Whenever a new platform or service gets announced, the focus is inevitably on what’s missing rather than what’s there.
Sony’s new PS Plus subscription offerings boast online multiplayer access, hundreds of PS4 and PS5 games, streaming, retro titles and game trials. But what it doesn’t include, unlike its main competitor, are new first-party games that launch in the service at the same time as they come out at retail.
“We feel like we are in a good virtuous cycle with the studios,” explains PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan, “where the investment delivers success, which enables yet more investment, which delivers yet more success. We like that cycle and we think our gamers like that cycle.”
He continues: “[In terms of] putting our own games into this service, or any of our services, upon their release… as you well know, this is not a road that we’ve gone down in the past. And it’s not a road that we’re going to go down with this new service. We feel if we were to do that with the games that we make at PlayStation Studios, that virtuous cycle will be broken. The level of investment that we need to make in our studios would not be possible, and we think the knock-on effect on the quality of the games that we make would not be something that gamers want.”
Ryan’s view on this isn’t unique to Sony. Most AAA publishers are reluctant to put their most recent games into subscription services. The counter argument is that by putting your latest titles into PS Plus or Xbox Game Pass, you’re potentially widening your audience. Overnight, your new release could have tens of millions of players, and if your game has other forms of monetisation in it, then the revenue potential is significant.
And even if your game doesn’t have microtransactions, Xbox believes that subscriptions — combined with streaming — is the key to finding new console players.
Ryan’s perspective is a pragmatic one, and PlayStation’s current position on this is entirely subject to change.
“The way the world is changing so very quickly at the moment, nothing is forever,” he tells us. “Who would have said even four years ago that you would see AAA PlayStation IP being published on PC? We started that last year with Horizon Zero Dawn, then Days Gone, and now God of War — a hugely polished and accomplished PC version of that game. [We’ve had] great critical success and great commercial success, and everybody has made their peace with that happening and is completely at ease with it. I look back four years and think nobody would have seen that coming.
“The way our publishing model works right now [putting new games straight into PS Plus] doesn’t make any sense. But things can change very quickly in this industry”
“So I don’t want to cast anything in stone at this stage. All I’m talking to today is the approach we’re taking in the short term. The way our publishing model works right now, it doesn’t make any sense. But things can change very quickly in this industry, as we all know.”
Outside of what PlayStation isn’t doing with its new PS Plus subscription options, it’s worth talking about what it is doing.
At a basic level, it is bringing together its PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now subscription services, which together total 50 million subscribers. 75% of PS Now subscribers also subscribe to PS Plus, so it makes sense to unite the two services together. And for those 75%, they’ll find their overall costs going down.
Looking at pricing generally, there are three tiers to PS Plus. PS Plus Essentials is identical to PS Plus today and is priced the same ($10 a month), PS Plus Extra adds in a library of PS4 and PS5 games ($15 a month), whereas PS Plus Premium includes all that plus game trials, game streaming and a collection of PS1, PS2, PS3 and PSP games ($18).
In comparison to Xbox’s offerings, the PS Plus Premium tier carries a highly monthly cost. However, where Sony has been competitive is with the annual pricing.
“It is a fact — for our services at least — that the great majority of people subscribe through a 12-month subscription,” Ryan explains. “It’s more than two thirds who subscribe that way. That is an area of value proposition that we have looked at very hard. What we are delivering is that, for a 12-month subscriber, and that is the great majority of people, the monthly subscription rate for PlayStation Plus Extra will be $8.33. And for PlayStation Plus Premium it will be $9.99. We think, for what people are going to get, this is a terrific value proposition. And one that simply wouldn’t be possible if we were to put our studios’ games into the service upon their release.”
Sony may not be putting its latest releases in, but there’s still some popular PS5 titles in PS Plus Extra and Premium, including Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Returnal. But outside of its first-party games, Sony says “every major publisher” is present in the service, and conversations continue to go well.
“Whether it’s indies, whether it’s big games, or things that celebrate our heritage… all sorts of games,” Ryan says. “We are going to have all of it, and hopefully a line-up that ticks all sorts of boxes.”
The Premium option is more of a specialist tier. And one of its big draws is the collection of retro games.
“Obviously, it’s not for everybody, which is why it is in the Premium tier,” Ryan says. “But there are people like me who have been around forever, who have played those games and loved those games 20-odd years ago. Or maybe it’s people whose parents rave on about these games and want to try them for themselves. Once we can share the line-up with the world, we think there’s going to be a lot of interest in that.”
Streaming is also within the Premium tier. Again, like retro, it isn’t for everyone, although Ryan expects it will become a more meaningful part of Sony’s business in time.
