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The biggest competition for PlayStation Plus isn’t Xbox Game Pass

(Washington Post illustration; Sony; iStock)

The top tier of Sony’s PlayStation Plus subscription service features a total of 700-plus titles spanning all the way back to the original catalogue of the first PlayStation. Players opting for the Premium tier can jump into “Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales” then bop over for some sparring in “Tekken 2”; rekindle the campy nostalgia of the original “Resident Evil” and then settle in to stream “Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.” It’s a true smorgasbord of hits both past and present.

There is plenty in PS Plus to enjoy and justify its tiered pricing structure. When I first opened the menu upon its June 13 launch in American markets, I thought I’d be spending days with all the games and features it had to offer. Turns out, in the month afterward, I didn’t.

It’s not that PS Plus isn’t good or robust enough to justify its price tag of $119.99 per year. It’s more that modern gaming makes it extremely hard to extract the full value of the new PS Plus.

When you think about the competition Sony faces around its subscription service, by default attention turns to Xbox Game Pass, a product with 400-plus games and over 25 million subscribers. As I spent several weeks sampling the PS Plus goods, however, it occurred to me that the biggest competitor for PS Plus isn’t another game subscription service, but rather games themselves. That’s because the biggest factor undermining the value of PS Plus — or any game subscription service on the market for that matter — isn’t money. It’s time.

Video games keep getting longer. It’s all about time and money.

From an economic standpoint, the case for subscribing to PS Plus Premium is remarkably palatable. For starters, if you need cloud storage or want to play any kind of online, multiplayer PlayStation game, you’re obligated to pay at least $59.99 a year to get access to PS Plus Essential. From there, justifying an increase to the Premium tier — which gets you access to the aforementioned catalogue of over 700 current-gen and classic games, the ability to stream games from the cloud and access to timed trials of new games — is a pretty easy sell. For the cost of just one additional new game a year ($60), players get access to a library of hundreds. If you have the money to spare, why wouldn’t you do that?

But even if you have the money, do you have the time? Let’s say, liberally, you have two hours to play every weeknight and six hours across Saturday and Sunday. That’s 22 hours a week spent gaming, which seems like a lot until you consider the modern gaming landscape of massive open-world games like “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla” and live-service titles that continually add new content to the game to engage players, rewarding them with new unlockable features and cosmetics all the while.

For the past two-plus years, my friends and I have congregated regularly around “Call of Duty: Warzone,” a free-to-play, live service battle royale game in the Call of Duty series that offers up fresh seasons of new maps and experiences every two months. It’s my go-to game. Sure, I’ve been playing “Elden Ring” and “MLB The Show 22,” finished “Uncharted 4” and even dabbled in “Grand Turismo 7,” but if I’m playing any game on a given night and one of my friends is on “Warzone,” I’m popping over to join them. Comparatively, I’ve spent a fraction of that time on other titles — and made relatively little progress as a result.

That accounts for almost all my free time spent gaming in a given week. So if I don’t have time for the rest of PS Plus Premium’s 700 games, what are they really worth to me? I’d love to have time to play more titles and get further in storylines, but amid work and family obligations, I just don’t.

While I’m sure not everyone shares the gaming habits of a 41-year-old father of two, there’s no shortage of similarly massive live service franchises that dominate players’ time. Even single player games like “Horizon Forbidden West,” “Red Dead Redemption 2” or the aforementioned “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla” ensnare players and then shower them with hours upon hours of content, giving them little reason to seek another title if they’re enjoying their time in one game. What do they need another 700 titles for?

After 300 hours of ‘Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’ I am dead inside

The complexity of modern games can also make them more demanding gameplay wise, which serves as a deterrent from bouncing from one involved title to another. Take “Elden Ring,” which isn’t on either PlayStation’s or Xbox’s subscription service, but has been my main gaming side hustle this year. To pick up where I left off and fully enjoy the game, I have to recall what’s happening in the story’s plot, what the controls are (ARGH! I hit the square button and drank the Crimson Tears AGAIN!!!), what side quest I may or may not be in the middle of and, of course, the attack chain for Garth the Uncouth, Mildred the Overly Perspirant or whatever the name is of the boss that keeps beating me like a thumbtack under a sledgehammer.

Truly, these subscription services are made for people (like our friend and colleague Gene Park) who so thoroughly grasps hundreds of games that putting down one and picking up another is a frictionless process. These folks will get boundless value — and good on them for it. But for me, the offer just means paying an extra $60 to stare at the titles on the spines and think, “That’d be fun to play some day.”

For everything offered with PS Plus Premium, this should be a no-brainer purchase. When it comes time to renew, though, I’m not sure it will be for me. Given the sheer volume of time I spend playing a single game (“Warzone”) am I really going to be able to extract enough value from PS Plus Premium to justify spending $120 a year on the service? The same question goes for Xbox Game Pass.

It would be great to have access to all of these games, but is it worth tethering myself to a recurring annual fee if I’m only picking up titles in fits and starts, if at all? My eventual answer will likely come down to time more than money, and there’s nothing PlayStation, Xbox, nor any other game company can do — be it adding more retro games or new titles to the catalogue — to solve that problem for me.

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