Microsoft announced today that its xCloud service would be expanding even further along with its Game Pass subscription. Again. Meanwhile, PS Now is lagging behind as a last-gen service.
I’m invested in just about every gaming ecosystem there is. I’ve put a lot of time and money into PlayStation over the years, as well as Xbox and Nintendo. I’ve got an Oculus Quest sitting pretty and Stadia controller next to my gaming-capable desktop. It keeps me from my work more than I’d like to admit. But that’s because it’s easy. I just hit the Stadia website, click a game, and then less than 20 seconds later I’m playing. That will soon be the case with Xbox as Microsoft pushes its cloud gaming service onto more screens with television deals, Xbox All Access via retailers, and browsers, with support for Chrome, Edge, and Safari coming to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers in the coming weeks. As a subscriber, I’m excited. But what about PS Now?
I’m subscribed to everything, including PS Now, but it’s easily the weakest of the bunch. Not because it doesn’t work or doesn’t have a great library, but because it’s just not as open or as accessible. At the time of writing, I can only use PlayStation Now on my PS4, PS5, or PC. That’s three devices and one of them is now redundant. On PC, I have to use the PS Now app rather than being able to go through a browser. That might not seem like a big deal but when the app regularly crashes or straight up fails to start, it’s annoying and it takes away the convenience of streaming a game. It’s supposed to be quick and easy. Most of the time, it’s a pain in the backside.
And, we’re in 2021. Things have changed. Dedicated handheld consoles are a thing of the past (sadly) as smartphones have taken over. I was in the hospital for a while a couple of months ago for a stroke – I lived, thanks for asking – and I had bugger all to do. I had my phone with me and a bunch of tablets – the medicinal kind, not Samsungs and iPads – and not much else. But my broken brain remembered that I didn’t even need a controller to play some games via Stadia or xCloud. Some games can be played using on-screen controls. Not ideal by any means, but I was entertained and glad to see I wasn’t too damaged. The irony is, I was in my hospital bed wearing my Pure PlayStation t-shirt (my partner brought me some clothes and took the piss in the process…) playing Xbox and Stadia. Where was PlayStation in my hour of need? Where were you, Sony? I needed you!
Dramatics aside, it did highlight that a) I need to move more and b) PlayStation is still restricted to the living room, and I have a suspicion that’s where Sony wants to keep it. I can see the reasons, too. Playing on the big screen is always going to be the best way to enjoy those flagship releases like God of War, Horizon Forbidden West, and so on. They’re events and Sony has carefully cultivated an aura around its games. They’re moments to be revered and respected, not cheapened by playing on a teenager’s half-smashed phone with Tik Toc notifications blocking Aloy’s face.
It’s probably why we don’t see those first-party releases hit PS Now on day one, too. They’re moneymakers and once you tell people that they don’t need to pay for those marquee releases, where’s the hype? Where’s the anticipation? Where’s that little feeling in your gut saying “I could be about to piss $70 into the wind”? The event loses a bit of its sting because it’s suddenly open to a lot more people. Games are getting more expensive and to be among the first to play and partake in the conversation is a luxury and part of the brand image whether we like it or not. You’re either part of the cool club or you’re not.
Availability isn’t the only issue when it comes to PS Now. As good as the service is – and it has come a long way since its early days – it’s still lagging behind the competition when it comes to cross-gen releases, something that is a big point of contention for me.
I got quite excited when it was announced that Marvel’s Avengers would be added to PS Now. Stuart has been banging on about the game since he reviewed it last year and I was happy to finally have a chance to play without having to pony up the cash.
My annual PS Now subscription fee of £49.99 was about to pay for itself and I would have a shiny next-gen game to add to the collection. Nope. My subscription only allows me to download the PS4 version of any game on PS Now, even if it has a free upgrade path to the PS5 edition if one exists. Why? On Xbox I turn on whichever of the four(!) consoles that litter my house and whatever I download from Game Pass, I get the version that works best on my console. No bother. No fuss. I go into the living room, I’ve got the Series X with all the next-gen versions. I go to my boy’s room, we can multiplayer whatever he wants to beat me in on the One S. My cluttered desk plays host to the Series S, perfectly suited to monitor play. And in the bedroom, the One X does my Sunday morning Netflix. Soon, my phone, the family tablets, and the numerous desktops and laptops will be playing the Series X versions of games via xCloud.
PlayStation Now, meanwhile, is stuck as a last-gen service and I find myself asking: PlayStation, when? I want to go swinging around New York as Spider-Man the next time I find myself in the hospital, assuming my hands aren’t the reason. I want to skive off writing for Pure PlayStation by sneaking in some PlayStation games on my browser. When can I do this? When will Sony take the next step? When will PS Now seem like good value again? When will PS Plus and PS Now be merged into one super subscription? When, PlayStation?