PS Now Keeps Taking One Step Forward and Two Steps Back
PlayStation Now is supposed to be Sony's response to Xbox Game Pass, the service commonly known as the best deal in gaming. Despite the large library of games offered through PlayStation Now, the service continues to falter, consistently taking one step forward and two steps back.
The latest example is the addition of the PS4 versions of Borderlands 3 and Marvel’s Avengers.
These games are available to PS5 owners through PS Now via backwards compatibility. While their upgraded versions are available for those who have outright purchased the games, they're unavailable for PlayStation 5 owners playing them through PS Now.
PlayStation has found great success and been fairly consistent with its other subscription service, PlayStation Plus, which not only lets players enjoy games online but offers other great perks as well, such as steeper discounts on select games during sales, early access to demos, exclusive content, and, most importantly, complementary games each month.
PlayStation Now, however, has not been as successful.
The most recent user numbers for PlayStation Now reveal only 2.2 million players use the service. Compare that to PlayStation Plus’ 41.5 million user base. Granted, these services play much different roles in the PlayStation ecosystem, but it is still noteworthy that the gap between them is so vast.
Especially in comparison to similar services in the sphere of Xbox.
Xbox Live, the oldest of these services on Microsoft's platform, boasts a user base of over 90 million, while its up-and-coming sibling, Game Pass, recently hit 18 million users. Sure, it is still a large gap between the two services, but it is shrinking rapidly.
From September 2020 to January 2021, Game Pass subscriptions grew by over three million users, while it took PlayStation Now a year to grow by just one million. Before that, it took Sony years to get one million PS Now subs.
As it stands, the gap between Game Pass and Xbox Live will only continue to shrink as Microsoft keeps making first- and third-party games available on Game Pass the same day they launch (Square Enix's Outriders being just the latest example).
So what’s the deal with PlayStation Now? Why aren't PlayStation users buying into the service?
PS Now's massive library gives players access to games from three console generations, many of which can be downloaded rather than streamed. New games are added to it each month, and many of them are recent releases — like Marvel’s Avengers. In theory, it should be an automatic home run with the install base.
But even as good as PS Now may seem, not only has it been an arduous journey for the service to reach its current form, it still has a variety of issues contributing to its tepid growth, many of which come down to marketing and execution.
All these years later, there still exists the misconception that PlayStation Now is purely a streaming service. In the beginning, yes: it was a streaming-focused service. But in 2018, Sony started allowing users to download games. It was a great step forward for PS Now, as the service's poor streaming quality was one of its biggest flaws.
But there was (and still is) a catch: PS3 games can't be downloaded. At all.
And while the library contains PS2, PS3, and PS4 games, not every console generation is treated with the same care. For example, there are only 16 PS2 games available on PlayStation Now (though some were remastered for PS3 and PS4, making that number slightly larger if you take those into account). Either way, it's astounding that one of the largest gaming libraries on a single console is ostensibly absent from a service offered by the same console's manufacturer.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the PS4 library is the best aspect of PS Now. But as a service meant to provide ready access to games from three console generations, PS Now's focus on its PS4 catalog is to the service's detriment, especially as more PS5s are sold and those cross-gen games don't provide cross-gen access, as is the case with Marvel's Avengers and Borderlands 3.
While there are 700 games available between the three platforms, there are still significant absences, too, whether they be first- or third-party titles.
Neither the first two Dead Space games (EA) nor the first two Resistance games (Insomniac) are available through the PS3 section of the service, yet the third entry in both series is.
PS Now is also missing titles like Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction, yet includes others like Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest For Booty, a game that was originally released as standalone DLC taking place after the events of Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction.
It's all so needlessly confusing and inconsistent.
After seven years on the market, players are still confused about PS Now's role in the PlayStation ecosystem, not to mention its features and inclusions. Do subscribers even know they can play PS Now games on PC?
The reason Game Pass continues to gain traction is because Microsoft is very clear on what Game Pass is, and, more importantly, we are clear on what Game Pass is because of that. Add to that Game Pass allows players to download games and access the best versions of those games, and GP has a recipe for continued success.
Considering previous missteps, it isn’t very surprising that as PlayStation Now begins to integrate PS4 games that have upgraded PS5 versions, access to those next-gen versions isn't included (at least yet). It's a shame that some subscribers are forced to buy a title if they want the next-gen version of it, especially when they are likely subbing to PS Now to avoid that very scenario.
Here's to hoping PlayStation changes course sooner rather than later. Change could very well be brewing, according to a report from VGC, in the form of an entirely new response to Game Pass. Whatever the case, we'll have to wait and see what Sony does.