Sony and Microsoft have very different priorities.
Last week, Sony did something I honestly did not expect them to do right now—they started to make moves to make PS Now a much more compelling and competitive prospect than it currently is.
A lot has been said about PS Now’s potential value to Sony in a subscription-service dominated world, both in terms of game streaming, and in terms of being a Game Pass competitor, but it’s interesting to see Sony actually do something about it. A cheaper price, and putting some of the biggest games available on the system in the lineup is an aggressive set of moves. I actually even agree with Sony’s decision to make those big games available only on a temporary basis—not only does that tie in with Sony’s business model focusing on discrete unit sales for software much better, but it also encourages subscriptions to the service right now, unless you want to miss your chance to play God of War.
PS Now has a whole lot of potential, of course, simultaneously giving Sony a leg in the Game Pass and the game-streaming market. And getting the service back in the news right ahead of the upcoming Stadia launch was also a good move. But Sony is still a far cry from having PS Now be meaningfully competitive against at least Game Pass—its effectiveness against streaming services is yet to be determined, and for all we know, it leads that segment—but for those who are rallying around PS Now as finally being PS4’s answer to Game Pass, well, for a variety of reasons, it’s still not.
Game Pass has a smaller lineup than the over 600 games available on PS Now, but most of those games are newer and very current. Games are often available on Game Pass at launch, or they launch just a few months later. Every Microsoft first party game is available on Game Pass at launch. Game Pass has absorbed Xbox Live Gold with Game pass Ultimate. Microsoft engages in very aggressive price promotions for Game Pass, frequently making it available for $1 a month. Game Pass is also available for PCs.
Literally none of this is true for PS Now. It has a bigger lineup, mostly of older games. No game launches on PS Now, and certainly not Sony first party games. PS Now remains a separate subscription from PS Plus (albeit you don’t need PS Plus to play PS Now games online). While PS Now has received a price drop, it’s hard to see Sony offering it for fire sale prices like Microsoft does. And PS Now games are not natively available on PC or mobile—streaming only, and PS Now’s streaming infrastructure currently is lacking, though their deal with Microsoft to use Azure as the backbone for PS Now will certainly help with that in the future.
But, PS Now is now Game Pass. It needs to stop being billed as a Game Pass competitor, because it’s not. More importantly, Sony doesn’t need a Game Pass competitor—in fact, Game Pass is actively antithetical to the larger strategy Sony adapts for its games, versus Microsoft, who are embracing services as their future across the board.
Sony believes in having high end, premium software that sells a lot of discrete units to facilitate and perpetuate the continued development of high end software, which in turn also acts as a reason to invest in the PlayStation ecosystem to begin with. Sony wants you to buy the PS4 so you can buy God of War to play it. Sony does not want you to just play God of War, even if you forego the whole “buy a PS4” step. That’s why Sony’s games are still natively exclusive to their hardware, and will probably continue to be. Sony’s strategy is to earn money on the hardware, and earn money on the software, and also then earn money from subscriptions. Any overlap or consolidation of those three separate revenue streams means a hit to Sony, which they would rather not have unless they absolutely need to have it (such as, if the market changes enough that such a shift is necessary).
Put simply: Microsoft exists to sell you game subscriptions, and Xbox, as part of Microsoft, has also pivoted to Game Pass subscriptions being the central pillar of their larger strategy. Sony, especially PlayStation, exists to sell you its hardware and the games for that hardware, and also sell you subscriptions—but the subscriptions are never the point, and will never get top billing at the expense of the hardware and software sales.
None of this is to say they won’t continue to make PS Now competitive. I fully foresee Horizon: Zero Dawn and Days Gone put on the service as part of the rotating lineup of their first party games, as an example, and they will probably expand the hardware that PS Now is available on, such as with wider official support for phones. They will also increase its availability in more countries, because right now PS Now is only available in a handful of markets. But PS Now will never become Sony’s primary platform for game delivery like Game Pass has become for Microsoft—not until the market has irrevocably shifted to subscription services as the overwhelmingly dominant form of games consumption. PS Now will continue to exist, and be great, but it will always play second- and third-fiddle to Sony wanting to push hardware and game sales with PlayStation. That’s explicitly what informs their whole PlayStation strategy.
And in the end, I think it’s good. Game Pass is doing great for Microsoft, but what Sony does clearly works exceptionally well for them (and just in general, given the overwhelming success of the PS4 and their games this generation). I don’t think Sony should stop doing what they do well just to chase Microsoft’s pot of gold, just as I don’t think they should make the PS5 a hybrid tablet console just to chase Nintendo’s. They are very clearly great at what they do—and that’s what they should keep doing.
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.