Sony doesn’t need an Xbox Game Pass killer — it already has one

PlayStation Now was the first major step in game streaming services. Yes, we had plenty of other attempts with services like OnLive (which I also tried back in 2010), but none ever had the weight of a massive corporation behind it. Sony acquired the service formerly known as Gaikai in 2012 and transformed it into its very own exclusive streaming service that it’s been working on to this day.

The thing is, after that initial purchase push, Sony has been pretty silent about PS Now. It’s quietly gained 3.2 million subscribers as of March 2021, which isn’t all that much when you compare it to the number of PS+ subscribers but is still a substantial number.

As a subscriber since 2018, I’m sitting here today in 2021, wondering why people aren’t singing the praises of this service like I am. After giving it some thought and listening to the general discourse, there’s actually a lot of reasons PS Now is overlooked, but very few of them are actually good reasons, or even true in some cases. With Game Pass being touted as the all-time greatest service in gaming and how Sony “needs some way to compete,” I think it’s time someone who is a dedicated user of PS Now tells you why it’s way better than you think.

PS4 (Playstation 4) using PS Now.
Guglielmo Basile/Unsplash

The elephant in the room

Before we can get to why PS Now is better than you might think, I do have to acknowledge the faults. There’s one thing that critics point to, and with good reason, as to why PS Now isn’t all that great. PS3 games can only be streamed. It’s a multilayered issue. First, this is a problem with all game streaming services. It’s always going to be dependent on your individual internet connection based on what’s available and where you live. That’s why I didn’t sign up for PS Now when it only offered streaming. I tested it out, felt too much delay on my inputs, and didn’t sign up.

Would it be possible to ever make PS3 games downloadable? I have no idea, but it doesn’t seem like it will happen even if it could at this point in time. That being said, I will fully admit that if your primary reason for looking into PS Now is to only play PS3 titles, use the trial first to see how streaming works for you. I have moved since I first tested it, and with my new internet, which is only about 100Mbps down, by the way, most games actually play just fine. Am I playing fighting games or twitch shooters online? No, of course not, but platformers, third-person shooters, and especially JRGPs are either good enough or great.

A stack of PS3 games.
See Shoot Eat Repeat/Shutterstock

While Sony seems to have stopped adding PS3 titles to the catalog of PS Now games, it hasn’t stopped trying to improve the streaming aspect of its service. As of April, it upped the resolution that you can stream some games at to a full 1080p, where 720p used to be the limit. For most PS3 games, which didn’t even hit that resolution in the first place, it won’t matter much. But if you do opt to stream PS4 games on your TV or PC and have the speeds to handle it, this is a great addition.

What’s changed?

PS Now is almost a completely different beast today than it was when it first launched. Based on what people think PS Now is, it feels like the majority of today’s naysayers tried it out around when it came out, had a decent-to-poor experience, and assume nothing’s changed. Most will acknowledge the biggest change, the ability to download games, but even that is vastly understated.

Let’s start there. Game downloading is available for every PS4 and PS2 title on the service. That shouldn’t be news to anyone — it was added over three years ago now, yet I still see people either neglect to mention it or brush it off as a minor thing. It’s not. There are dozens — maybe hundreds — of downloadable games on PS Now, and we’re not just talking about shovelware you’re never going to play. Bloodborne, God of War, Tekken 7, Metal Gear Solid V, Doom, and InFamous Second Son are just a handful of the great games you can download right now, not including any games only available for a limited time.

What’s even better is the new games added to the service. PS Plus has always been a mixed bag, but it’s gotten a bit worse overall since it dropped Vita games. Now, we only get two games on PS4 and one for PS5. Don’t get me wrong — sometimes those games are absolute bangers, like Final Fantasy 7 RemakeShadow of the Tomb Raider, and Control. However, the chances of those games just not fitting your style is much higher when there are only two or three games offered.

PS Now has as good, if not better, games released consistently. I don’t think I remember there ever being fewer than three games added in a month, and usually, it’s closer to five. More and more big-budget games are being added, either as permanent additions or timed. Yeah, it sucks to be given a time limit to enjoy a game, especially really big ones like Red Dead Redemption 2, but you usually have around five or six months to play.

This last point I’ve found the most exciting, but I never hear it brought up. Each month includes at least one indie title in the lineup. These are the games I find to fit a service like this best. Being able to try out these smaller experiences is what people always praise Game Pass for, and it is just as true for PS Now. I was able to jump in on games I missed out on like Dead Cells, Slay the Spire, and, most recently, Moonlighter, which have become some of my favorite experiences of the year. While we all love getting a “free” big-budget game on services like this, the smaller titles really are the lifeblood for me.

