While PS5 and the Xbox Series X. Consoles continue to dominate gaming conversation. These systems offer more than just their hardware. With the direct purchase of games apparently a thing of the past, both Sony and Microsoft offer subscription services that give you huge libraries for a manageable monthly fee: PlayStation Now and Xbox Game Pass, respectively. While Microsoft has put Xbox Game Pass at the center of advertising for the Xbox Series X, Sony has been almost silent about how PlayStation Now could benefit the PS5.
Sony’s stance is puzzling as PlayStation Now is a good service and has the potential to get even better. Even though Xbox Game Pass has fewer games, there̵
PlayStation Now could be a major selling point for the PS5 if only Sony leaned on the service’s vast library, great functionality, and reasonable price. Here’s how the service can make significant improvements over the next generation of consoles.
A streaming pioneer
In a way, PlayStation Now is the off-label origin of cloud games for the mass market. When the PlayStation 4 came out, fans were disappointed to learn that backward compatibility was essentially impossible. The PS3’s CPU had a radically different architecture than that of the PS4, so there was simply no way to run PS3 games on the system.
Sony’s suggested workaround was something no other major game company had tried: streaming entire games over the Internet. Rather than having to change the architecture of the PS4, Sony realized that it could meet consumer demand (and hopefully make money) by running PS3 games remotely and then streaming them directly to players’ PS4s. The service called PlayStation Now was launched in 2014 with around 20 PS3 titles. There are now more than 700 games that represent a selection from PS2, PS3 and PS4.
In other words, Sony intended to use PlayStation Now to fix a backward compatibility issue. Instead, the company inadvertently spearheaded the introduction of cloud games. Now Google, Nvidia, and Microsoft have comparable services, though PlayStation Now tops them all when it comes to how many games you can get for one flat fee.
Where PlayStation Now falls short
PlayStation Now has an excellent selection including the Batman: Arkham series, the Red Dead games, Bloodborne, Control, the Infamous series, the Ratchet & Clank PS3 entries, Hollow Knight, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, etc. and if you don’t like these, there are literally hundreds of other options, from iconic blockbusters to cult classics to popular indie dishes. The games spin in and out with a slightly unpredictable cadence, but that’s hardly unique to PlayStation.
The service costs between $ 5 and $ 10 per month, depending on how many months you want to prepay. Provided you have a reasonably strong internet connection (at least 5Mbps, although a little more in the 25Mbps range wouldn’t hurt) the service runs great on both PS4 and PC.
Then why is Sony downplaying this service and making it so difficult to use?
First, Sony isn’t making it easy to figure out what games PS Now plays – or what those games might look like. On the official PlayStation Now page, the game selection is not mentioned, so the players to a “Latest gamesSection instead. At the time of writing (September 11th) this page was already weeks out of date, advertising that certain games would only be available until August 31st.
If you click “Show All Games” you will just get a simple list with white text on a black background – no box type, no game descriptions, no links to individual game pages, and no indication of how long a game might take to be available. The browsing experience is better on the PS Now app, but I wonder how many people adjusted themselves well before signing up for the seven-day free trial (which, as free trials say, is pretty stingy).
Sony has also worked hard to limit the availability of the PlayStation Now instead of expanding it. Previously, the app was available on PC, PS3, PS Vita, PS4, Sony Blu-ray players and various smart TVs. Now all that’s left are PC and PS4. While I don’t think many people are asking for PS Now on PS3 or Vita these days, Smart TV integration was a forward-looking feature and it’s disappointing that Sony (and consumers) haven’t fully taken advantage of it. Likewise, there is no PS Now app for smartphones or tablets where this could be a natural addition to apps like Stadia and GeForce Now.
Downloading games through PS Now is also a confusing process. You can download games to improve performance – but only certain PS4 titles and only on one PS4. You can’t download anything to PC and still have the option to stream all PS4 games. It’s a confusing, inconsistent system that doesn’t take full advantage of the available hardware.
There’s also the general sense, justified or not, that Sony just isn’t putting that much effort into PlayStation Now. No major upgrades have been made since downloading PS4 games last year. We know the functionality will be available on PS5, but it doesn’t seem like PS Now is making any significant use of the PS5’s more powerful hardware. Likewise, there’s no word about PS5 titles coming to PS Now right now or right away.
Why Xbox Game Pass is successful
In contrast, Xbox Game Pass is a much more understandable service. You pay between $ 10 and $ 15 per month, depending on the options you want (PC games, streaming games on Android devices, etc.) and then choose from a library of 100+ songs to put on your Xbox One can download. Download games on an Xbox One or PC. Stream them on an Android device. Saving files is transferred across platforms, and many games are available on all three systems.
Additionally, Microsoft made Xbox Game Pass an important part of its marketing strategy. All first-party Xbox titles, from Gears 5 through Wasteland 3, are available as part of Xbox Game Pass from the day they are launched. Xbox Series X will continue this trend with big titles like Halo Infinite and Confession. While backward compatibility isn’t that important to Xbox Game Pass, you can still play a wide variety of original Xbox and Xbox 360 games – and we already know that every single Xbox One game on the service is playable on both Xbox games Series S and the Xbox Series X.
In short, not only can Microsoft better communicate what Xbox Game Pass is doing, but also what it will do in the future.
What is strange, however, is that Xbox Game Pass isn’t necessarily “better” than PlayStation Now in terms of game selection or performance. PS Now has six or seven times as many games as Xbox Game Pass, and for the most part, they stream beautifully. There’s absolutely no reason PS Now couldn’t be an integral part of PlayStation’s strategy or why it has to exist in this nebulous space between “backward compatibility replacement” and “full-fledged cloud gaming service”.
Give PlayStation Now a richer website, a clearer demarcation between platforms, a mobile app, and a little attention at Sony events, and Sony might find that there has been a worthwhile competitor for Xbox Game Pass all along.