Opinion: PS Plus vs Xbox Game Pass - It’s time to pick a side

Ellie Gibson on modern day gaming rivalries, and why no news is dull news.
7/6/2022

At the risk of sounding like the cantankerous old curmudgeon I am, what on earth has happened to video games news? It was different when I started out in journalism, which was admittedly around the time new consoles were still being announced via the medium of cave paintings. Writing about games was a serious business, requiring in-depth research and extensive investigations to produce hard-hitting headlines about the big stories of the day, like that time Sony murdered a goat at a party.

We are still awaiting the results of this inquiry. Apparently Sue Gray has had a lot on.

Alright, Sony didn’t actually kill the goat - they just purchased its decapitated corpse and put it on display. Presumably Clintons had run out of balloons. And they dismissed reports that guests were invited to reach inside the goat’s still-warm carcass to eat offal from its stomach as “categorically untrue.” Which is a shame, as that sounds better than the food at most press events.

Nowadays, news stories are frequently about nothing. Whole articles have been written about publishers not hosting a press conference at an event that isn’t actually happening. Back in the olden times, a leak meant an unreleased game’s entire source code being posted on the internet - these days, we’re supposed to get excited about a picture of a door.

Then there’s the “news” that (an unspecified number of) people are (probably) unsubscribing from Xbox Game Pass, a story which appears to have been concocted out of about four tweets. With only 24,999,996 subscribers left, Microsoft must be absolutely shitting it.

But let’s be fair. I wouldn’t want to be starting out in games journalism these days, competing against Twitter and YouTube and Twitch streamers playing games in jacuzzis with no top on. And I do understand the struggle to create content when there just isn’t anything compelling to write about. I used to edit MobileIndustry.biz, which often mainly consisted of stories about the new online retail distribution channel for the Nokia N-Gage.

Plus, I began my career at the beginning of the second great console war. Having learned nothing from the tragic losses of the Sonic vs Mario era, Sony and Microsoft were battling it out for global supremacy. Barely a day went by when I wouldn’t write a headline that was some variation of “‘My big expensive gameymachine is better than yours,’ says man in suit.” A happier, simpler time.

What?

So I have sympathy for the urge to stir up new rivalry, and the attempt to do this via the medium of online distribution channels. It’s nice and topical, what with Sony recently announcing plans to change the PlayStation Plus subscription service.

The new offering has faced criticism for being overly complex, but it’s really not that hard to understand. PS Plus and PS Now are now PS Plus except there are various types of PS Plus, including PS Plus Extra, PS Plus Essential, PS Plus Deluxe, PS Plus Premium, PS Plus Prime Cuts, PS Plus Fancypants, PS Plus Ooh Get You, PS Plus Ooh Aah Just A Little Bit, and PS Plus Ooh Aah A Little Bit More. The price points, streaming options and games you can access vary depending on the service you sign up for and the region where you live. Things do get slightly more complicated here but basically, if you live in Mexico and you want to play the PSP version of Tekken 2 direct from the cloud, you need to move to Malta.

Sony’s revamped service hasn’t even launched outside of Asia yet, but type “PS Plus vs Xbox Game Pass” into Google and you’ll get 21.8 million results. Which is a bit odd, really. Most people don’t own both consoles, so there isn’t any choice when it comes to selecting a subscription service. It’s not like deciding which supermarket to visit. (Although here’s an idea for Sony: why not clarify things by calling those new offerings PS Lidl, PS Sainsbury’s, and PS Waitrose? Much easier to understand.)

Picking a team is obviously ludicrous. And yet here I sit, with 400 words of this opinion piece still to write in order to fulfill my contractual obligations, so off we go: I’m siding with Sony.

Full disclosure - we have history. My first job in games was writing the manuals for PlayStation titles, and more recently I have taken the Sony shilling in exchange for appearing as the acceptable face of Fortnite. But before you press send on that Tweet accusing me of appalling $ony bia$$$, consider whether a true PlayStation fangirl would dredge up that infamous party, an incident I’m sure they would prefer remain dead and buried, much like the goat?

Don't worry, this'll be explained shortly

The reason I am taking Sony’s side is nothing to do with the fact they paid for a substantial portion of my new kitchen. It’s all about the games. There’s no doubt the Xbox line-up is stellar, with its Halos and Gears of Wars, Fables and Mass Effects, plus some excellent indie hits tucked in there. The offering is solid, consistent, carefully curated, and of a generally high quality. It's also bland. To continue with the shop thing, Game Pass is the John Lewis of video game subscription services.

Now let’s look at Sony’s portfolio. Again, there are plenty of stone cold bangers in here: Bloodborne, Returnal, Uncharted, Ghost of Tsushima… All the modern day shootyshooty and hackyslashy you could want, along with plenty of runnyjumpy. But then there’s the back catalogue, which along with tons of fondly remembered hits includes cult favourites and lesser-known oddities.

Such as Fantavision, a game about… Fireworks. That’s it, that’s the game. Ico and The Last Guardian, the most fun you can have while being really really quiet. Ape Escape 2, a title that will always hold a special place in my heart after I got told off by my PlayStation boss for writing the phrase “spank the monkey” in the E3 brochure. And one of my favourite games of all time, Tokyo Jungle. It’s hard to summarise for those who aren’t familiar, but as I described it back in the day: imagine Grand Theft Auto with lions.

Looking at these two line-ups side by side, a truth is revealed. Historically, it’s Sony who’s played it that little less safe, displayed a touch more confidence in creativity, and generally been a bit more batshit. If Game Pass is John Lewis, Sony’s offering is a weird shopping centre that has a big shiny Apple store and a three-storey Boots, but also a Poundland, a bubble tea bar, and a shop that only sells Crystal Palace FC merchandise. In short, PS Plus is the Bromley Glades.

Anyway, that’s my opinion, and you are of course entitled to your own, even if it is incorrect. I hope we can all agree that both Sony and Microsoft make great machines which play fantastic games. Whichever team you sign up for, you’re going to have a brilliant time. We’re lucky to live in a time where the diversity of available games is so broad, and the quality is so high. There are good indications that as this industry grows, it is not only flourishing, but maturing. It's just a pity you don’t see so many headless farm animals at the parties.

Ellie Gibson
Ellie Gibson is an award-winning video games journalist, broadcaster and streamer. Along with co-hosting the Extra Life podcast, she appeared as the gaming expert on Dara O Briain's Go 8 Bit, and presented the spin-off show, Go 8 Bit DLC. She is also one-half of the comedy double act Scummy Mummies. Follow her on Twitter @elliegibson and Twitch at Twitch.tv/elliegibsongames.

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