When Netflix started streaming TV shows and movies in 2007, it kicked off an entertainment revolution that allowed subscribers to access an enormous amount of content without leaving the house. The innovation, which lets users watch videos on demand using their internet connection, kicked off an arms race between media companies, including Amazon and Disney. It also created the question of who would create the first great streaming service for video games.
Sony led the charge in that space in 2014 with the launch of PlayStation Now. It's being challenged by Google Stadia, which launched in November at the same price point. Unlike digital downloads, video these game streaming services aren't limited by your device's memory, and you won't have to wait hours between making your selection and starting your game. If you have a strong and consistent internet connection, you should be able to pick a title and start playing instantly. Both of these services offer free trials so you can test them out for yourself, but which is best for your gaming needs?
The streaming experience
First things first, let's break down the differences. While it's not a perfect service (it has lost some of its appeal when Sony stopped allowing streaming on its portable Vita system), PlayStation Now does provide a Netflix-style experience. The service enables users to access hundreds of recent and classic games for $10 a month. While it's designed for the PlayStation 4, you can also use the service on your PC.
Google Stadia has a much more limited library and a different payment structure that allows you to buy digital copies of many games. It is the only way to stream AAA titles as soon as they release and also has the added advantage of letting you play games on-the-go that you'd normally only have access to at home. The games also can be played in higher resolutions. You can find all the essential information for both services below.
|Google Stadia||PlayStation Now|
|Price||$120/year or $10/month||$60/year or $10/month|
|Number of games||Nearly 40||More than 800|
|Games included with subscription||Less than 10||More than 800|
|Access to new releases||Yes||No|
|Download||None||More than 300 titles|
|Available regions||14 countries||19 countries|
|Portable play||Yes (Android devices)||No|
|Free trial duration||Two months||One week|
|Resolution||1080p (normally 4K)||720p|
Google Stadia shines in its streaming capabilities. The service normally offers 4K streaming, though it's currently limiting resolution to 1080p to conserve bandwidth during our current situation. That's still better than the 720p that PlayStation Now maxes out at. PlayStation Now users may also be required to wait in a queue when they're trying to stream during high traffic times. You can play another game on your console while you wait and will be notified when the game you wanted to stream is ready.
While Stadia often delivers an exceptional streaming experience, letting you start playing a game without any updates or downloads, it's useless when your internet is down and can experience terrible lag even when it's working. PlayStation Now mitigates that risk by letting you download hundreds of games to your PS4. You'll just need to be logged into the service once a week so it can verify your membership is still valid since you'll lose access to those downloads if you're unsubscribed.
Unfortunately, save data doesn't automatically transfer between downloaded and streamed games, so you'll have to manually transfer data to online storage if you want to alternate between versions.
Who's got game?
While Google Stadia offers immediate access to brand new AAA games like Doom Eternal, the service's library of about 40 titles is minuscule compared to the selection of more than 800 PS2, PS3, and PS4 games included with PlayStation Now. You also have to pay full retail price for the majority of Stadia's games while PlayStation Now's entire library is included with the subscription. Google says a free tier is coming soon, but you'll currently lose access to the games you purchased should you cancel your subscription.
Stadia has been steadily expanding its library of games and promises to have 120 games by the end of 2020. It's also pursuing more exclusive launch windows for games. That could eventually make the service more enticing, but so far, the ones it's gotten have been small titles like Gylt. That's a lot less exciting than the ability to stream some of PS4's beloved older exclusives like Marvel's Spider-Man and The Last of Us.
Where can you play?
Both PlayStation Now and Google Stadia allow you to stream games on your PC using wired controllers, though Google promises the ability to play wirelessly is coming soon. You can play games on your TV using your PS4 or the Chromecast Ultra and Stadia controller, respectively. In both cases, progress is linked to your account, not the system, so you can easily move between platforms.
Stadia's most significant advantage is portability. Its games can be played on most Android devices, making it the only way to play some games like Destiny 2 on the go. PlayStation Now used to allow gameplay on the PlayStation Vita along with the PS3, but the service became limited to PC and PS4 in 2017. Considering Sony has no plans to release a new handheld console, PlayStation Now is pretty much useless outside of your home.
Test it out or make a commitment
To alleviate the boredom, so many people feel while stuck inside, Google is giving away two-month subscriptions to Stadia Pro. If you already had a subscription or had started a trial, you won't be billed for the next two months. That's a lot more time to try out the service than the seven free days you get with PlayStation Now.
If you do decide you want to stay subscribed, PlayStation Now offers big value through a year-long subscription for $60. If you're not ready for that kind of commitment, you can still get a discount by signing up for three months for $25. Stadia doesn't currently offer any long-term packages, requiring everyone to pay the $10/month.
The comparisons are irrelevant if the service isn't available where you live. Stadia is not available in Guam or Hawaii and has a more limited reach outside of the United States. In fact, PlayStation Now has a strict superset of Stadia's range.
Google Stadia: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States.
PlayStation Now: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States.
Sony's PlayStation Now has been available in North America since 2014, while Google just got into the video game business by launching Stadia in November. That difference means that while Stadia provides some genuinely impressive technological capabilities, PlayStation Now feels far more developed.
4K streaming is a phenomenal offering when it's working, and even the more limited current 1080p looks great. Plus, you'll never be stuck waiting in a queue to play a hot game you're itching to try. The disadvantage is that you're going to have to pay full price for most titles, which defeats a lot of the point of having a subscription plan. If you want to play Destiny on your phone, this is the service for you. While you're stuck at home looking for a new game to get into without spending a lot of money, you'd be better off with PlayStation Now.
Sony's library dwarfs Google's, including relatively recent exclusives like Marvel's Spider-Man plus plenty of classics from previous generations. All of them are included in your $10/month. If you're concerned about your bandwidth being throttled, which is especially a big concern with so many people at home streaming during the pandemic, you can download a few titles to keep yourself busy offline. It would be nice if PlayStation Now had new releases and a way to game in bed, but until Stadia offers more features and a bigger selection of games, PlayStation Now is the better streaming option.
Needs more seasoning
Stadia isn't living up to its promise
The two-month free trial makes Stadia enticing, but unless substantial improvements are made soon, you should plan on canceling your subscription after June. While the service provides an impressive option for portable gaming enthusiasts, the high price and limited number of games keep it from really competing.
A massive games library
Catch up on the classics
You can't stream big new titles on PlayStation Now, but Sony's massive library extending over three console generations should provide plenty of entertainment. If you're concerned about bandwidth issues, the ability to download games will keep your playtime from being interrupted.