How PlayStation’s Project Spartacus Can Beat Xbox Game Pass

PlayStation's rumored Project Spartacus streaming service needs to make big moves if it's going to challenge Xbox Game Pass.

Photo: PlayStation

Recent reports that PlayStation is asking retailers to remove PlayStation Now subscription cards from their stores have only fuelled ongoing rumors that PlayStation is working on a Game Pass competitor known simply as Project Spartacus.

While some reports suggest that Spartacus will essentially end up being a combination of PlayStation Now and PlayStation Plus, it’s that idea that the rumored Spartacus service could eventually prove to be a true Game Pass competitor that has everyone excited. Such a service would obviously be welcomed by PlayStation gamers, but even Xbox fans would likely benefit from increased Game Pass competition given some of the moves we’ve seen Microsoft make in the past to stay on top of that marketplace.

Does Spartacus really have a chance of challenging or even beating Game Pass, though? Well, Sony has a long way to go if that’s their goal, but here are some of the things the team behind the rumored Spartacus service can do if they’re interested in giving Game Pass real competition.

Project Spartacus Must Include a Library of Classic PlayStation Games For Expanded Backward Compatability Support

Let’s not beat around the bush: PlayStation’s backward compatibility support sucks. While the PlayStation team was nice enough to allow over 100 million PS4 owners to play most of their PS4 games on PS5, PlayStation still trails Xbox’s backward compatibility programs in nearly every respect. What’s worse is the PlayStation team has shown little interest in allowing PS5 owners to easily access classic PS1, PS2, and PS3 games (even if they own the physical disc for those games) beyond the occasional remaster, remake, or digital marketplace re-release.

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In fact, you could easily argue that Project Spartcus’ primary goal should be to offer PlayStation gamers the expanded backward compatibility access they’ve mostly been denied so far. While PlayStation Now does feature a small collection of classic titles, the service’s retro library isn’t nearly as substantial as it needs to be given that the PS4 and PS5 offer very little native backward compatibility support.

An extensive retro game collection would not only help expand Project Spartacus’ initial library; it would let everyone know that PlayStation is serious about turning this service into a serious competitor and not just the best option available to gamers with few other options available.

Spartacus Should Offer Some Kind of Day One Access to First-Party PlayStation Games

While members of the PlayStation team have previously stated that they don’t believe adding new first-party games to their streaming services on day one is a “sustainable” practice, the fact of the matter is that Game Pass’ ever-growing collection of new releases (as well as the rise of $70 games) is starting to change the conversation about what is sustainable.

While it feels like many PlayStation fans have resigned themselves to not being able to access first-party new releases on day one via an exclusive subscription service, PlayStation would simply make the gaming world a little bit of a better place by finding some way to use Spartacus to offer new releases as soon as possible. If one of the industry’s biggest holdouts in that area decides to change their views, other companies may soon start reexamining their own policies regarding archaic new release strategies.

How will PlayStation possibly justify putting their lucrative and prestigious new releases on Project Spartacus? Well, that question actually brings us to our next point…

PlayStation Has to Find the Perfect Spartacus Price Point (Which May Include Tiered Subscriptions)

It’s not exactly a secret that a product or service’s price point plays a large role in determining its short and long-term success, but when it comes to pricing video game subscription services like the one Project Spartacus is rumored to be, there’s very little precedent for Sony to work with. Game Pass is really the only subscription service of its kind that has managed to break into the mainstream, and Xbox priced Game Pass aggressively in order to help it establish a substantial initial userbase.

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Assuming Sony won’t be quite that generous (or, depending on how you read the situation, desperate), then it might make sense for them to offer an extensive “tier” system that really lets you determine how much of the Spartacus service you want to be able to access. Ideally, a $9.99 a month system would allow you to access a library of retro, indie, and third-party titles while something in the $19.99 a month range would grant you access to first-party new releases (we’d of course love for the service to be cheaper than that, but those may be slightly more realistic figures).

There’s probably no way that Spartacus offers an Xbox Game Pass quality library for the Xbox Game Pass price, but PlayStation could use a tier system to help determine what it is people really want from such a service and how much they’re willing to pay for it.

PlayStation’s Project Spartacus Could (and Maybe Should) Offer TV Shows and Movies Along With Games

Recent rumors regarding Project Spartacus suggest that it could feature a library of TV shows and movies as well as games, which is honestly one of those little differences that could help separate the service from Game Pass and perhaps elevate it in the minds of some.

While I highly doubt that PlayStation’s Spartacus service will be able to compete with the biggest film and television streaming services out there, the PlayStation team could use their theoretical access to the Sony film library as a way to expand Spartacus’ initial library until they’re able to really establish Spartacus as its own thing and use that momentum to strike new deals and add more media to it.

Again, the basic idea here is that PlayStation needs to find a way to add enough media to Spartacus right from the start to give it that “must-have” feeling that PlayStation Now has lacked in the past.

Project Spartacus Should be a True Streaming Service

While Game Pass really is the closest thing we’ve ever seen to that fabled “Netflix for gaming” idea, it’s important to remember that Game Pass still requires you to download games in order to play them while Netflix is still very much a streaming service that offers optional downloads. Microsoft has done a great job of making those game downloads as painless as possible (and they have started to offer beta access to Game Pass streaming options via the cloud), but it’s still a noteworthy technological compromise they’ve made in order to push Game Pass as far as they have.

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I know some have wondered if PlayStation is better off abandoning PlayStation Now’s streaming technology and embracing a more reliable download system, but I honestly think that they’re better off, in the long run, finding a way to continue to improve their streaming technology.

Ideally, someone will figure out how to offer streaming access to a video game subscription service that is reliable and relatively quick, and I feel like PlayStation wants to be the studio that really figures out how to make that happen.