Future of Paid Subscriptions in the Next Console Generation

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The global gaming community is bracing itself for the upcoming launch of Xbox Series X on November 10th and the launch of PlayStation 5 on November 12th. The release of new devices will mark the long-awaited transition from 8th to 9th console generations. Naturally, the latest gaming systems will have much more powerful hardware with native 60 FPS support, 4K video resolution, ray tracing, and significantly more storage space for digital content such as add-ons, movies, TV shows, music, and most importantly – video games.

As we are bound to see, the upcoming console generation will heavily expand upon ways to download, stream, and enjoy the said games through various paid subscription services. Over the last decade, memberships like Xbox Live Gold and PS Plus have provided premium features to anyone connected to respective digital media service networks and paying a monthly fee. Through them, players could enjoy multiplayer matchmaking, receive special discounts on digital storefronts, and obtain free games. Aside from the advancement of hardware, we also have reason to expect innovations when it comes to said paid subscriptions as well as predict pathways they might take in the foreseeable future.

Sony’s plans for PlayStation Network

What changes can the future owners of Sony’s PlayStation 5 expect when it comes to the paid services of PlayStation Network? To be frank – nothing too radical is on the horizon. PSN will still remain the same free digital media distribution platform with all of its main set of features and services seamlessly transitioning from one generation to the next. For example, users will still be able to use PSN gift cards when shopping at the PS Store. 

Sony’s approach to the upcoming shift from PS4 to PS5 is a lot more convenient when compared to Microsoft’s strategy as we will observe later on. This is by no means a bad thing. Sony’s goal is to preserve the status quo of PlayStation as a generational console with a strongly defined identity and a large selection of exclusive titles that offer immersive, story-rich single-player experiences. The recently announced PS Plus collection sums up the idea perfectly – PS Plus subscribers who purchase PS5 will get immediate access to a digital collection of 15 acclaimed triple-A titles ranging from PS4 exclusives like God of War to third-party titles like Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.

Of course, the PlayStation Plus cards collection is far from the only digital library of games PSN users can get access to. There’s always the PlayStation Now game streaming service which first started back in 2014. For a monthly fee, PS Now subscribers can stream real-time video game footage via the internet directly to their consoles or personal computers. Overall, PS Now allows gamers to explore and enjoy a vast selection of more than 800 games from previous PlayStation interactions (with a current exception of PS3). When it comes to limitations of PlayStation Now, PC players might also be limited to the US, UK, and Canada regions at the time but considering the rapid advances in streaming technology and the inherent potential of the PS Now, it’s only a matter of time before Sony expands its features and accessibility.

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Multiplatform future of the Xbox Live

While PlayStation Now can be accessed on PS consoles, mobile devices, and PCs with Windows 10, the main goal of Sony nevertheless remains to deliver a fully-fledged gaming experience on PlayStation 5. In contrast, Microsoft is taking a quite different approach. Yes, we will see the release of a brand new and powerful Xbox Series X as well as Xbox Series S  consoles, but the same owners of the brand are putting no less effort to realize and explore the full potential of their very own game streaming service called Xbox Game Pass – often considered to be a true gaming equivalent of Netflix.

Speaking of Xbox Game Pass, the service provides players access to a library of over 100 Xbox gaming titles, including platform-defining exclusives with the latest Microsoft’s first-party titles being available on launch day. At first, this may not sound like much when compared to the selection of PlayStation Now games but one needs to consider the much more seamless backward compatibility of the Xbox Game Pass, as even the oldest titles included in Microsoft’s digital library can run seamlessly on the newer consoles (the same can’t be said about PS Now).

However, the true selling point of Microsoft’s game streaming service is the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate iteration. This particular option has all of the main Xbox subscriptions included in the package: Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Game Pass for PC, xCloud game streaming service for mobile devices, EA Play (formerly known by the name of EA Access Pass), and Xbox Live Gold membership. Then there’s the Xbox All Access Bundle which comes with a 24-month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription and either the Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S console, depending on choice. All in all, it seems that the next-gen strategy for Microsoft is no different from the idea of multiplatform gaming where users are no longer limited by the hardware they prefer.

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What if the console war is over?

Microsoft and Sony’s game systems are often juxtaposed but considering their different approaches to next-gen gaming, one might ask if such a view still reflects the current state of affairs. PlayStation 5 continues to stride in the direction set by the previous console generations, focusing on exclusive titles and introducing greater technical feats as it goes along. Xbox Series X/S, on the other hand, offers just as much in terms of hardware but it will nevertheless exist as only one of the optional devices through which Xbox Game Pass Ultimate benefits can be reached and enjoyed.

Microsoft’s recent acquisition of ZeniMax Media – and in turn Bethesda, id Software, and Arkane among others – also shouldn’t be taken as an act against Sony and PlayStation fans per se. It’s very unlikely that Microsoft will risk getting on the bad side of gamers by limiting the potential player audience of the upcoming Bethesda games just to increase the sales of their own hardware. Cross-platform play has been picking up speed rapidly in recent years, uniting fans of Xbox and PlayStation in the process, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if a new balance of power in the gaming industry will be set between stationary consoles like Xbox Series X or PS5 and the portable gaming systems like Nintendo Switch.

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