Twelve months ago we set out on a mission. We needed to determine which is the better games on-demand subscription service – PlayStation Now or Xbox Game Pass. To do so, we published a feature at the end of every month looking at what each service gained and lost, comparing the two and declaring a winner for each month.
Our examination ran from 1 March 2020 to 28 February 2021 and so, after a full calendar year of posting these features, it only seems right to look back on our findings and finally attempt to answer the question of ‘which is better?’. We’ve tallied the wins each service has taken over the last twelve months and reached a conclusion. So without further ado, the scores are:
PlayStation Now: 8
Xbox Game Pass: 4
By taking a pretty decisive win in our comparisons, are we saying that PlayStation Now is undoubtedly superior? Well, it’s not that simple. In order to understand the result, it’s important to know what exactly we looked at when making our decisions and what we learned about each service on the way. So let’s dig in.
We say ‘rules’ and some certainly are steadfast rules decided from the outset, but others are really guidelines that only took form after beginning this experiment. Either way, here are the important factors that shaped the decision making process:
- We are only looking at Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now. This means we pay no mind to what’s happening with PlayStation Plus, Games with Gold, the PS Plus Collection or EA Play – a benefit exclusive to those with the more pricey Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription.
- We only consider games added to consoles. There’s a separate Xbox Game Pass subscription for PC available, but we’re only concerned with the console version here. Likewise all PS Now games can be played on PC though the associated app but that has no effect on our comparison.
- Each comparison takes two factors into account: Which games each service gained and which games each service lost.
- Generally, more weight will be given to which were gained as this affects current subscribers as well as prospective ones, whereas lost titles may make the service less appealing to new, returning and prospective subscribers, but usually won’t be a big deal for long-time subscribers who have had plenty of time to play them.
- Quality over quantity: We’re not looking at how many games each game added or lost, we’re looking at how good they are based on a number of factors such as player and critical reception, our own experiences with a title and a number of other factors detailed later on. However, there are some exceptions:
– There are factors that may make a great game a poor addition. For example, while Final Fantasy VII or Skyrim may be two of the most beloved games of all time, they have been so widely available for such a small price for so long that it seems like anyone with an interest in playing them would have done so by now, so neither would constitute a strong addition for most subscribers.
– Quality over quantity only goes so far. So if, for example, one service gained three great games while the other gained twenty average ones, we’re probably giving the round to the twenty.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Let’s look now at what we’ve learned about each service by breaking down in which ways each was superior to the other, and where each shows room for improvement.
PlayStation Now – Strengths
- This is probably so widely agreed by this point that we can just say it without fear of too much pushback: Sony has far better exclusives than Microsoft. The result is that throughout the year, any time PS Now has added a first party release to its library, it’s made a huge impact. Epic, top-quality adventures the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn: Complete Edition, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and Days Gone have all hit PlayStation Now over the last year and acted as a huge boost.
- The library is massive and ever-expanding. At the moment the PS Now Library hosts over 750 PS4 and PS3 titles and owing to the way the service works, this number increases every month.
- The new additions for PlayStation Now seem to encompass a ‘something for everyone’ mentality. You’ll usually find one or two big name releases with mass appeal, something with a popular multiplayer element, a couple of well regarded indies, a hidden gem or two. This isn’t the case 100% of the time, but more often than not, the update will cater for a wide range of tastes.
- Very few games leave PS Now each month. In the time that we’ve been keeping a keen eye on the service, it’s lost between zero and three games per month, whereas Game Pass’ ‘Farewells’ section usually goes into double figures.
- Most additions are kept on the service indefinitely but when a title is included for a limited time, it’s made very clear how long it will be available, with the leaving date explicitly stated from the outset and a countdown timer shown when the game is selected from PS Now.
PlayStation Now – Weaknesses
- PS Now is like a box of chocolates, except if the box was plain white with a big red question mark and the insert that shows you what flavour the chocolates are was replaced with a photo of The Riddler. You could get a major third-party release that’s less than six months old, you could get a first party exclusive that’s been out for seven years, you could get anything in-between.
- On the first Tuesday of every month the service is updated with the new batch of games, almost always with no announcement beforehand to say what they’ll be, there could be anywhere between four and twelve new additions, and it’s almost impossible to guess what might be added and when, and by extension, whether you should avoid buying any particular games that might be added soon.
- Some of the biggest new additions are only included for a limited period, usually either three or six months. While this isn’t a problem as most of these are easily finished within a few weeks, inclusions with a huge multiplayer element such as Grand Theft Auto V and Rainbow Six Siege may be removed when newer players feels like they still have a lot that they wanted to do.
Xbox Game Pass – Strengths
- First party releases are included on the day of release. This is probably the biggest and most pushed selling point on the service.