Why it’s worth it

Various games you can download or stream on PS Now.

If you have PS Now, you can play any game on the service that has online multiplayer without being a PS+ subscriber. Those who only play on PS Now and don’t use any of the features of PS+ besides playing online can cut that subscription with no penalty.

Obviously, everyone’s situation is different, but when I was first considering a PS Now subscription, I was not able to buy more than one or maybe two games per year. I saw that PS Now had added the download option, and I can’t say for sure if the price had dropped then or if it was just on sale, but I could get a year’s worth for $60 (if it wasn’t $60 for a year then, it is now, just FYI). I wouldn’t get to pick what games I got, but having been so starved for games, there were plenty of great ones to catch up on, even if new ones didn’t interest me.

Boy, was I happily surprised. For the price of one game, I still have more games than I have time to play on the service. I almost feel relieved when the monthly games are announced and there are only one or two I want to play because I feel like my backlog has gotten so big. At the same time, I never feel too bad about having that massive backlog because I didn’t shell out cash for each individual game. I can see why timed games may rub people the wrong way, but if it’s a way for me to play Spider-Man or Judgment for “free,” I’m all for it.

I personally don’t use it, but being able to stream any game on PC is another major plus for the service. All you do is download an app, and you have access to the entire PS Now library. The same caveats exist here as with any streaming service, but having more options is always a plus for me.

PS Now as a competitor to Game Pass

Xbox Game Pass gets a lot of praise as a similar service, obviously, but it is way closer to PS Now than people think. At the time of writing, there are 409 console games on Game Pass and 399 PS4 games, plus 21 PS2 games on PS Now. Essentially, they have the same amount of downloadable games. The quality is what counts, and Game Pass does push the fact that every first-party game they release will also come to Game Pass. I can’t really argue against that. Sony has added God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and other games to PS Now much later, some time-limited, too, but I don’t think we’ll ever expect The Last of Us Part 2 or Ghost of Tsushima to come on day one.

For now, I still feel like the offerings are about equal. Over time, as Xbox’s studios start to really produce more games, then yeah, Game Pass is going to eclipse PS Now in terms of the number of big-budget, major releases coming to the service right away. If streaming works for you, then PS Now also has those extra couple hundred PS3 games as well.

What’s weird, to me at least, is that Game Pass is basically becoming PS Now, but because Microsoft did it backward, it gets way more goodwill. It started with only downloadable games and is now introducing its streaming service to it. That’s the smart way to do it, but at the end of the day, both services will offer downloadable and streaming options.

Do I think of PS Now as a competitor to Game Pass? Yeah, and for me, it’s actually better. The service has gotten stronger every year I’ve had it, with more high-quality, first-party, fun indies being added more and more often. At the same time, I can see from a mile off that Game Pass is poised to sprint past PS Now with all the studios Xbox has acquired.

What Sony needs to do to make PS Now shine

A globe of screens behind the words All You Can Play.

Unless Sony starts making more deals with third parties to bring its games to the service on day one (or do what it said it wouldn’t and add its own within a reasonable time), PS Now is never going to keep pace with Game Pass, which has dwarfed PS Now’s subscriber count in a fraction of the time. It didn’t need to be this way. Sony showed off PS Now at its worst, then spent years slowly adding features, content, and value without really making a big enough deal about it. I think I saw one commercial for PS Now over a year ago. Since then, no commercials, no ads on sites, and, worst of all, no mention of it from Sony during any of its presentations.

PS Now is actually a better deal price-wise than Game Pass, and Sony would benefit from actually letting players know. PS Now is actually cheaper than Xbox Game Pass and offers more games. If you’re looking at both services at their full price for a year, PS Now will cost you $60, which boils down to $5 per month, and Game Pass Ultimate is $15 per month.

I’d bet there are millions of PlayStation owners out there who would love PS Now if they just knew it existed. It only hurts more that the biggest voices in gaming openly trash it while admitting to either not using it or only using it back when it was new and janky. PS Now needs advocates, but it won’t get them if Sony doesn’t get more people interested in it. It doesn’t have the same marketing drum to beat as Game Pass with the day-one first-party games, but that’s not a good reason to let this service just kind of dry out.

Services like PS Now and Game Pass are the future. PS Now could’ve been paving the way, but Sony let Game Pass steal the spotlight and now appears on the backfoot despite being a better service. The streaming is better than expected on a decent connection, there are hundreds of actually really good games to download with more added each month, and while improvements aren’t as frequent as I’d like, it is getting better year after year.

If you have a PS4 or PS5, give the free trial of PS Now a shot if you haven’t yet. It’s way better than you think.

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