How a PlayStation 5 rumour could ‘fix’ PlayStation Now for everyone

But PlayStation Now isn’t broken? Or is it? No, it’s just not out yet. But is it? WHAT IS THIS!

With the next generation consoles looming on the horizon, gamers everywhere are looking at what could be. Rumours fly around at an insane pace. Some are presented as such, some are clickbait. It would be best if you never put your faith in a rumour until the company in question confirms it.

And I am going to semi-break that advice while I cross my fingers and hope for new features in an existing service. It’s only semi-break because I am not counting on it happening, just “Wouldn’t it be cool if”.

Everything I am outlining is dependant on one rumour being true, then Sony making individual business decisions. This is an “I wish” discussion, not a report on what Sony is doing.

Anyway, now that’s all clear, some history.

What is PlayStation Now?

Short version, PlayStation Now is Sony’s version of Google Stadia. That came out first. To get around the complaints of the lack of backwards compatibility, Sony introduced the service in 2014 for North America. Within 18 months, access was added to the UK, then Europe and finally Japan.

For a monthly fee, you can play PS2, PS3 and PS4 games on your PS4 or PC. As the games are streamed to your device, all you need is a compatible controller. You can even use an Xbox controller for most games if you like.

For a couple of years, Sony pulled a ‘Vita’ and just let it languish. Not many titles, coupled with a pretty hefty internet requirement, meant it was still a niche product.

Don’t you pay the fee and play? Why can’t you use it?

PlayStation Now is only available in a few countries. Even in those countries, if you don’t have an excellent internet connection, good luck. This is a big part of the backlash over Google Stadia as well.

This doesn’t stop me seeing a bunch of ads for the last 6 years telling me to try it. Sony, you localise so much, maybe stop asking Facebook to ask me to try it for free?

Microsoft is going in pretty hard with streaming with the Xbox Series X as well. Here in Australia, while we are lucky to have Azure datacenters close by, the state of the internet infrastructure is a joke. That didn’t stop Microsoft coming up with a simple for everyone solution.

How Microsoft is paving the way for streaming while attracting new customers

Microsoft Game Pass is the first attempt foundation of consumer acceptance of XCloud, their own streaming solution. Want to try a whole bunch of games for one low price? Here’s Game Pass! Just click the title, and you can be playing it in a few seconds via XCloud.

It doesn’t work this way right now. Since 2017, Microsoft has been adding to the number of Game Pass subscribers. Hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of gamers all now used to access to ‘free’ games.

Game Pass PC Store
This is the new additions for PC. Xbox has even more choices!

How it works today is you download the games locally to play them. You need just enough internet to prove you can play it (basic account check), then off you go. Yes, you have to wait for the downloads and update them yourself, etc. People don’t worry too much, as that is how digital store purchases work already.

What has any of this has to do with rumours and PlayStation Now?

I promise I am getting there.

Nothing can help lousy internet. No matter how many settings you tweak or subscriptions to different tools you buy, if your line can’t handle it, that’s it.

Microsoft got around this brilliantly with Game Pass. Can you stream? Great play away! Internet not playing ball for some reason? Download the game and play on your console. Problem solved!

The reason Microsoft can do this is simple: Xbox has backwards compatibility. Put in an Xbox or Xbox 360 title, and you are good to go. Put a PlayStation 3 disc in the PS4, and watch the console get very confused.

But what if the PS5 has backwards compatibility?

Oh, I think I see where you’re going.

The statement from Sony is that the PS5 will be PS4 and PSVR backwards compatible. The rumour is that the PS5 will support all of the numbered consoles. Quietly I am hoping that the PSP and Vita can get in on the action as well, but that is extra fingers crossed territory.

If this feature is indeed real, Sony could pull a Microsoft and let you download the games to your PS5. No streaming required. Open PlayStation Now up to all PSN territories, and let that sweet subscription money start rolling in.

If you can stream, great. Instant game access on multiple devices is definitely the way to go. No waiting for downloads or updates, pick a title and play. I believe streaming content like this will be the norm at some point, just not today.

