The console landscape is changing. While the PS5 – despite all of its pandemic-induced inventory issues – remains one of the fast-selling formats of all time, the so-called “network effect” that determined previous generations is eroding. With crossplay surging in popularity across many of the biggest franchises, including FIFA and Call of Duty, there’s less reason to own the same brand as your buddies. Furthermore, stronger competition from both Microsoft and Nintendo means there are more viable alternatives to PlayStation then there has perhaps been previously.
None of this is to belittle Sony’s efforts, of course, it’s just the reality – the manufacturer has to adapt and work that little bit harder to retain the loyalty of its customers. That’s where PS Stars comes in, of course: a long overdue retention scheme that’s free to join and attempts to “gameify” the entire ecosystem. Having launched last week in North America and several days ago in Europe, it’s extremely early days for the service, but it’s a welcome addition nonetheless.
Many will, of course, point to established schemes from both Microsoft and Nintendo and use them to illustrate the shortcomings here. But it’s important to underline the above point: we’re not even a month into this programme just yet, and we’d like to think Sony has a roadmap to improve its overall offering now that it’s dipped its toes into the water. That said, to deal with the great stinking elephant looking over our shoulder: no, this loyalty scheme isn’t as strong as what the competition’s offering. That doesn’t make it worthless, though.
Currently restricted to the PS App, with native support for the PS5 promised soon, the headline feature here is the fact that PS Plus members can earn Points on every purchase. We’ve tested it, and it doesn’t really matter what you’re spending on – whether it’s games, subscriptions, DLC, or microtransactions – you’ll get ten Points for every dollar spent. (Or the equivalent in your currency, of course.) You’ll actually be surprised how quickly it adds up if you’re a big PS Store user; somehow, we’ve already amassed over 300 Points, without even really trying. Scary!
Of course, the advantage here is that these Points can then be traded for PS Store credit. It’s a shame that you can only “purchase” denominations of wallet top-ups; we reckon the Nintendo format, where you can use your Coins whenever for even a few pennies saving, is superior. But nonetheless, up until this month you got nothing back on your PS Store purchases, and now you get an approximately four per cent return. Look, it may not be quite what you wanted, but as big spenders on PlayStation we’re certainly going to take this over nothing, which was the case just a couple of weeks ago. You do you.
There are other ways to earn Points, and we suspect these will multiply as the service matures. For example, if you buy one of the current PS Store Picks, you can get a 50 Points bonus in addition to your cashback as described above. Obviously, this is going to become Sony’s way of incentivising purchases, but again, if you were planning to purchase, say, Inscryption anyway – well, why not take the bonus on top? Like we alluded to above, the Points do add up fast.
Perhaps the differentiator here are the Digital Collectibles. These are actually surprisingly well rendered dioramas which include famous PlayStation products and even characters. The selection, thus far, leans heavily on Ape Escape – which is an interesting choice for launch, but we’re sure the likes of Aloy, Kratos, et al will follow. These are actually surprisingly well sculpted; we love the T-Rex tech demo from the PS1, which is clutching Sly Cooper’s staff for some reason. It’s a neat little Easter egg for long-time PlayStation fans.
In fact this whole system reminds us of what Trophies were supposed to be. The veterans among you may recall the halcyon days of PS3, when Sony was promoting PS Home and promised you’ll be able to display your Trophies in your personal apartment space. This obviously never came to fruition, it was a pie-in-the-sky idea (although we’re sure internally the manufacturer did experiment with it), but you actually do get a little display case on the PS App, and the platform holder has promised it will integrate this into PS5 profiles moving forwards. So, that’s pretty cool, no?
We reckon the Campaigns themselves could be a bit more inventive, though. So far, it’s mostly just booting up games, although the Hit Play/1994 one does work a little bit like a quiz. We can’t help but ponder how much electricity and bandwidth is being eaten up by people downloading 75GB games in order to unlock a virtual Chord Machine, but we suppose this is all a net positive for Sony’s monthly active user statistics, and as we’ve hinted at, that will be a huge driver behind the initiative’s existence to begin with.
Clearly, as we’ve already mentioned, there’s room to improve here. Better challenges and more meaningful rewards are a must. But as we’ve alluded to several times, we’re finally getting cashback on our PS Store purchases. Do we wish it was more? Absolutely – but we’ll take something over nothing. The Digital Collectibles, pointless as they may be, are just the cute little icing on the cake from where we’re sitting. So, then, PS Stars: it’s not really a star yet, is it? More like one of the supporting cast from a cancelled Netflix show. But look, it’s a welcome addition and there’s still plenty of time for this to grow.
If you’re looking to get started, you can refer to our PS Stars guide for a lot more information, including how to complete many of the Campaigns. Of course, we’d also like to hear your opinions on the loyalty programme, and how you think it should improve. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.