Microsoft has suggested that Sony disrupt disrupt a business model that has delivered nearly 10 years of success in order to boost the value of PlayStation Plus.
Right now both Sony and Microsoft are going head-to-head with the Activision merger. Sony is arguing against the deal and says it will "threaten the gaming ecosystem," where as Microsoft argues the deal is great for consumers and competition. One of the main arguments is that Sony's PlayStation Plus will have a hard time competing should Activision games become offered exclusively to Game Pass and not available on PS Plus.
So what is Sony to do? Microsoft says that, at minimum, Sony could offer day-and-date releases of key first-party and third-party games on PlayStation Plus. In other words, Microsoft is advising Sony to essentially break the so-called "virtuous cycle" that has helped sustain the multi-billion dollar PlayStation empire.
In a specific argument against foreclosing Sony's competitive PlayStation Plus service, Microsoft says the following (Page 5, para. c):
"Further, even if Microsoft succeeds in growing Game Pass with the addition of Call of Duty, the CMA also would have to satisfy itself that Sony could not respond through investments or improvements in its service. It is clear that Sony has a range of options to maintain or improve the competitive position of PlayStation Plus.
"At a minimum, Sony could include additional first- and third-party releases in PlayStation Plus on the "day and date" release. Sony's first-party exclusives not currently included in PlayStation Plus include prominent titles such as The Last of Us, God of War, Spiderman and the Final Fantasy VII Remake. The inclusion of such titles would be beneficial for gamers."
While that sounds like a good idea in theory, closer examination of the PlayStation business indicates otherwise. It really isn't good advice for Sony right now and PlayStation isn't set up for this kind of service-first approach. First let's take a look at why Sony has outright rejected the idea of day-and-date releases similar to Xbox Game Pass.
Back in May, Sony's Jim Ryan explained the company's current model is based on a virtuous cycle:
"In terms of our assessment in what gamers want, it's quite simple: Gamers want great games. That is the first and overwhelming perspective that they have.
"How they are delivered is a secondary concern. I would say whether it's in absolute terms, or in relative terms compared to our own history or compared to anything that competitors are managing, that we have never been in a stronger place with PlayStation Studios than we are now. We anticipate that position of strength and excellence will only continue and will only grow.
"We are in a virtuous cycle where success has allowed investment, which has generated more success, which is allowing us to invest more and will hopefully generate yet more success.
"That virtuous cycle, we feel that if we were to move to a different model, which involved putting our AAA games into a subscription service on day one, we feel that there is significant risk that the virtuous cycle that we've established so successfully would be compromised and potentially broken.
"We definitely feel that is not in the best interest of the PlayStation gamer. That is our view on that particular issue."
Taking a look at Sony's output of first-party games reveals why the company probably doesn't want to release these titles on a subscription service at launch. Sony very much depends on the sale of premium-priced titles, especially of its first-party games, which sell significantly less copies than third-party titles. PlayStation does, however, make most of its revenues from in-game purchases and microtransactions, so by no means have premium first-party games driven the bulk of earnings but it could be argued that gamers choose PlayStation because of its exclusives.
Releasing first-party games day one on a subscription service would likely lead to more subscriptions and more subscription revenues, however it would also likely eat into full game sales, which, priced at $69.99 a piece, could be more lucrative.
Case in point: God of War Ragnarok just sold 5.1 million copies in its first week. Would it have sold that many if it were offered day one on PlayStation Plus?
Sony is also releasing a higher quantity of games than Microsoft, and the titles are typically more premium blockbuster-style experiences with long playtime, quality-driven visuals, and an emphasis on immersion. These kinds of first-party games are expensive, and Sony wants to maximize profits wherever possible.
Secondly, Sony is already about to disrupt its business in the hopes of expanding across other platforms, including PC and mobile. This expansion point is also complemented by another incredibly risky endeavor to release more live service games--Sony wants to release 12 live games by 2025, including various online games available on both PC and PlayStation consoles.
The reality is that Microsoft took a dramatically different approach than Sony in regards to its video games business. Years ago, back in 2017, Microsoft disrupted the market with the introduction of Game Pass. Since then, Game Pass has grown to a 25 million+ subscription that provides nearly-unparalleled value with access to over 400 games across consoles, PC, mobiles, and even direct console-free access to TV sets via cloud gaming apps.
Microsoft chose this path because it had to adapt to a market that was vastly dominated by Sony's PlayStation 4; so instead of trying to compete on Sony's terms, Microsoft changed the playing field.
Suggesting that Sony do the same when it is A) currently in a leading market position and B) already chasing risky endeavors is not the greatest argument.