If you can’t stream, that would almost be better for Sony financially. Hosting the download files only is a lot cheaper than the cost of streaming infrastructure and would offset these costs. Especially as more people globally would be helping pay for it. Even in the areas PlayStation Now is available, only a percentage of players can use the service.

Metal Gear Solid 4
Metal Gear 4 I can't play again as my PS3 died. I could if I had PlayStation Now though...

Pull a Microsoft. Get everyone wanting to be a part of the service, not just the select few.

So your big ‘fix’ is to copy Game Pass. Why would they?

Why wouldn’t they? Sony couldn’t do offer this for various compatibility reasons in the past, but if that is fixed – why not? The setup is so good, I bought an Xbox. Two, technically. I don’t regret upgrading my preowned first purchase for the purple beastie 🙂

With one exception Rabbit bought for me, I have yet to buy a single Xbox game. That one game was Red Dead Redemption, and yes I know the sequel is prettier and everything but I try and judge a franchise from its roots. I haven’t had to. My games come with Game Pass.

The Purple Beastie
The Fortnite Xbox One - my Purple Beastie. Enzo loves it too, as you can see from the fur :p

Games suggested retail pricing is around $110-$120 in Australia. We usually pay less than this (just), but no one is going to slash the prices on launch titles. Say the PS5 is $100 less than the Series X, you lose that advantage in just one game purchase. And you will need that one game (at least) to justify your shiny new console. Online multiplayer? Do you have PlayStation Plus? That’s another $12 thanks. This does give you access to some free games, so that’s a bonus. But it’s a choice of 2-4 depending on the month, and you might not like any of them.

“Ah, but what about the games for Xbox? They still have to buy games as well!” I hear you say. “Both Xbox and PlayStation need all that extra stuff!” Well, yes and no. Yes, Xbox uses pricing tiers for different services. No, because you are getting more for you money from Xbox these days.

For AUD$16, you can buy the console AND Game Pass Ultimate access for one month. Play what you want. Play online straight away. Even get a couple of free games with Gold. Wanted to play that exclusive launch title? If it’s Microsoft Studios (which it probably will be on launch), it’s already included with Game Pass. Console cost + $16 to play over 100 games including new releases? Done.

PS4 Starter Pack
Starter packs are a great way to save a little money, but you still spend more

Well, I wouldn’t say I have been totally bought across. I am still Team PlayStation, I just appreciate what Microsoft is building. If it’s not on Game Pass, I will probably look at PS4 and Switch versions first. But they have my attention, and I will look. That’s more than they had from me 12 months ago.

The only way for Sony to combat this is to offer parity with Microsoft. On the surface, they do with PlayStation Now. But it’s not the same. With the service only available in certain regions coupled with no fallback option if things aren’t great internet wise, it’s chalk and cheese.

Xbox One S Starter Pack
Xbox has starters and the digital only console. Every saving has some form of extra price.

Are you trying to say buy Xbox?

Gaming is expensive. You pay a lot upfront, but hopefully over the next 7-8 years that cost overall evens out. Doesn’t help that initial splash out though.

I will always say game on what works for you. Microsoft has given players ways to maximise their gaming cheaply (and legally) compared to the limited market PlayStation Now has. It has even used this low cost of entry early to bring across PlayStation fans like me.

I am really hoping that if the backwards compatibility rumours are indeed true, Sony launches PS5 with the new PlayStation Now that allows game downloads in ALL regions. If this is the case, and Sony undercuts the Xbox pricing, it would actually be an attractive saving for the consumer. Not just the superficial save that costs you more in the long run.

I really want streaming to work. Not just for the convenience as a gamer, but environmentally as well. Data Centers use huge amounts of power, which still isn’t great, but companies are doing everything they can for effeciency and plenty of centers are now being built to be powered by renewable energy only. Steps are being made, and each step forward is progress.

And like every complicated chain, that’s one part of the puzzle. Because people will be using lower powered systems to run games, they will use less energy as well. Without buying so many discs and cases, the amount of plastic created and thrown out is affected. Think Video Tapes and Music CD’s. Thanks to services like Netflix and Spotify, less of these are being made while the product itself reaches a lot more people.

