If you've read some of my articles lately — particularly the one where I say PlayStation keeps shooting itself in the foot — you'd probably think my outlook on PlayStation is all doom and gloom. Honestly, it isn't. PlayStation is in no danger of going under or anything like that; I just think it's losing some of the magic it had during the PS4 era. That said, I only bring up its problems because I want it to be better — and I know it can be better. One area that it desperately needs to be better in is PlayStation Now.
What PlayStation Now offers right now is fine, but it could be so much better.
What PlayStation Now offers right now is fine. You get access to over 800 games, most of which can be downloaded instead of streamed, and it only costs $60/year, half the cost of Microsoft's Game Pass Ultimate. But considering most of the games are older releases and you can't stream these games through Remote Play to your phone, it has some notable drawbacks compared to Xbox Game Pass.
PlayStation boss Jim Ryan has been on the record multiple times stating that its PlayStation Now model won't emulate Xbox Game Pass, and I think that's a mistake. As recently as September 2020, he made it clear that Sony would not launch its biggest exclusives into PlayStation Now as Xbox Game Studios does with its own service.
"For us, having a catalogue of games is not something that defines a platform," Ryan said in an interview with GamesIndustry.biz. "Our pitch, as you've heard, is 'new games, great games.' We have had this conversation before -- we are not going to go down the road of putting new releases titles into a subscription model. These games cost many millions of dollars, well over $100 million, to develop. We just don't see that as sustainable.
"We want to make the games bigger and better, and hopefully at some stage more persistent. So putting those into a subscription model on day one, for us, just doesn't make any sense. For others in a different situation, it might well make sense, but for us, it doesn't. We want to expand and grow our existing ecosystem, and putting new games into a subscription model just doesn't sit with that."
Back in 2019, in another interview with GamesIndustry, Ryan said something similar, though noted at the time that "our stance on the inclusion of first-party games in PlayStation Now in terms of what we've done this month is very different to our stance 12 months ago. I don't want to say this is what PlayStation Now is going to be like forever." Well, it appears as if that stance hasn't changed meaningfully.
It may seem like a small thing to some people, but having every Xbox-published title launch into Game Pass is a huge deal, especially now that Microsoft owns Bethesda. The Elder Scrolls 6 and Starfield will launch into Xbox Game Pass on day one. Imagine if Sony would have said that about The Last of Us Part 2 on PlayStation Now, or the upcoming God of War and Horizon Forbidden West titles.
It says a lot that publishers want to bring these games to Xbox Game Pass and not PlayStation Now.
And that's not to mention third-party games that seem to be eager to launch onto Xbox Game Pass, as well. Outriders, the latest sci-fi shooter from People Can Fly, came to Xbox Game Pass on day one. MLB The Show 21 is launching into Xbox Game Pass on April 20, a move that was decided by the MLB for the historically PlayStation-only franchise.
It says a lot that publishers want to bring these games to Xbox Game Pass and not PlayStation Now. While I don't know the specifics of these deals or what happens behind the scenes, Xbox Game Pass undoubtedly holds a larger share of social media conversations.
And to those who would question Game Pass' sustainability, Xbox head Phil Spencer says that its business model is completely sustainable as it is.
"I'll be honest, there are developers that have some concerns, and my inbox is there, and I have conversations with a lot of those developers asking what are our real long-term goals?" Spencer said on the DroppedFrames podcast. "You know we get questions about 'Hey, is this just some kind of go secure a bunch of players and then rack the price up to a new level?'
"I say there's no plan for us to do anything like that. We like the value that Game Pass is today and from a business model it's completely sustainable the way it is and I mean that."
It's unfortunate that PlayStation Now is being neglected like this because PlayStation Plus is actually going strong. Sony really seems to know what it's doing with PlayStation Plus, as evidenced by a few games releasing into the service since the launch of the PS5. Bugsnax, Destruction AllStars, and Oddworld: Soulstorm have all been available to PS Plus subscribers for free the same day they released. I wouldn't call those big names by any means, but I think it shows potential.
If anything, maybe the route Sony should take is combining PlayStation Plus with PlayStation Now in some form, or at the very least combining their subscriptions into a package like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. PlayStation Plus has a lot going for it right now. Members get access to the PlayStation Plus Collection, Game Help, Cloud storage, and exclusive discounts in addition to online multiplayer. Lumping PlayStation Now into that and bumping the price a bit seems like a smart move. I'd easily pay $10/month for it.
It's weird to see Sony put so much renewed effort into PlayStation Plus when PlayStation Now is sitting right there and actually needs the support. You can't let one flourish while the other suffers — though to be fair, I don't know what its financials look like. Judging by industry trends, I do expect Sony to follow suit with what Microsoft is doing with Xbox Game Pass, despite what PlayStation execs may say right now.
Who knows, maybe six months from now PlayStation Now will be a force to be reckoned with. As it stands, it looks pitiful compared to the competition.