Sony has had a busy past few days. Following the announcement that then Chairman of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios, Shawn Layden, was leaving the company, Sony revealed an aggressive price reduction for its video game streaming service PlayStation Now. This latest move by Sony marks a strategy aimed at directly competing with Microsoft’s successful Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and impending XCloud streaming service, but is it too little too late?
Sony started PlayStation Now early on in the PlayStation 4’s lifecycle. Back in 2014 the landscape of video game streaming was a far cry from where it is today, and Sony paid a price for that. PlayStation Now overwhelmingly underperformed in sales, and its pitch to consumers did little to convince them that subscribing to such a service was worth the high price of $19.99 per month.
The former PlayStation Now offering was paltry at best and unplayable at worst. The wait times to access certain games looked more like a product of the times rather than an intended practice, but technologically the gaming infrastructure was not ready to handle the required frame rates and resolutions that are necessary for an enjoyable experience. The actual video games available to play was also disappointing. Unlike Microsoft’s practice of including relatively new or popular titles as part of Xbox Game Pass, which has users download all the games rather than stream them, Sony’s service was akin to Nintendo’s offering of older generation titles.
The numbers spoke for themselves. According to Yahoo Finance, the subscriber count for PlayStation Now, entering five years of existence, stands at 700,000. Microsoft, on the other hand, appears to be leaps and bounds ahead of Sony with its Xbox Game Pass subscription service. Xbox’s Phil Spencer reported that millions of users have subscribed to the service, and this was reported in November of 2018.
Sony’s decision to reduce PlayStation Now’s price by 50% may look on the surface to be a panic decision to combat a growing market in video game subscriptions. Apple announced its $4.99 per month Arcade that allows users access to a whole host of mobile games of varying scale. Google will be rolling out its video game based subscription streaming service later this year. So on one hand, yes Sony needed to take this market more seriously than it has in the past, but while it comes late in the PlayStation 4’s lifecycle, it represents a shift in focus towards the next generation.
As part of PlayStation Now’s price reduction, Sony confirmed that two high profile first party titles will be joining the service. Both Uncharted 4 and God of War are now available on PlayStation Now. Since there is no need for a PlayStation Now subscriber to have a PlayStation 4, a host of users that might otherwise have never played both games have that opportunity on PC.
Sony will likely see a jump in subscribers thanks to the reduced price and addition of critically acclaimed current-gen titles, but the saturation of the subscription based service in the entertainment industry as a whole may result in short lived success. Consumers are quickly realizing that while each subscription is cheap in its own right the culmination of multiple subscriptions rapidly becomes expensive. Choices are now being made about which services are important and which are not, and users are more informed about determining value for the product they are purchasing.
Even with the reduced price and inclusion of God of War, GTA V, Uncharted 4, and Infamous: Second Son, PlayStation Now cannot hold a candle to Xbox Game Pass, and Apple Arcade’s family friendly pricing makes mobile users more likely to adopt that service than purchase Sony’s service on a PC. Sony does allow users to download over 300 games to their PlayStation 4 system, which helps bridge the gap to Game Pass, but again the depth of quality of titles are not yet at Microsoft’s level.
Sony is hoping that as hardware sales of the PlayStation 4 declines currents users will try out PlayStation Now at the new price point. This could create more long term subscribers when the PlayStation 5 comes out in Holiday 2020, and may tempt PlayStation 5 purchasers to make PlayStation Now a day one purchase. Essentially this decision will help the company in the short term while also building a strong foundation into the next generation. Sony has some catching up to do with Microsoft’s service, but the Japanese company’s larger install base of hardware sales is a major bonus. The potential is there for PlayStation now to make a turnaround, but Sony must remain committed to this service and continue to add more titles on a continuous basis while innovating unique offerings.