Today Sony released a new commercial for its long-running streaming service, PlayStation Now.
It’s a clever ad that gives a bombastic contextualization of what a streaming service provides and fits in well with the aesthetic of other recent PlayStation adverts. On top of the ad, they’ve slashed the subscription price as well, and added, at least temporarily, a few of the PS4’s greatest hits, God of War, GTA V, Uncharted 4, and InFAMOUS Second Son.
Why the sudden push on a five-year-old service? I think the answer is pretty obvious, but before we get there, let’s go through some history.
PlayStation Now launched in 2014. It was built off of the technology and patents that Sony acquired when they purchased the streaming tech startup Gaikai in 2012 for $380 million. When PlayStation Now launched, it hit the ground limping. The streaming business model is very different from existing delivery methods and appropriate pricing is a challenge. Sony has a large buyout to recoup, and game streaming directly costs them on a per instance, per-second basis. So how much should that convenience be worth to the end-user? Their initial offering had little more than overpriced short term (even mere hours) rentals. In many cases, the entire physical (or even digital!) game could be purchased for the same price or less than a 90-day rental.
By 2015, they adopted the much more reasonable subscription model, even if it was still priced at a premium. Also in 2015, Sony purchased the assets from the defunct OnLive, although I suspect this was merely a tactical move to limit competition. I doubt any of OnLive’s assets have been added to or were needed for the already operational PlayStation Now service. 2016 added PC support via a PS Now app, but 2017 dropped support on the PS3 and PS Vita. One step forward, two steps back.
Things remained pretty quiet for the service for a while. It was first positioned as a way of adding some form of backward compatibility to the PS4 before the sheer available game count started to be the trumpeted feature.
The latest addition to the service was added in early 2018, a selection of titles that can be downloaded for play on PS4. This benefit was added with no additional charge to subscribers. Now, this is important, so let me say that again. With a PS Now subscription, you can not only pick from over 700+ games to stream on-demand but now some select games can be downloaded and played locally. Why would Sony add downloaded games to a streaming solution? Especially when its own PlayStation Plus already offers a similar proposition? Well, to answer that we need only to look at the PlayStation 4’s competitor. The second positioned Xbox One offered its own subscription download game service, Game Pass, in early 2017 and by early 2018 they announced that first-party titles would launch with Game Pass. This is separate from its existing Xbox Live Gold and Games with Gold offers and really brought Game Pass to some prominence. Sound familiar? It seems to me that Sony is actively positioning PlayStation Now as a “me too” platform in the face of competition.
So back to my original question. Why so much focus and effort now?
I think the answer to that is very prominently displayed in the current messaging. Like in this ad for PS Now on PC.
And in this ad, not for PS Now, but instead for PS4 Remote Play streaming to Sony Xperia phones.
Favorite games. More Screens. Where have I heard that pitch before?
Oh, yes. That is one of the biggest promises of Google Stadia. It seems to me that Sony’s current PlayStation messaging with both PS Now and PS4 Remote Play (which don’t forget is also available to Mac, PC, Vita, PS TV, in addition to some smart devices) is to get in front of Google Stadia’s promises with a reminder that “we do those things too, and we’re here now!”
It’s not that I think Sony sees Stadia as in imminent threat, although that might be a part of it. It’s just that they need to remind people that you don’t have to wait for streaming’s future promises, they are here now and have been here for years.
Stadia is really intriguing, especially with a company as big (and as cash-flush) as Google behind it, but when it launches, what is initially on offer isn’t really that innovative.
Will greater innovations come with time? Almost certainly, assuming Stadia exists for long enough.
But if you are cautiously curious about Stadia, the best advice I can give you is to try the cloud gaming solutions that already exist and are struggling to find their own market share. If you have the appropriate device, try out GeForce Now. In the UK? Try Antstream Arcade. Try PS Now, it has a free trial.
And I think the messaging and aggressive pricing is Sony’s best play to gain at least some much-needed attention to show the possibilities that their services and hardware provide.
I’ve used and enjoyed PS Now and I can say that this current subscription price is the first time I felt it had the right value proposition. The only thing that prevents me from grabbing a one-year PS Now subscription right now is that I already have too many games, too little time, and waste too much money on things that I don’t maximize the use of. But I’m sure that I’ll have an upcoming moment of weakness, and so I’ll probably be a proud PS Now subscriber soon enough.