and PS5 games, while Premium adds another 395 from PS1, PS2, PS3 (streaming only) and PSP. While the classics are a nice bonus, by far the biggest draw is the exclusive PlayStation likes Horizon Zero Dawn, god of war, Spider-Man: Miles Moralesand Bloodborne. Unlike Microsoft, Sony has committed to not putting its latest releases on the service day-and-date, and if Returnal arriving a year after its release is any indication, it seems like a good bet that gamers will have to wait for at least one year to 18 months before newer things appear.
However, there are many strong contenders in the third-party department. Play as Final Fantasy VII Remake, Exchange, Control, Downfalland The Tetris effect are all present, as is indie Celeste, Outer Wildlands, Dead cellsand Virginia. The library has a lot of diversity and was reinforced last from the same day addition of Straywhich is already a GOTY contender in 2022. The Ubisoft component, led by Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is also a strong compliment. At the same time, Sony has yet to show that it is, or will be, as aggressive as Microsoft in courting a steady stream of third-party day-and-date add-ons. There is also no PC-exclusive part of the library.
Winner: PS Plus
To ride: Going into this exercise, I fully imagined it would paint a clear picture of Game Pass superiority, but these two services seem fundamentally identical to me – right down to the user interface – with Sony’s new version of PS Plus marginally better at the few aspects that matter. Prices are largely the same, but the ability to pay for a year of PS Plus at a “discount” may undercut Game Pass in that regard. Sure, Game Pass’ big draw is that it puts Microsoft’s first-party games on the service at launch, but…Microsoft hardly has any first-party games out this year! Right now, that benefit seems like little more than a marketing line.
Ethan: I also thought Game Pass would be the clear winner of this, but now I’m also conflicted. Not everyone can afford to pay for an entire year upfront, but it really changes the calculus in this matchup. There are some other important differences as well, and while I don’t think they make one a clear winner over the other, I think it makes it easier to decide what you want to pay for. Want instant access to a meaty catalog of some of the biggest and best games from the last generation? PS Plus wins. Want to stay updated on some of the best new games coming out every month and play them anytime on your phone? Then it’s Game Pass all the way.