Sony feels it has done a good job with PS5 so far. Manufacturing challenges aside, it has a console that’s been well received, particularly the controller. Its exclusive games, despite some delays, have performed well, including the recent releases of Horizon Forbidden West and Gran Turismo 7. The one element arguably missing is in its services, and that’s what this new PS Plus offering is designed to address.
Yet even if it doesn’t immediately attract new customers, there is an existing audience of 48 million PS Plus subscribers to convince to upgrade, including those in countries where PS Now was never an option.
“It’s about rounding off the offer that we have,” Ryan explains. “With platforms, it is seldom just one single thing that makes a platform really attractive. It’s a combination of many things. And having a really strong service proposition definitely helps.
“Clearly, within our existing audience base we have the opportunity to attract PlayStation owners who are not PlayStation Plus subscribers at present. The additional opportunity is the 48 million PlayStation Plus subscribers and get them to trade-up to Extra or to Premium. And our task is made rather easier there by the fact that they are existing PlayStation Plus subscribers, so we have an extremely close relationship with them on many levels.”
“I don’t think we’ll see [games subscriptions] go to the levels that we see with Spotify and Netflix”
The subscription business model in video games is a growing one. Xbox announced in January it has over 25 million subscribers to Game Pass, and that number keeps on rising. What’s not so clear is the ultimate potential of all this… could it possibly become the dominant model in games like it has with music and TV? Ryan isn’t convinced.
“Subscription has certainly grown in importance over the course of the last few years,” he concludes. “Our PlayStation Plus subscriber number has grown from zero in 2010, to 48 million now. And we anticipate, for our services, that we will see further growth for the subscriber number.
“But the medium of gaming is so very different to music and to linear entertainment, that I don’t think we’ll see it go to the levels that we see with Spotify and Netflix.
“Some of the live service [games] that are proving very successful these days, and I’m not restricting this comment to console, they’re effectively subscription services in themselves. And they’re very much tailored to the needs of the gamer who loves whatever game that they spend hours and hours with, month after month after month. That phenomenon of the live service game… that has, in a very large part, fuelled the enormous growth in the gaming industry that we’ve seen over the last ten years. I think that trend towards live services will continue, and if you look for a model in our category of entertainment, which supports sustained engagement over a long period of time, live services games arguably fit that bill better than a subscription service.
“But it’s all about choice. There are obviously many millions of people who are happy to subscribe to PlayStation Plus. We offer them that option on the platform, and we think that we are offering a significantly improved option with the changes we have made. Equally, if people want to play Fornite or Call of Duty or FIFA, and have their sustained engagement that way, that’s fine, too. Nobody is obliged to do anything.”
Apple Podcasts Update Enables Annual Subscriptions – PCMag
Apple this week unveiled a host of fresh podcast tools for managing storage across devices, enabling annual subscriptions, and allowing creators to more easily distribute content through third-party providers.
With the release of iOS 15.5, iPadOS 15.5, and macOS 12.4, podcasters can now present annual subscription plans(Opens in a new window) alongside monthly offerings through the new plan picker, which appears when listeners tap “Subscribe” or “Try Free” on a show or channel with a subscription option. Annual plans are selected by default.
To make the move from monthly to annual subscription, open the Apple Podcasts app and navigate to Listen Now > Account > Manage Subscriptions, then choose your preferred program and upgrade to a 12-month plan. Changes can be made on a per-podcast basis. The picker also displays how much listeners can save with an annual subscription (if lower than the monthly alternative).
While you’re at it, check out Apple’s new automatic download preferences, available through your iDevice Settings app. Open the Podcasts tab and tap Automatically Download to choose how many episodes are saved for offline streaming: a certain number per show, all recent episodes, all new episodes, or none. Customize individual shows by tapping “…” on a program page, opening the Settings, and selecting a preference from Automatically Downloaded.
Users will be prompted to remove automatically downloaded episodes that don’t meet the newly selected criteria; those that were manually downloaded or saved will not be removed, though the app does recommend removing old downloads to free up storage space.
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Apple also introduced a new feature for podcast creators: Delegated Delivery(Opens in a new window) aims to save creators time and energy by letting authorized platforms publish free and premium episodes to Apple Podcasts on their behalf. Starting this fall, creators can use their favorite hosting providers’ dashboards to schedule the release of exclusive, early access, bonus, and ad-free content using WAV, FLAC, and MP3 files. Initial partners include Acast, ART19, Blubrry, Buzzsprout, Libsyn, Omny Studio, and RSS.com; more providers will be “announced in the future.”
