PlayStation Now is Better Than You Think
Xbox Game Pass might be absorbing all the oxygen in the room, but Sony’s been tinkering away at their own on-demand service
You could be forgiven for thinking that Xbox Game Pass is the only console games subscription service in existence — that is, if you’d only just started playing games recently. There is no question that Game Pass is a unique and valuable service, offering the biggest games and (most) new releases on day one. Sony isn’t playing that game, at least not yet, so comparing the two isn’t apples to apples, but it isn’t right to completely ignore Sony’s service either. PlayStation Now offers the most compelling value per game and easiest entry to gaming of any service in the world.
I was among the many who had not tried PlayStation Now until recently. This was more due to my backlog than it was any negative reviews of the service, though. That said, some of that negative press was earned in the early years of this service. When it debuted in 2015 there were multiple issues, as it only featured about 80 games, connection speeds were suspect and the price was the highest in the industry at $20 per month. You could stream to PCs and a variety of devices, but the quality of the infrastructure just wasn’t there yet, especially for the price. Unsurprisingly, the service struggled to find early adopters and build a subscriber base.
Sony has learned much over the past 5 years, improving the service even while doing other things to frustrate their supporters and industry watchers. They have steadily increased the number of games on the service, which now stands at over 800. They discontinued the service on PS3, PS Vita, and many of its own TVs and Blu-Ray players which it had touted when the service began. In late 2018 they began allowing downloads of some games to PS4 consoles, more than 300 at the time of writing, though it includes none of the PS3 titles.
As with most Sony things, there’s a bit of whiplash between the good and bad, but the service they currently offer is the best it’s ever been. I recently took the plunge, so let’s take a look at what I learned.
Price & Value
As I said above, PlayStation Now represents the best per-game value of any service. You can choose $9.99/month, $24.99/quarter, and $59.99/year plans, giving a best price point of $4.99 per month for the full service. By comparison, the only comparable plan from Game Pass (the Ultimate plan giving both PC and console service) costs $14.99 per month and does not (yet) include a streaming option. That capability is supposed to be coming in September with their xCloud service, which is supposed to work with Android phones and tablets. As a side note, Sony offers a 7-day free trial on its service, and Microsoft has been offering the first month at $1 for their Ultimate package, so there’s little risk in trying both.
Microsoft touts that their service has over 100 games available (though it appears to be over 200 at current), while Sony has a roster of more than 800 games. On a per-game basis, that’s about half a penny each on Sony’s service, compared to about 8 cents each from Microsoft. As I said before, this isn’t really a comparison article, as the two console giants are aiming for different markets here. It is important to have examined the cost for both, though, as value seems to be the word on everyone’s tongues when they wax poetic about Game Pass.
Microsoft seems to care less about where you play their games, as long as you play them, and aims to engender fans through Day 1 access to its biggest wholly owned games. Sony’s service is aimed more at fixing their lack of backwards compatibility on console while allowing potential PlayStation fans to experience three generations of games on PC, hopefully bringing them into the console fold as well.
Sony has compiled a massive roster of games across three generations here, with something to bring a smile to every fan from the PS2-era onward. It also allows a great jumping-in point for new gamers who may just have a PC and the desire to investigate the great lineup for which PlayStation is famous. Sony is not putting its newest massive hits on the service permanently, but it has been rolling them in at various intervals, so that’s always something to look forward to.
Looking through the roster, you have the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, MGS 4, and MGS 5, giving you every entry in Kojima’s most famous series, sans the original Metal Gear Solid. You have every God of War game except for the 2018 soft reboot, though that was included in the service at one point and will likely be again. There are the first three Uncharted games, The Last of Us, multiple classic Ratchet & Clank games, as well as 14 games from the incredibly popular LEGO games series. There’s obviously a lot more that may appeal to you, these are just some of the most recognizable titles.
At the time of this writing, the current offering of newer and bigger games includes Control, Hitman 2, Rainbow Six Siege, Dead Cells, GreedFall, Street Fighter V, and Metro Exodus. Most of those are timed inclusions, usually staying on the service for 6–8 months before they are replaced by other offerings. Some of the biggest games have already spent time on the roster, including Spiderman, the aforementioned God of War, Persona 5, Uncharted: Lost Legacy, and Horizon: Zero Dawn. It stands to reason that many of those games will eventually become permanent additions.
With the streaming content being the main focus of the service, the performance you experience will largely depend on the quality of your internet. Sony recommends you use wired internet for the best possible performance, but my personal experience was that the service performed very well over WiFi. I tested several games that required low latency for good performance, and they had above-average quality to my estimation.
Street Fighter V was flawless, with no lag or frame drops at all. Need For Speed Rivals had a bit of lag when I pulled up the in-game menu, but the action and response to control inputs were solid. Wanting to test an FPS, I streamed Metro: Exodus and the result was above average, with no freezing or dropped frames. The action seemed a bit slow, but Metro is a bit slower when compared to something like Call of Duty, so it’s possible that is just the design. Regardless, the performance was better than I expected for WiFi, and I have no doubt it will be even better when I go to the wired connection. It’s safe to say that older games and less graphically intense or speed-based games can be expected to also perform well.
Of course, this performance concern is bypassed when downloading the games, which is supported on most of the PS4 and PS2 entries. Due to the complexities of the PS3 system architecture, those games can’t be run on the local machine so streaming is the only option available. Your mileage may vary due to a number of factors, but I can confidently say it was a better experience than I had been led to believe from the various articles and influencers who have discussed the service.
As reported in our recent article, those in the know expect cloud-based streaming services and subscription-based plans to make big gains in the post-COVID world. Reduced disposable income will have gamers looking for the best possible value and lowest expense proposition to get into the hobby. Sony is well-positioned to take advantage of this if they are able to focus some of their marketing efforts toward letting the world know that PS Now even exists. With all the attention on PlayStation 5’s imminent release, there is some doubt whether they will do that, but it would certainly be a worthwhile undertaking.
The service has the accessibility, value proposition, games and performance to be a big hit with gamers, if they can overcome the Microsoft hype train for Game Pass that is. As with everything in the gaming space, it will be very interesting to watch it unfold, but I urge you to try out the service and make up your own mind.