PlayStation Doubles Down on Cloud Gaming Starting … Now

“I typically prefer doing to talking,” says Jim Ryan, “but I think we’ve been guilty of not talking enough about what we’ve done.” Ryan, the CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, is referring to PlayStation Now, the subscription service Sony launched all the way back in 2014 that allowed PlayStation owners to download older games, or even stream them from the cloud. He ticks off the progress the service has concentrated on to date: size of the game catalog, publisher roster, geographic coverage. In March, the service finally achieved server coverage throughout Western Europe, territory Ryan describes as “critical heartland” for PlayStation.

But a lot has changed since 2014. There are the issues with the service itself, which Ryan calls “many false steps taken, many lessons learned”—an unsteady set of features that started with users being able to stream games to handheld devices or smart TVs, and ended with the service only available on PS4s and PCs. Despite that, PS Now has managed a compounded annual growth rate of 40 percent, and boasts 700,000 subscribers paying for access to a library of 800 games. Still, Ryan says, “the two things that people tell us they don’t like about the service are the price and the quality of the games.” So all that changes, starting now.

Today, Sony announced that PlayStation Now is cutting its price in half, from $20 a month to $9.99 in the US. (Similar price reductions go into effect across other regions, and extend across quarterly and annual prepaid subscriptions as well.) Additionally, it announced the service has added four new games—God of War, Infamous Second Son, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and Grand Theft Auto V—that will remain on the service until January, with more “marquee games” coming thereafter.

Given that the first three of those titles come from Sony-owned studios, PS Now will be the only way for players to stream them live. GTA V is a different story; studio Rockstar Games has no exclusive arrangement with Sony, though Ryan says the game will only stream on PS Now “to the best of my knowledge.” While publishers like EA and Ubisoft have already launched subscription services, one of the few hedging their interest in such a service is Rockstar owner Take-Two Interactive. That, along with a recent major update to GTA V‘s online mode, gave Rockstar the motivation (and Sony the opportunity) to negotiate. (“I’d prefer not to disclose the terms, but let’s say it’s a good deal for Rockstar,” Ryan says.)

Why Sony chose today to shine some light on PS Now is no mystery: With Google Stadia set to launch next month and Microsoft’s Project xCloud beginning its beta program this month, cloud gaming is stepping into the next phase of its evolution. “Sony wants to make sure they give the perception they’re not letting competition get a leg up,” says David Cole, CEO of research firm DFC Intelligence. “I talk to a lot of investors who don’t necessarily know the gaming industry that well, but they see Google as this huge potential threat. Now Sony can say that not only are they not going to lose on pricing, but they have the edge on content.”

Illustration: Sony
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