Services are the future, or so we’re told anyway. Sony and Microsoft are hard at work developing their respective services to strengthen their ecosystems. On the PlayStation side, you have PS Now. On the Xbox side, you have Xbox Game Pass.
In their most recent financial quarterly call, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced some amazing news on Game Pass subscription numbers:
Millions of people are turning to gaming to sustain human connection while practicing social distancing and we continue to deliver new exclusive first and third-party content to attract and retain gamers…Xbox Game Pass has more than 10 million subscribers and we’re seeing increased monetization of in-game content and services.
On the other side, we most recently heard numbers on PS Now back in October 2019 when it was announced by senior EVP and CFO Hiroki Totoki that PS Now had hit the 1 million subscriber mark. It took PS Now 5 years to hit that milestone…Game Pass did 10 times that in less than 3 years.
The surprising factor is that the install base of the PS4 is bigger than the Xbox One by a fairly large amount so why such a drastic difference in the other direction for their flagship game services?
PS Now has somewhat confusing marketing in that it started off as a cloud only service but lets you download some select games. On the other hand, Game Pass lets you download all its games and leaves cloud streaming to Xbox’s other up-and-coming service, Project xCloud.
Pricing-wise, Game Pass comes in cheaper than PS Now by £1 a month for the base subscription. Game Pass also offers a longer trial and often offers enticing sign up deals such as the $1 for your first month promotion.
In terms of games, this is where Game Pass really shines. Game Pass offers a higher quality of games overall, as well as giving access to newer titles far quicker than seen on PS Now.
On top of that, every single first party Xbox exclusive comes to Game Pass the exact same day it releases for everybody else. This is a huge factor in the subscriber difference between both services. The fact Game Pass subscribers get access to games like Halo Infinite the same day it launches for people who pay full price for the game is a huge coup.
Contrary to what some might think, this doesn’t really hurt game sales. Creator of Descenders Mike Rose told GamesIndustry:
Being on Xbox Game Pass means that you basically have constant featuring on Xbox. Your game is on the dashboard all the time… People are seeing our game every day. And because of that, during launch month, our Xbox sales — we didn’t do any discounts on it or anything — quadrupled, and have now settled to about three times as much as before. It’s essentially an advert; a straight-up advert.
So, how can PS Now catch-up to Game Pass?
Sony need to start putting bigger games onto their service at a quicker rate. Whilst games like Spider-Man have eventually made their way to the service, it’s taken nearly two years.
If Sony want PS Now to really take off and recoup some of their $380M investment in acquiring Gaikai, it’s all about the perception. At the moment, PS Now does not have a good perception. Sony need to market the service better – garner big third party games like Microsoft did with DMCV, release their first party exclusives onto PS Now either at launch or 6-12 months after, and they need to offer more promotions to entice people onto the service.