PlayStation Now: The Quiet King of Subscription Game Services?
I can’t make a move in the gaming space online or click on a piece of Microsoft-related games journalism without seeing a positive mention of Game Pass, the Xbox company’s $9.99 monthly subscription service. “This is so great!,” say all these hyped up people. “You can play over 200 Xbox games and all their first party stuff is there too!”
On the surface, Game Pass is an objectively good deal. Plus, you get a discount if you want to buy and keep those games forever. I have no objections to anyone who signs up for the service, and if you want to play Microsoft’s exclusive games, it’s the absolute best way to do it.
No one should spend $60 on Crackdown 3.
But Sony’s had a subscription service for a long time too, called PlayStation Now. Built off of the revolutionary Gaikai streaming platform that Sony acquired, PSNow started out as a way to offer limited-time rentals of PS3 games that you played over streaming video.
Okay, admittedly, that was kind of a terrible idea. But it’s so much better now.
PS Now is $20 a month if you don’t find it on discount or go for the $99 yearly plan. It offers 750-some-odd games from across the PS4, PS3, and PS2 systems. All of the games are streamable on PS4 and PC, and you can also download the PS4 and PS2 games for local play on a PS4 system.
Game Pass has two specific advantages: those first-party games, and the discount if you decide to buy something to keep.
Sony’s first-party games are in a much better place right now, and they know they can still get full price for them before adding them to PS Now years later, and I don’t blame them for that. The discount is a nice sweetener though, and something I hope Sony copies soon.
Outside those two differences, I vastly prefer PS Now as a service. The library is absolutely massive, with a great selection of games. Sony has improved the streaming latency to such a degree that only the most diehard of players will be bothered by it. Visual quality still isn’t as perfect as it would be running the games locally, though that also varies depending on the rendering resolution of the original game.
The PS Now application is a much smoother experience to use, too. It has different curated catalogs based on different tastes, or you can just browse the whole library. It’s easy to sort through and find the games you want to play. Game Pass awkwardly tries to combine in with the store interface and library interface on the Xbox One X, and although the library view got better in a recent patch, it doesn’t do as good of a job at surfacing its titles. A dedicated app would be great.
This sort of streaming/subscription service is clearly planned to be a significant part of gaming going forward, with many major companies investing money in the tech to power them. Sony has a big head start, with a good front-end, the biggest library of games and licensing deals, solid performance, and a local download option that mutes Microsoft’s early claims of better visual performance.
I get excited every time I see someone talk about PS Now, and I wish it came up in more discussions of “how great Game Pass is.” Sony has managed to keep a prestige around their exclusives, just like Nintendo, while Microsoft is gambling on blowing them out at a low subscription rate. Only time will tell which approach is better long-term.