Sony’s pivot to services has been extremely beneficial to the company, with just PSN famously generating more revenue than all of Nintendo managed in 2018. That’s an eye watering statistic, and though it lacks broader context, it does make the core point it is supposed to – services are integral to PlayStation at this point, and while they might not be central to the platform’s identity, like on Xbox, they are still important to PlayStation as a whole.
Which is also why the sheer patchiness and inconsistent quality and reach of those services has been so confusing to watch this generation. Throughout the PS4 cycle, Sony has stumbled upon a forward thinking value proposition, only to completely bungle it and cede the lead to someone else – look at what they did with Remote Play, with SharePlay, with PS Now, with their PS2 Classics initiative, or PS Vue. And none of this accounts for how much their core PS+ offerings and PSN have also continued to frequently underwhelm, and on a lot of occasions, flat out not justify the expense that is necessary to access online functionality on the console.
With over 40 million subscribers for PS Plus, and a generation transition coming up, this represents the best chance Sony will get to cut loose some of the baggage that PlayStation services have accrued over the years and start fresh. Sony has already made strides on this front in the last few years of the PS4 cycle – they relented on full cross platform play, as an example, and they have started to embrace digital refunds, as well as username changes. There are still minor outstanding issues with PSN as a whole, including most of all its frequently criticized slow download and upload speeds, its inability to separate a game purchase from a game redeemed via a service like PS+ or PS Now, or just the simple fact you still cannot change your account region – but that is what these problems are, minor.
Sony would do well to address them, however, because the broader PSN experience can feel shockingly wanting next to Steam or even Xbox Live. Both of those services make downloads quick and effortless (as opposed to the storage space management every single download on PS4 inevitably prompts, thanks to the PS4’s bizarre file system, which needs space to download a game package, and then space to unpack and install it (essentially meaning you need more space to download a game than the game’s file size indicates), both of those services allow you to change your profile region, and redeeming a free game on Xbox Live Games with Gold or EA Access does not block you from purchasing that game later, as often happens on PS4, with PS+ or PS Now games frequently registering as already “purchased” in a user’s library even after those respective subscriptions may have lapsed.
These are smaller things I am mentioning here, however (though they do serve to illustrate Sony’s haphazard approach to services this generation). There are broader problems with Sony’s services offerings too. And no, I do not mean to imply that they should turn PS Now into a Game Pass competitor, because I am aware that the Game Pass model simply does not work for a publisher that sells millions upon millions of units of its flagship releases due to an expectation of quality and polish. But Sony doesn’t need to make PS Now into Game Pass and release all its games on the service day and date for it to improve that service (as well as other services offerings, past and future, Sony may have).
Again, these are things Sony has started on – PS Now got a price drop across all subscription tiers last year, and it started to get more notable games added to its library (albeit on a temporary basis). Next generation, however, Sony needs to go further with this service offering.
For starters, while I understand that Rockstar or Atlus may not be thrilled at the prospect of having Grand Theft Auto V or Persona 5 available to download and play limitlessly for PS Now subscribers – as in, I understand why those games were only on PS Now temporarily – I do not understand why that same logic must extend to Sony’s own games. Once more, to be clear, I am not saying Sony should start putting its games on PS Now day and date – that move would be terrible for Sony from a business perspective, at least in the here and now. However, there are still older Sony first party games, which either have not been made available on PS Now at all, or have only been on there for 90 days before being removed. And, again, this isn’t referencing games like Gran Turismo Sport or DriveClub, where you might even expect licensing issues to make things more complicated (though Microsoft seems to handle that just fine with the Forza games and Game Pass) – but some major titles like were put on PS Now and removed just 90 days later.
Why games (like Spider-Man) were removed from the service still makes at least some sense (they are relatively newer, and aren’t yet done selling). But old exclusives have accrued most of the sales they will have over their lives, and belong to Sony, so there are no rights issues at play either. So why they are not permanently on PS Now? Why is Bloodborne not on there? Ratchet and Clank? Sony could easily use these older games (which it frequently sells at firesale prices on sale anyway, meaning they aren’t really making much money from unit sales for them) to induce people to subscribe to the service – but they simply have not.
PS Now has other issues (which are shared by most other Sony services as well) – these include a total lack of marketing (meaning most people are simply not aware that the service exists, or what it is for), as well as a lack of reach (meaning most markets in the world don’t have PS Now available to them, not even the download-only option). It is my hope that Sony is planning on addressing these problems all at once when the PS5 launches, rather than taking on the task in the sunset years of their current console.
A final issue Sony must address with their services is their support for online functionality in their games. Sony has the worst track record on this front, not just compared to Microsoft and Nintendo, who generally attempt to support online functionality for their legacy games longer, but just in general. Flagship Sony titles such as Gravity Rush 2 or the yearly MLB games have had their online functionality gutted in less than a year at times – why are we paying Sony for PS+ (as a reminder, they have raised the price on that service multiple times this generation) if they can’t even keep the servers running for their own games? What is that money going towards? Because given the broad issues I have identified with their offerings in quality and reach, it doesn’t seem to be going towards those, at least.
Sony’s “pivot to services” is ultimately very different from Microsoft’s. Where Microsoft is looking to make services their primary offering, and the basis of their platform, Sony is using its services to supplement its core hardware and software offerings. Both are valid strategies – Sony’s is closer to Apple’s than Microsoft’s, and that’s something people need to remember when assessing what Sony is doing on this front.
So yes, even though Sony doesn’t need to go full Game Pass, there are a lot of improvements they can and should look into making to further consolidate the already strong position they are in.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.