While anyone can utilize the new feature—free to all creators through Apple Podcasts Connect—to publish gratis shows, a $19.99 annual Apple Podcasters Program(Opens in a new window) membership is required to share premium shows and episodes. Creators can check support for Delegated Delivery via the Hosting Providers page(Opens in a new window); interested providers, meanwhile, can contact Apple for more information.
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Ecobee releases two new smart thermostats with a classic glass face look – MobileSyrup
A recent leak suggested that Ecobee might be working on two new smart thermostats. Now the Toronto-based company has officially announced its new Smart Thermostat Premium and Smart Thermostat Enhanced.
“Today’s introduction of Ecobee Smart Thermostat Premium and Ecobee Smart Thermostat Enhanced pushes the boundaries of the category to improve comfort, home health, and security, while continuing to deliver the energy saving features synonymous with ecobee.” reads the company’s press release.
— ecobee (@ecobee) May 17, 2022
Both of the new devices feature radar, which Ecobee says is its most advanced sensor technology to date, along with improved occupancy and motion detection and a 50 percent larger display that boasts Ecobee’s new UI (user interface). The Smart Thermostat Premium and Enhanced have been outfitted with a “stunning glass face and smooth waterfall edges” for a classic look and feel, whereas the updated radar can now detect motion from further away. The new radar, unlike an infrared sensor, is hidden inside the thermostat, providing a clean look for the device on your wall.
Both the new devices can be controlled with your Apple Watch or by integrating them with Apple Homekit+. What makes the Premium version better, however, is that it now shows the indoor air quality carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, and relative humidity with alerts to warn you if air quality inside your house is poor. The Thermostat will also share tips like ‘open a window’ to improve indoor air quality.
“Smart Thermostat Premium and Smart Thermostat Enhanced are Ecobee’s first products to be paper manual-free with a mobile-only approach to installation,” reads the Toronto-based company’s news release.
Both new smart thermostats are now available to order in Canada via Ecobee’s website. Follow the links to check out the Smart Thermostat Premium and Smart Thermostat Enhanced, available for $329.99 and $239.99, respectively.
Image credit: Ecobee
iOS 15.5 and macOS 12.4 bring updates to Podcasts, digital payments, and more – Ars Technica
Apple released new software updates for all of its platforms on Tuesday. That includes the following:
- iOS 15.5 for iPhones and the iPod touch
- iPadOS 15.5 for iPads
- macOS 12.4 for Macs
- watchOS 8.6 for the Apple Watch
- tvOS 15.5 for the Apple TV
- HomePod Software 15.5 for HomePods
- Studio Display Firmware 15.5 for the Studio Display
- Swift Playgrounds 4.1 for iPad and Mac
These are almost certainly the last updates before the company’s annual developer conference, which is scheduled to kick off on June 6. Among other things, Apple will announce iOS and iPadOS 16, macOS 13, and watchOS 9 at the conference, but those updates won’t arrive until later this year.
Today’s iOS update offers just enough new user-facing features to earn that 15.x label instead of 15.x.x, which is usually reserved for bug fixes and the like.
All told, though, it’s a small update. The built-in Podcasts app gets “a new setting to limit episodes stored on your Mac and automatically delete older ones.”
And 15.5 allows the iPhone to be used as a point-of-sale device without any additional hardware, as reported in February.
Previously, vendors like farmer’s market stalls and home repair services used iPhones with attached add-on hardware from companies like Stripe to receive payments.
Now the iPhone doesn’t need those attachments; Stripe works just fine with an iPhone fresh out of the box.
Additionally, iOS 15.5 brings safety features in the Messages app meant to prevent children from being exposed to inappropriate content in the following new countries:
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States
On the macOS side, Apple names just two user-facing changes in its release notes. It adds support for Studio Display Firmware Update 15.5 (which claims to improve webcam performance on Apple’s new monitor), and the built-in Podcasts app gets the same new feature that iOS did.
However, macOS 12.4 includes more than 50 security updates under the hood, according to Apple’s support documentation.
watchOS 8.6 is a relatively minor update. It expands some of the Watch’s health features—namely irregular heart rhythm detection and the ECG—to Apple Watch users in Mexico.
Studio Display Firmware 15.5 attempts to address some user complaints about the monitor’s webcam quality. Apple hasn’t shared any details about what’s in the HomePod firmware update or tvOS 15.5.
There’s also Swift Playgrounds 4.1 for Mac and iPad. It’s not an OS update, but it landed around the same time. It allows users to use Playgrounds to build apps with SwiftUI on the Mac, and it deepens App Store Connect integration for publishing apps, among other things.
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