PlayStation Now used to be a pricey way to stream the PlayStation’s back catalogue of games, which was only useful for people with good internet and no bandwidth caps. Last September the company added an option to download certain games directly, allowing users to play them offline. PlayStation Now is now a lot more like Microsoft’s Game Pass and a lot better as a result.
Sony dedicated a portion of its fiscal 2018 earnings call with investors earlier today to pointing out how PlayStation Now has evolved since it was first announced back in 2014. While the service only has 700,000 subscribers at the moment, a small fraction of the 96.8 million PS4s that have been sold, Sony said that number has grown 40% since the year prior. Even more surprisingly, the company revealed that PlayStation Now users actually spend more time playing downloaded games than streaming them. (PlayStation Now costs $20 per month, or $100 if you sign up for a year.)
“Since the launch of this download service, gameplay time per user has grown significantly to the point where gameplay time on downloaded PS4 titles is double that of streamed titles, a trend which has contributed to higher user engagement with, and retention on, the PS Now service,” Sony said.
PlayStation Now originally grew out of Sony’s acquisition of the cloud gaming tech company Gaikai in 2012. When the service rolled out in 2014, it was pitched in part as a way to work around the PS4’s lack of backwards compatibility. It was also a way to bring big games like The Last of Us to less powerful devices like the PS Vita and certain TVs manufactured by Sony.
While it was good in theory and worked in practice, latency was still an issue, especially for those with poorer quality internet connections. The prices were also terrible. People had to rent games a la carte, with the option of buying four hours, seven days, 30 days, or 90 days of access to a game. Four hours with Final Fantasy XIII-2 was $5 when the service launched, while Guacamelee, which cost $15 to buy on PS3, was the same amount for a 90-day rental on PlayStation Now.
Sony ditched the individual rental scheme in 2016, added support for PS4 games in 2017, and then last September finally made select PS4 games downloadable, similar to how the monthly PlayStation Plus games work. When this switch happened, a lot of games weren’t initially included. Now nearly all of the PS4 games on the service, including Bloodborne, Prey, and XCOM 2, are.
Sony’s big first-party exclusives like Horizon Zero Dawn and The Last of Us Remastered are still missing from the service, but it’s come a long way from the days of paying $5 to play an old JRPG for a few hours.