Microsoft’s Game Pass is picking up momentum, but is it any match for Sony’s PlayStation Now? We’ll lay out the battlefield, from past to present, from catalogs to price points, to see which one is the better gaming service.
Microsoft’s Game Pass has generated a lot of buzz lately, with new games and new prospects being mentioned left and right. But PlayStation owners are looking at this buzz with confusion. They’ve had this service for years, what’s the big deal? Is Game Pass really worth the hype, or is it just playing catch up with big brother PS Now?
Where They Came From
Since PlayStation Now came out four years ago, it’s worth rewinding the clock a bit.
Prior to the PlayStation 4’s launch, Sony acquired Gaikai, a game streaming service that allowed games to be streamed to nearly any device with an internet connection. This created a lot of hype leading up to the release of the PS4 because it opened up the potential for backward compatibility and other streaming possibilities.
Three years after that acquisition, PlayStation Now was officially released, and the GaiKai technology was utilized to its fullest. While players didn’t get the PS1 & PS2 backward compatibility they were hoping for, they did have full PS3 compatibility on PS4, and eventually PS Now subscribers were able to stream games to PC.
Over time, PS Now evolved from a rental service into the subscription-based service we know today.
While Sony has since discontinued PS Now support for the PS3 and the PS Vita, the large library and the ability to stream PS3 and PS4 games to PC still makes PS Now a valued service.
Microsoft’s Game Pass is arriving a bit late to the party, having released just over six months ago (June 2017). That being said, this wait gave Microsoft more time to watch the adoption of streaming technology, build their library of backward compatible games, and assess how they wanted their service to enter the market.
Enter: the Xbox Game Pass. Rather than streaming games like its PSNow counterpart, Xbox’s Game Pass allows players to download games to their consoles, eliminating the need for internet after download, and shedding the woes of playing over a laggy internet connection.
But while Game Pass’s games are spared the issues of streaming, it is also spared the ability to stream to PC. So unfortunately, Game Pass players are confined to the Xbox One. That being said, the Xbox One is capable of streaming to a PC over a local network, Game Pass or no, but that does no good for players who own only a PC and not a console.
But that could change.
Microsoft did things a bit backward from Sony’s approach. Just this week, (January 29th, 2018), Microsoft announced their acquisition of PlayFab, a backend, cloud infrastructure company focused on reducing the barriers to bringing games to multiple devices. Sound familiar?
It’s basically GaiKai, but younger. It is possible that PlayFab’s youth will give it the advantage since they made their name in a time when cloud technology was more stable, and not cutting-edge as it was in GaiKai’s days. This means that PlayFab was built on slightly different, and perhaps more robust fundamentals than their big brother. But either way, we won’t have answers anytime soon. With the acquisition fresh off the books, we have a couple years to wait before we see the result of this development.
Who’s is Bigger? – Game Catalogues
At the end of the day, what does this mean for players? It means games, that’s what!
Much like Netflix, these services give players access to a catalog of games so long as they maintain their membership. But such a service is only as good as its content. So do Game Pass and PlayStation Now have games worth playing?
Game Pass launched with just over a hundred games, but Microsoft has been actively adding new games, and now the library sits just shy of 200 games, including Xbox 360 and original Xbox games.
Of course, Microsoft is sticking closely to the Netflix model, with games coming and going from month to month. Which means players have new games to look forward to every month, but it also means that players have to keep one eye on which games are heading out in case they haven’t finished one yet.
That being said, Game Pass’s most exciting feature is that new Microsoft games will be available in Game Pass on day one. This is something not seen in other services like EA Access and PS Now which usually wait a few months after a game’s release to add them to their catalogs.
While Game Pass has a couple hundred games, PS Now has over 600 games, 400 more than its competition. While their library lacks PS1 and PS2 titles, all the games can be played on PC. Players only need to pick up a Dualshock 4 wireless controller and adapter, no PS4 required.
Not to mention, PlayStation Now games are never at risk of going away. Once they are added to the catalog, they are there to stay. In practice, this means that some games can be a bit slow to come to PlayStation Now, but once they are there, players can rest assured that they can take however many months they want to finish them. Or play them several times over, so long as they maintain their subscription.
Of course, the PlayStation Now catalog also includes many of PlayStation’s exclusive titles, which gives it an edge over Microsoft in that regard. Unfortunately, Microsoft just doesn’t have a strong list of exclusives to compete.
Who Has the Biggest Bang for your Buck?
Note: all numbers below are “as of this writing.” (January 2018)
PlayStation now has an introductory price of $10 per month for new subscribers, but that price jumps to $20 after the first month.
Of course, if a player commits to a full year it costs $99, or just over $8 per month.
This one is easy: Game pass is $10 per month, regardless of whether you pay monthly or buy a full year for little Timmy.
For a monthly subscription, Game Pass is the winner at $10/month, vs. PlayStation Now’s $20/month.
Yearly, PlayStation Now is the winner at $99/year, vs Game Pass’s $120/year.
If these yearly prices look expensive, consider this: two brand new AAA games cost $60 each, or $120 total. Depending on the game and the player, those two games could give a couple weeks or a couple months of entertainment. Meanwhile, Sony and Microsoft’s subscription services give a player access to hundreds of games for a full year for the same price or less. The math says it all.
Where Will They Go From Here?
It is tempting to think that these services will go the way of Netflix vs. Hulu vs. Prime: everyone signing exclusive license deals to pull content away from the other services, and then producing exclusive content like mad to keep customers.
There are two flaws with this logic: For one, PlayStation has already won the exclusives battle in this round. And two, the overhead cost of switching from Xbone to PS4 and vice versa is way higher, so there is less threat of customers switching. The real threat is from customers buying a console for the first time, so Microsoft and Sony will have to convince customers upfront that their console is worth buying. To this end, every Xbox One comes with a free three month trial to Game Pass to sweeten the deal. An enticing deal for new customers who aren’t sure what games they want to buy yet.
And as I mentioned above, we have yet to see what Microsoft will do with their acquisition of PlayFab, and Microsoft still has a plethora of backward compatible games that can be readily dumped into the Game Pass pool. There is a lot of potential there, and that may be what has people excited.
But PlayStation still has the head start in technology, catalog size, and exclusive content. It remains to be seen how they will use that advantage to stay ahead of Game Pass’s growing hype.
TL;DR: Just Another Point of Contention in the Console Wars
At the end of the day, there is no clear winner here, although PlayStation clearly has the edge. When you boil down the pros and cons, it comes down to one simple question: what do you want to play?
Want to play new games the day they release, but don’t have the $60 for all of them?
Game Pass may be the way to go.
Want to play PlayStation Exclusive titles?
PlayStation Now, obviously.
Want the biggest bang for your buck?
Don’t have $100 to pay up front?
Game Pass is cheaper month-to-month.
Want to play on PC?
PlayStation Now streams all it’s titles to PC, but Xbox One is also capable of streaming to PC over a local connection.
And this debate will likely continue to evolve into the future, with each side gaining and losing advantages as catalogs and technology develop.
When all is said and done, this is just one more point of contention in the ongoing console wars.