If it wasn’t obvious from this week’s Xbox live stream event, not to mention Microsoft’s positioning over the last half a year, the Xbox Game Pass service is to be a crucial component of the Microsoft next-gen strategy. But even before we get to the future, the present tells us now that the PC and Xbox-based service is a phenomenal deal and an absolute requirement if you’re able to buy into either or both of those ecosystems. Discounts, early access to games, new first-party titles becoming immediately available all for a monthly subscription. What’s not to love? And that’s a big problem for Sony going forward because PlayStation Now is a shoddy, stitched together service in comparison to Xbox Game Pass, and its a problem that will continue to haunt Sony if it isn’t mindful of the future.
If you don’t really know what PS Now even offers I wouldn’t blame you, as the service has a strange disconnect from the rest of the Sony ecosystem. There’s no tie-in to your larger PS Plus account, and besides my PS4 occasionally shouting at me in regards to how PS Now is a great deal, there isn’t a lot of cohesion. Born from the purchased remnants of the game-streaming service Gaikai, it could be argued that its the biggest $400 million dollar mistake Sony ever made. I was in the original beta for PS Now when it was still a PlayStation 3 endeavor and from the start it was obvious that the service’s stomach was bigger than its mouth, so to speak. Choppy, overly reliant on the Sony hardware’s abysmal ethernet and WiFi capabilities, and poor in its game selection, PS Now felt more like a proof of concept for the future than a thing you’d want to buy into.
Not much has changed since then.
I subscribed to both Xbox Game Pass on PC and PS Now this week to give both a fair shake. The experiences couldn’t be more night and day, with Sony actively making me feel like they don’t even want my business. I tackled this comparison from the PC perspective because I’m already familiar with the PS Now on PS4 experience, which is to say that it is awful. The PlayStation 4 is an impressive machine but has always failed to be an internet connection powerhouse. Even on an ethernet cable the download times and streaming quality were “alright” at best.
The PS Now setup on PC was somehow even worse. Where to even start with how awful getting into this ecosystem was? The free trial is hidden behind layers of menus. I was forced to create a new account to even log into the PS Now app thanks to a long-running server error upon trying to use my regular PlayStation account–a problem that now goes back almost two years based on Google searches. When I finally got into the app I’m given even more hurdles, as the game launch button for most of the titles didn’t work. Speaking of the titles, is anyone supposed to be impressed by the game selection on PS Now? Admittedly, I am neck-deep in the day to day of the games industry and play far more than most people. However, the newest game I was met with was Remedy’s Control.
And let’s not ignore the game streaming itself, which is a nightmare and a half. Locked into a 720p resolution, every game I experienced felt like attempting to play the console of a next-door neighbor through their bedroom window while I’m in my own house. A stitched-together slog of a game experience that, even at the most optimal of settings was still not the way I’d ever want to play any game all the way through. For sixty dollars a year its the kind of service that should be doing more with what it has.
And while the console version does offer game downloads, I can’t advocate for the games available when Xbox Game Pass manages to do so much more. Sure, the price is almost double that of PS Now, but what Xbox Game Pass offers is an experience that is the closest to the fabled “Netflix of Gaming” that any cloud-streaming games service has reached to this point, and a lot of that comes with ease of access. The PC version of Game Pass had me immediately on its library page within seconds of signing up. A game library, mind you, that is a real value thanks to being so up to date and revolving. The UI is simple, and most of all, it actually works; something I couldn’t always say about PS Now.
How important is PS Now to Sony? It’s hard to tell just yet, but we do know how important Xbox Game Pass is to Microsoft. If this week’s live stream event didn’t make it apparent, the service is the cornerstone of the Xbox experience moving forward, and one that works exactly as described. Which is to say that it is incredibly new-user friendly and easy to understand. While Sony most definitely has the upper hand in the first-party exclusives department, Microsoft has spent the last few years reinventing the value of a subscription games service with a library you want to play. I think that’s what has caught my imagination so much with Xbox Game Pass, is that this small, cultivated library of games is more appealing than the 300 or so titles that currently sit on my Steam account, or the myriad games I’ve gotten through PS Plus. Not to mention xCloud streaming is being bundled free with Game Pass, effectively making it a Stadia competitor too. You can basically have access to your entire Xbox account anywhere from the cloud.
Can Sony turn the PS Now train around? It really depends on how much value it places in the service. Their attempts thus far have felt slapped together at best, and thoughtless at worst. Xbox Game Pass has been the first time in a long while that I’ve been jealous of the competition, and as a Sony guy that’s a hard bullet to bite. But a deal is a deal and Game Pass is attractive enough that it could take people away from the Sony side of the fence, or at least pique their curiosity. If that’s the case for someone such as myself who is very much a Sony consumer then what chance do they stand with people who are ready to be swayed by a better deal?