PlayStation Now: the streaming service for video games. Or one of them, at least.
Real-time game streaming isn't quite the fantastical pipe dream it was even a few years ago. Google is now trialling streams of AAA games to its Chrome browser. Microsoft is planning a streaming-only Xbox console, code-named Xbox Scarlett Cloud. Even the far less powerful hardware of the Nintendo Switch is getting in on the action.
And yet huge hurdles with internet connectivity and game provision remain, meaning no one's quite able to offer a flawless service yet – even if PS Now offers the most fleshed-out platform right now.
Essentially, PlayStation Now is a monthly subscription service that allows you to stream legacy or current-gen PlayStation games, much as you would stream a TV episode or video online. We've got all the other details in our in-depth PlayStation Now review.
Here we're going to discuss something very specific: is PS Now worth a subscription yet?
The case for PlayStation Now
PS Now has been around in some form or another since 2014, when Sony first began its closed beta of the streaming service in the US, Europe, and Japan. It saw a full public release later in 2015, and has been developed and added to in the years since.
Sony has retained the same competitive pricing from its inception. One month of the service will run you $19.99/£12.99, or at a slightly discounted $99.99/£84.99 for the year.
For that you get access to a wide array of titles, with Sony having grown its offering from 80 titles at launch to over 650 today. Its eclectic offering varies between classic titles like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and Gravity Rush – and more recent AAA games like Batman: Arkham trilogy, The Last of Us, Heavy Rain, Borderlands 2, and Red Dead Redemption.
There's plenty to get on with, though just as with the free games that come with a PlayStation Plus subscription, you're not getting the latest, hottest titles. These are largely games that we've stopped buying at full price, and it's hard to shake off the feeling that you're playing on PS Now for historical, or curatorial reasons – so you know what came before the new releases you're actually excited to play.
Any PS4 owner can trial the service for free for seven days before being charged for a month's use, meaning you can try out how well your internet connection can run the service before committing to any payments.
Only weeks ago we also saw PS Now add a new download feature for PS2 and PS4 games, meaning you could 'save' rented games from the service on your hard drive and then play offline without worries about lag – taking the central feature of Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass and integrating it into a streaming-focused service. All the groundwork is being laid for a momentously disruptive force in the way we play and access games.
The issue is that this still isn't enough.
The current lack of download functions for PS3 games is disappointing – as the largest section of the library, and therefore the one with the highest demand, PS Now still has a long way to go before it can offer the convenience we're still waiting to see from it.
While PS Now has certainly grown its library and ways of accessing its content, it's also restricted its service in some ways as well. You can no longer use PS Now on the PS3, PS Vita, PlayStation TV, or any supported smart TVs like the Sony Bravia TV range. If you want to use PS Now, you need a PS4.
It's naturally easier for Sony to focus its provision on one platform, which we don't entirely blame them for doing. It's more important to have a service that works, than one you can find everywhere that disappoints in execution.
But the real potential for game streaming is in access and affordability. If Sony and Microsoft can offer a service with access to hundreds of games at a fraction of the cost of regular RRP purchases, while outsourcing the hard work of processing and rendering to its own servers, it goes a long way to removing the price barrier for gaming hardware. It brings old and essentially lost legacy titles back within reach of a modern audience. It opens up Sony's catalogue of games for discovery, for play, without the sour taste of only getting a few hours into an AAA game you paid £40 / $50 to own.
Right now, though, streaming games is still something you can only realistically do with above-average internet speeds and a current-gen PS4 console – for a strong selection of games, yes, but not ones everyone will want to play.
And while players don't need a PlayStation Plus subscription in addition, there'll be very few players who opt for PS Now – with its variable performance and limited titles – over the Plus membership, which gives very concrete returns like online competitive play and free monthly games at a much lower cost.
We're still surprised there isn't a bundled subscription for both at a reduced cost, because right now, even if some gamers will get a lot out of the service as a supplement to their main purchases, PS Now still isn't capable enough to stand on its own feet.
- Undecided? Read through our in-depth PlayStation Now review before making up your mind