- Some interesting smaller titles are also often included on the day of or shortly after release.
- Lots of new additions – each month we saw Game Pass add around ten to twenty new titles to its line-up, outnumbering PS Now’s output on almost all occasions.
- As a whole, the library contains more up to date games than its competitor.
Xbox Game Pass – Weaknesses
- We’ve touched on it before, but while the inclusion of first party games on release sounds great on paper, Microsoft’s spotty record for quality releases means this isn’t a big enough reason to subscribe in itself. In the year we’ve been monitoring, Gears Tactics is the only highly acclaimed addition, whereas other exclusives such as Bleeding Edge, Grounded and Battletoads are frankly not worth your time.
- While Game Pass leads the way in quantity of new games, the quality is often lacking, to the point where it sometimes just seems like padding out the numbers. We’ve seen a port of a PC game so ill-suited for consoles that the text is almost unreadable, plenty of titles that look and feel like low budget mobile games and even a few additions that are literally ports of low budget mobile games.
- The diversity in additions sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. We’ve had months when half the games in the line-up are retro-styled rogue-likes that would only appeal to the old-school hardcore gamer. Similarly, one month after the addition of No Man’s Sky – a practically never-ending game of resource collection and management, the service added three new games based around resource collection and management.
- Game Pass loses far more games each month than PS Now. The Xbox juggernaut says goodbye to at least ten games, with some months exceeding twenty. At times, the library has even looked worse at the end of the month than it did at the start.
- Players are not told how long a game will be available, even when it is only for a short time. The best example of how the two platforms compare on this front is in how they handled Grand Theft Auto V. When PS Now added the game, they made it clear it would only be available for three months, with the notice and countdown mentioned above. When Game Pass added it a few months later, it made the announcement that GTA V was joining the service with no indication of how long it would be available. The game was removed three months after joining, with only two weeks notice. The same situation occurred when Red Dead Redemption 2 hit the service a few months later.
What else have we learned?
- It’s important to note that while we declare a winner each month, almost every point given has been tightly contested – both PS Now and Xbox Game Pass took one decisive victory each but the other ten months were fairly close and a solid argument could have been made for either side.
- In our ‘Farewells’ section where we look at what games are leaving the respective libraries, PS Now scored a resounding win on almost every comparison. There were times when PS Now would not be losing a single game where its competitor would lose around twenty and even in less extreme cases Game Pass would regularly lose about eight to ten more games than PS Now. Suffice to say, this often swung the pendulum towards Sony considerably.
- As for the ‘New Additions’ section, Xbox Game Pass’ offerings would almost always outnumber PS Now’s, though by exactly how many differed wildly from month to month. In most cases, Game Pass would take the win in this category, though as previously mentioned, there would often be some padding involved and those additions would have very little influence on our decision, so while Xbox regularly took wins in this category, it was a marginal win as often as a strong one.
- That being said, there were exceptions owing to our ‘quality over quantity’ criterion. Just last month, Game Pass took a win in the ‘Farewells’ section despite losing seven games (counting a collection of games as one title) to PS Now’s two whereas a handful of diverse, acclaimed games gave PS Now a win in ‘New Additions’ over Game Pass’ more numerable but largely lackluster offerings.
What might this tell us about the future?
The biggest problem for PlayStation Now is perception. Xbox Game Pass is relentlessly promoted through adverts, websites and YouTube channels to the point where it feels like an essential part of the Xbox experience, whereas PS Now is comparatively ignored – just think back to anything you’ve read or watched about the new console generations: How many mentioned Game Pass as a plus for its console and how many mentioned PS Now?
Over the course of our comparisons we’ve noticed that PS Now’s new releases are usually announced via a press release on the day of their inclusion, often after they’ve been added and with little fanfare. At times, the press release doesn’t even bother to highlight all of the games being added. It feels like a low priority at PlayStation and the subscriber count reflects this with PS Now currently sitting at a little over two million at last count whereas Xbox Game Pass sits at over fifteen million.
There are no known changes on the horizon but changes are due if Sony wants to reach Game Pass numbers, it could use some fresh ideas like a tiered subscription system with the higher priced option to include first party games on day of release or it could take influence from its competitor by offering a combined, lower-priced subscription package with PlayStation Plus to entice new customers.
There are still misconceptions about what exactly PS Now is. For example, many people seem to think that you can only stream games on PS Now when in reality all of the PS4 games on the service are available to stream or download to consoles, whereas many other PlayStation owners just don’t really know what it is. More than anything else, Sony needs to invest in promotion, create good publicity and let potential subscribers know how good this service is.
