Outriders came out last week on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. It also immediately came to Microsoft’s Game Pass, adding yet another big new game to the subscription service’s already-impressive library. Meanwhile, PS Now users can get excited to play last year’s mediocre Avengers game, and just for a few months. It’s yet another data point that shows Sony needs to do more to make PS Now better.
In Sony’s defense, the company has improved PS Now since launching it back in 2014 as a streaming-only platform similar to the more recent Google Stadia. At the time it had a small library, laggy streams, and a terrible rental system that charged players in pricey increments (it was really bad). Most folks tried it once using their free trial and bailed, but following that terrible launch it slowly improved. In 2016 Sony got rid of the bad rental system. In 2017 the company added PS4 games. 2018 saw it add the ability to download certain PS4 games and halve the monthly price to $10. While these are all changes for the better, it’s clear Sony’s subscription streaming service still doesn’t measure up to Microsoft’s Game Pass. Adding Marvel’s The Avengers to the service now just throws a spotlight on its deficiencies.
For starters, all big first-party Xbox games launch on Game Pass day and date with their retail release. Nearly all previously released first-party Xbox One games are now on Game Pass, too. Meanwhile, Sony’s first-party titles don’t hit PS Now on release, and many never come to the service at all. When they do, they tend to then depart PS Now after only a few months.
If you have Game Pass Ultimate, you also gain access to a wide swath of Electronic Arts games as part of EA Play. Game Pass Ultimate is more expensive than PS Now, at $15 a month. But that extra five bucks gets you a lot, including Xbox Live Gold (which comes with monthly free games itself), Game Pass PC titles, and discounts on all DLC for Game Pass games. And with Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Bethesda, Game Pass will also be getting new Fallout, Doom, and Elder Scrolls games at launch, adding to a large list of past Bethesda titles already on the service.
Outside of first-party exclusives, which to be frank, Microsoft has precious few of these days, Game Pass keeps grabbing up third-party games at launch. Outriders hit the service the same day it went on sale. A host of smaller indie games have also launched on Game Pass. Maybe the wildest example of a big title launching on Game Pass is MLB The Show 21, a game published by PlayStation Studios. When it lands later this month, it will be free to Game Pass subscribers on Xbox. Over on PlayStation, it is unlikely the game will launch on PS Now or PS Plus. So, to reiterate, the Microsoft-operated Game Pass service is even stealing Sony’s thunder on a game Sony publishes. Impertinent!
It’s clear that Sony is playing catch-up at this point and the numbers confirm this. In January, Microsoft announced it had 18 million Game Pass subscribers. Sony confirmed last year that PS Now has just over 2 million subscribers. Pretty bad when you remember that the service launched back in 2014.
While all these facts seem to favor Microsoft, there’s more to the story. For example, Sony is (and has been) beating Microsoft in exclusives and console sales. Games like The Last of Us Part II, God of War, Days Gone, Horizon Zero Dawn, Ghost of Tsushima, Uncharted 4 and many others are reliably huge hits that garner critical acclaim. Sony doesn’t need to add them to a subscription service at launch because millions of people are willing to pony up the dough each time a new PS4 or PS5 exclusive hits the market. Likewise, even without a subscription service as good or as fully featured as Game Pass, Sony has still been able to sell a lot of PlayStation 5s. So it’s easy to argue that PlayStation as a brand doesn’t need something like Game Pass to be successful. I’m not sure I could argue the same thing for Xbox.
Still, it’s strange to see a big Sony-published game hop over to Game Pass at launch while all the stagnating PS Now service can muster is stuff like Marvel’s The Avengers. Considering how successful PS Plus has been for Sony, it seems like the best course of action would be to merge the two into a Game Pass Ultimate-type offering. Of course, that’s assuming Sony even wants or needs to compete with Game Pass at the moment. Does it? I’m not so sure. But if it does, it needs to do a lot more.