In many ways, PlayStation Now is shaping up to be Sony’s biggest missed opportunity of the PS4 era.
PlayStation Now sounded like a pretty exciting service when it was first revealed in 2014. At the very least, it offered an easy way to play PS3 games at a time when Sony’s backward compatibility options were basically non-existent. At most, it offered a glimpse into an exciting world where PlayStation moves to the cloud. Fans imagined one day using the service to play a host of PS1 and PS2 titles atop the latest and greatest PS4 games.
The problems with PlayStation Now began with the nature of the service’s technology. Simply put, it turns out that streaming games can be a tricky business. If you don’t have an ideal internet connection, it can be impossible to use PlayStation Now at all. Even a good internet connection can struggle to consistently stream games at their highest quality.
You can argue over how much control Sony really has over that problem, but there are other, lingering problems they do have control over. The most notable of those offenders is the service’s thin library. PlayStation Now boasts the ability to play over 750 PS2, PS3, and PS4 titles, but the reality of the service is a bit different. Only 13 of those games are PS2 titles, and only a few are ones that we’d recommend. The PS4 selection boasts more titles, but don’t expect to get many of the latest and greatest games via this service. Essentially, PS Now still feels like a glorified PS3 emulator.
The bigger issue with PS Now, though, is how it stacks up to the competition. Google is promising to offer next-gen caliber gaming via the cloud with its Stadia service as well as the ability to play games across a variety of devices. Microsoft’s Game Pass doesn’t let you stream games, but it does feature new titles, a wide library of classics, and a lower price point than PS Now. In fact, Apple basically copied the Game Pass model with its recently revealed Apple Arcade service.
This all leaves PlayStation Now in an incredibly awkward spot. In fact, it leaves PlayStation Now in a spot where it has to either change or die.
To be fair, PlayStation Now has changed. Sony added the ability to download certain titles from the service just as they’ve added the ability to play some PS2 and PS4 games. Yet, the biggest holes that plague the service in the current marketplace have yet to be filled. There are still no day one digital releases of new games. The service’s price ($19.99 a month without discounts) still feels too high for what you’re getting. The streaming technology that powers PlayStation Now is already feeling outdated.
Now, Sony’s biggest advantage is that PlayStation Now exists. It’s an ongoing cloud service with a library that can be grown, an existing user base, and technology that can be improved. If Sony wants it to compete with Stadia and other services, they can theoretically make the necessary upgrades to do so.
If Sony wants to turn PlayStation Now into more of a Game Pass-like service, they can do that too. It will require more work and require them to admit some mistakes, but the option is out there. We think PlayStation Now could work very well as a subscription/download service.
The one thing PlayStation Now can do is linger on in its current form for a few more years. While it can survive in that form, PlayStation fans everywhere will always be left looking elsewhere at the better options they don’t have available to them.