Xbox Game Pass
The present is bright for Microsoft’s golden goose and its future looks even brighter. Over the last year, we’ve seen the company acquire a slew of renowned developers such as Ninja Theory and Double Fine as well as ailing giant Bethesda in a bid to course-correct Microsoft’s recent inability to create worthwhile exclusives consistently. Assuming the company continues its policy of introducing first party games to Game Pass on day one, then we can expect a bevy of tantalising new releases in the years to come.
Since incorporating EA Play subscriptions into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, we’ve noticed that any game added to EA Play is touted as ‘new/coming soon to Xbox Game Pass’ which is not wholly accurate as it only applies to those who have the more expensive Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. It would be nice to have this distinction more clearly communicated going forward because it has the potential to disappoint and alienate potential subscribers.
If there’s a concern for Game Pass’ future, at least from a subscriber’s point of view, it’s in the pricing. Microsoft has shown great propensity for trying to squeeze every penny from its player base in the past, and in the last year alone we’ve seen a sizable price increase for the PC only Xbox Game Pass as well as an attempt to double the price of Xbox Live Gold subscriptions before backing down in the face of overwhelming outrage.
At the moment, an Xbox Game Pass subscription costs around £96 a year in the UK and $120 in the US. With the purchase of numerous studios bringing with it the hope of more worthwhile exclusives in the future and the recent focus on making certain games in the catalogue capable of being streamed on mobile devices, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Microsoft feels it can justify a price increase and raises the subscription cost in the near future.
Who are these services for?
Going back to our opening, PlayStation Now finished the year with an 8-4 win in our monthly comparisons, but does that mean its superior? As is the case with all things, that answer will differ from person to person, so perhaps the better question is – what type of gamer would most enjoy each service?
There are two type of gamers that would not benefit from PS Now and they’re opposite ends of a spectrum. If you’re a casual gamer who only really plays the new Call of Duty or FIFA for most of the year, then PS Now is probably not for you. If you’re the hardcore, big-spender who buys every game you’re interested in immediately on release, then PS Now is not for you. For anybody in-between those extremes who owns a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5, we would heartily recommend it.
We haven’t really touched on this yet, but on top of the advantages of a PS Now subscription already listed, it just offers incredible value for money. The base price of a year’s PS Now subscription in the UK is £50 ($60 in the US) but on sale it drops to £30-£35 depending on where you buy it. What’s more, we’ve noticed that these price drops seem to occur around the same time every year (Days of Play Sale, Black Friday Sale, January Sale), so if at the end of the twelve months you decide you want to renew the subscription, then you can probably get it for the same reduced price again.
In that case, for around £2.50 a month you’re getting access to a huge library of games with new top-tier additions each month. Aside from anything else you’d always have something worth playing and would likely save money by not having to buy as many other games.
Xbox Game Pass
Like PS Now, Xbox Game Pass is not for the most casual player who makes one or two major releases last the year, but may work out as a cost saver for the hardcore gamer who would likely have bought some of the day one release additions anyway.
We would recommend the service to anyone who uses an Xbox as their main or sole console and enjoys an eclectic mix of genres. If you like a little of everything but don’t want to spend a fortune buying every new game that catches your attention, then you’ll love Xbox Game Pass. Each month brings a slew of smaller budget and indie releases along with a handful of bigger names and owing to the number of new additions each month, you’re sure to find something to enjoy.
Although the selling point of a service that includes all major first party exclusives on day of release sounds great, we’d say that the frequency and quality of Microsoft’s first party output is not high enough to justify a subscription if that’s your only reason for signing up. You’d be better off just buying whichever releases you like rather than paying £96 a year to retain access to them. Though with the horde of new developers under the Microsoft banner and host of promising new releases currently in development, that may well change in the future.
If you don’t fit any of these descriptions, we’d still recommend Game Pass, just not in the same way. Whereas PS Now’s limited time inclusions, low price, predicable discount pattern and colossal library lends itself well to a long-term subscription, Xbox Game Pass only sells subscriptions lasting either one or three months in many territories, but you may well find that three months is sufficient time to play everything that grabs your attention.
If that’s the case, the shrewd gamer would do well to let the subscription run out after having enjoyed the games that most take their fancy, then check in every few months to see what’s been added and only resubscribe when there’s enough attention-grabbers to tempt them back in.
There’s been a lot of information to digest here and we hope you’ve found it useful. As discussed, each service has advantages over the other and which is best suited for you will differ for each gamer. That being said, if you’ve read (or skipped) to this point looking for a straight answer to the initial question of ‘Which is better?’…Then we would stand by our results and tell you it’s PlayStation Now – essentially, it can cost a third as much with a library that’s around four time the size of Xbox Game Pass’ and contains better games as a whole.