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The Subscription Wars Are Heating Up

The console wars up to this point have just been a rehearsal. If you thought the endless lists of the 360/PS3 era were brutal, you’re going to need to sit down for the upcoming subscription wars. And this isn’t just losers on Twitter – things are heating up between Microsoft and Sony too.


You may recall a few weeks ago I wrote about Sony’s concerns about Game Pass, published in a document related to the Activision purchase. Microsoft have responded, and they have accused Sony of paying to block titles coming to Game Pass.

The more generous reading of the situation has said that this is part of Sony’s regular marketing deals. This came off the back of the Resident Evil leak last year, where it was revealed Sony has right of first refusal for Resident Evil on its subscription services. If Microsoft make an offer, Capcom have to go to Sony and allow them to match it.

But that’s the generous reading. There’s no evidence either way to suggest this isn’t a thing outside of marketing deals too, and that’s the implication from Microsoft’s wording.

Naturally, we can’t read into things that we can’t read into. Either way, the usual playing nice between Sony and Microsoft may be taking a beating.

Game Pass Vs PlayStation Plus

Idas at Resetera translated the documents.

Microsoft said Sony was more worried about increased competition than about the Activision purchase itself.

Idas wrote: “MS says that Microsoft’s ability to continue expanding Game Pass has been hampered by Sony’s desire to inhibit such growth. Sony pays for ‘blocking rights’ to prevent developers from adding content to Game Pass and other competing subscription services (then there is a bunch of redacted content).”

We can read as much or as little as we want into that. It’s probably smart to read less. Ultimately, the context is in that redacted content. But good luck ever seeing it.

Off the back of Sony’s admission that it would struggle to compete with Game Pass, this is further proof that things are going to be aggressive between Microsoft and Sony this generation.

Subscriptions and the Future

Because let’s face it, subscriptions are definitely the future. There’s no getting away from it. For better or for worse, that’s the direction we’re going. Sony has to work to keep up, and the new PlayStation Plus tiers – even though it’s partly just a repackaging of PlayStation Now – is a step in the right direction.

This behind-the-curtains peek gives us a real look at the struggles these companies are having. Sony is worried about Microsoft’s fabled war chest, but also its attempts to shake things up from the traditional industry standards. Microsoft is having to deal with behind-the-scenes issues as Sony tries its hardest to block them. And that’s no small thing – Sony are the industry leaders for a reason.

Oftentimes, gamers are naive enough to think the gaming industry is simple. Make good games, the audience will follow. That’s wrong. It’s never been true.

Now the claws are coming out, that will become painfully obvious. And it’s the biggest fanboys on both sides who will end up with egg on their faces.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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Twitter: @matgrowcott