Streaming makes sense in the long run, it’s just I don’t think we are there yet. This new generation of consoles will hopefully be the last generation that uses the digital download/play locally model, and I hope Sony takes advantage of this.

If they don’t? They may as well hand the next generation victory to Microsoft, similar to how Microsoft handed it over with the launch of the Xbox One.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Sega Europe going old school on PC packaging – and it’s recyclable!

Sega Total War Rome 2

I remember when software boxes were cardboard, and Windows NT 3.1 came on 22 floppy disks!

Yep, I am that old :p

I remember when I would buy any software, it would come in a thin cardboard box. Games tended to be in slightly thicker cardboard, and I had some until I moved to Cairns a few years ago. Still, I must have destroyed about 20 Lotus 123 boxes installing them at different companies. Not intentionally, but if you squeezed just that little bit too much it flattened the box! Ah, the memories :p

What bought on this little trip down memory lane? Last week, Sega announced that they were committed to continuing an earlier packaging experiment. The experiment? 100% recycled and recyclable packaging. Even the shrink wrap can be recycled safely.

What’s the big deal? You can recycle plastic already. Sega is just cheap.

Yes, plastic can be recycled, but only a certain number of times. Then it pretty much sits in its most toxic form in landfill or floating somewhere.

And while cardboard can be seen as cheap, it isn’t. It really isn’t. Because most packaging is plastic, most factories are producing it. Because fewer people want these packages, fewer people offer to make it. Cardboard packaging is actually more expensive than the plastic cases! We see this in board gaming as well. I have seen lots of people complain about the ‘cheap’ wooden pieces in games when they can cost double their plastic counterparts in terms of production costs.

There are other benefits to the cardboard packaging as well, though. Cardboard packaging is lighter and cheaper to transport. Lighter loads help reduce the carbon footprint of shipping large numbers of games even further. Sega is using water and vegetable-based dye to print on their covers. Why is this important? Because it ensures that the cardboard can be recycled with the least amount of waste (if any).

Sega Total War Rome 2
Keep the lot, or safely keep the disc sleeves and recycle the packaging. Your call.

Plastic boxes last longer, but that is part of the problem. Large numbers of plastic cases are thrown away each year. Hopefully, other companies follow Sega’s example.

But there is also something puzzling about the change.

This only applies to PC releases. PC gaming is great, but physical sales of PC games haven’t exactly been booming for a decade at least. Across the board, downloading your games rather than playing the physical release has been increasing more and more.

I have bought around 45 physical games in the last two years. Most were PS4 and Switch. Two were for PC, and only because they were ridiculously cheap on sale at EB. Both of these PC games required I download the new versions anyway, so the physical part was not needed, except for my shelf. Those two games? Starcraft 2 collection and Diablo 3.

That means with my highly accurate testing group of 1, the number of physical PC games I purchased borders on insignificant. The boxes were also cardboard as well, but with metallic embossing and the like the probably made some of the cardboard unable to be recycled. This is what Sega is improving, but how many will see the benefit?

If you go to any gaming store with physical games, consoles dominate the shelf space. It’s just the way things have gone and will continue as digital storefronts continue to dominate sales.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Dual Edition
Buy the dual pack? Get a special case to hold both games, plus both retail packages! What a waste!

So it’s just a publicity stunt?

I don’t think so. While I remember the old cardboard boxes with a sense of nostalgia, for Sega this is a significant change in ‘standard’ production. Dipping their toe into the waters makes financial and business sense. My issue is I don’t see how this small a market can make a big enough dent to understand the economic, market and environmental benefits though.

So while commendable, I say Sega Europe should go one step further. They can convert the packaging of all of their physical media in the new packaging, not just PC. Maybe just for an individual title/titles as a trial – converting everything at once would likely be too costly for the company to absorb. But trying with a broader market at the very least would allow better scrutiny of the ‘success or failure’ of the project.

Also, I would like to see Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo follow suit. Not including collectors editions, most games are a single disc that can be well protected in a cardboard sleeve. Worse, some games are just plastic covers for a download code printed on cardboard. Even if the new packaging was trialled on these download only retail releases, that would be a huge impact.

The more people that do this, the more the cost goes down. Here is hoping Sega can get the ball rolling with other companies.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD