sony’s revamped PlayStation Plus launches in the UK and Europe today, bringing with it the Japanese giant’s attempt to rival Microsoft’s popular Game Pass subscription. Like Game Pass, the PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium tiers give gamers access to a huge library of games – both modern and from previous console generations – all for a single subscription fee.
But while PlayStation owners may be celebrating the opportunity to gorge on an all-you-can-play buffet of games, plenty worry about what the ‘Netflix for games’ model means for devs.
According to Mike Rose, founder of British indie publisher No More Robots, those fears are overstated. And he speaks from experience – the company’s biggest hit by far, downhill mountain biking title Descenders, owes much of its success to Game Pass.
“Putting our games on Game Pass makes them sell so much more,” he tells NME. “It’s ridiculous.”
“I literally have so much data on this as well,” he adds. “We’ve put games on Game Pass at launch. And we’ve put games on Game Pass after launch. And I can literally see we put a game on Game Pass, and all of a sudden, the next day, the game’s selling better on Steam. It’s selling better on PlayStation.”
Understandably, that’s not quite what he expected. “Before we had games on Game Pass, of course I thought it was gonna tank our sales. There was no other way it was going to go,” he admits. “That’s 1,000,000 per cent how I thought it was gonna go. And I was wrong. I was just so surprised at how different it is. But the thing is now at this point, there’s no excuse for people thinking that anymore. There’s so much data out there to show that being on Game Pass now makes your game sell better everywhere.”
The secret, as Rose sees it, is that “the number of people who have Game Pass is tiny compared to the number of people who play games.” That means canny devs and publishers can use it as a word of mouth marketing tool, which is especially powerful for multiplayer titles like Descenders.
“One person needs to have it on Game Pass in a group of friends, you know, at school or something like that,” he explains. “This 16-year-old has got it, and he’s going to be like, ‘guys, we should play Descenders, it’s eight-player, we could all be playing together.’ And they’re all saying, ‘Alright, let’s play this fucking game.’ And we just sold it to seven people.”
It’s not just indie devs getting a helping hand either. Take Square Enix’s much maligned Avengers game. The publisher itself has admitted that the AAA title sold below expectations when it launched in 2020, and a year later it was bundled into Game Pass in an attempt to recoup costs and help the game find an audience.
“I don’t know what that deal was,” Rose admits. “But I imagine it was better than no deal.”
Of course, not all streaming services are created equal. Rose sees Microsoft as one of the companies “doing it properly,” thanks to publishing a mix of AAA hits and smaller games that might have struggled to sell otherwise. “They’re literally making these tiny devs rich with Game Pass,” he argues.
Rose thinks Sony has the right idea too, and if nothing else, he welcomes the competition.
“Microsoft, they’re gonna have to up their game, they’re gonna have to start spending more money, they’re gonna have to start getting bigger blockbusters for it and stuff, because now they’ve got PlayStation on their tail,” he argues. “And then PlayStation will have to make theirs better.”
The inevitable endpoint here is the same place the TV and film industry has found itself, with a glut of competing streaming services (“there’s how many bloody subscriptions have I got now?”) but the secret to survival may lie in offering less, not more – a lesson Netflix is in the midst of learning right now as it pares back its production plans.
“I don’t think every game ever is going to be on Game Pass,” Rose says. “Because they’re curating things, you know, each of these platforms. And I think the platform’s where every game in the world is potentially on it are the ones that won’t do as well. Because secretly, people want curation a little bit.”
Rose isn’t naive about the risks as the industry moves towards subscription models, of course. He’s the first to admit that “things could get messed up in the future,” and that “it’s right to continue to be wary of this stuff.”
Despite that, he rejects concerns that subscriptions and streaming are harming the industry – because, like it or not, they are the industry.
“You’re angry at the industry moving on in a way that it clearly is going to. Because every every other industry in the whole fucking world is moving that way.”
“That’s the thing that gets me the most in all of this, people making out like that is what’s harming the industry. When really, it’s dinosaurs, not realising that things are moving on. And if you don’t get on the train, you can’t then complain when it’s passed you by.
“Technology moves on. You’ve got to move with it. You can’t whine when it does.”
No More Robots-published Descenders will be a launch title for PlayStation Plus, which you can check out here.