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PlayStation Plus vs PlayStation Now: What‘s Changed with the New PlayStation Plus?

Sony recently discontinued its PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now subscriptions, consolidating them into a new three-tiered PlayStation Plus service. This overhaul aims to compete with Microsoft‘s popular Xbox Game Pass while better serving different segments of PlayStation gamers.

This guide will analyze the gradual progression of PlayStation‘s premium services that brought us to the current PlayStation Plus refresh. We‘ll compare historical offerings to the new tiers and assess how well Sony is positioning itself within the maturing cloud gaming market.

The Origins of PlayStation Plus and Now

PlayStation Plus Ushers in the Era of Premium Services

Sony launched PlayStation Plus in June 2010, becoming the first major console maker to introduce a premium subscription tied to its platform. For $17.99 quarterly or $49.99 annually, the service initially offered subscribers:

  • Automatic game patch downloads
  • Early access to demos and game trials
  • The Instant Game Collection, providing 3-4 PS3 games per month that remained available and playable as long as the membership was active
  • Exclusive or early access to some additional digital content
  • Automatic uploading of game saves to cloud storage
  • Discounts on games and services

The biggest draw here was building a games collection that persisted as long as you maintained an active subscription. This early adoption of the "game catalog" model we see today with services like Xbox Game Pass demonstrated some forward-thinking on Sony‘s part.

However, PlayStation Plus soon became effectively mandatory for a key reason – in September 2010, Sony started requiring a Plus membership to play multiplayer modes in most PS3 games. This requirement persists on PS4 and PS5 consoles to this day.

Since those initial days, PlayStation Plus evolved gradually over the years:

  • 2011 – Instant Game Collection offered 4+ PS3 games monthly
  • 2012 – Launched PS Plus‘ free Vita game offerings
  • 2013 – Over 1 million Plus members claimed 30+ free games yearly
  • 2014 – PS4 online multiplayer and Instant Game Collection support added
  • 2015 – PS Plus membership hits 20+ million
  • 2016 – 100GB cloud storage introduced

Sony had grown PlayStation Plus into a robust, modernized offering competitive with Microsoft‘s similar Xbox Live Gold subscription. Still, another seismic shift loomed just around the corner that would change how everyone accessed games.

PlayStation Now‘s Promise – and Problem

At CES 2014, Sony unveiled its PlayStation Now cloud streaming platform, which entered open beta at the start of 2015. The technology utilized custom server hardware allowing PS Now users to play PS3 games hosted on servers rather than natively running them on PS3, PS4 or PC hardware.

This early entrance into cloud gaming drew obvious comparisons to Netflix‘s burgeoning video streaming service. Dubbed "the Netflix of games" by many at launch, PS Now clearly aimed to realize that vision.

PlayStation Now offered two primary access models:

1. Streaming Access

  • Play PS3 games directly via cloud streaming
  • Supported on PS4, PS3, Vita; later added PC support
  • 300+ PS3 titles at launch with steady monthly growth over time
  • Resolution capped at 720p with performance issues common

2. Downloadable Access

  • Download and directly play supported PS4 and PS2 games locally
  • Growing catalog with 100+ PS4, 40+ PS2 games offered
  • Only available playing directly on PS4/PS5 hardware

The promise with PlayStation Now was introducing players to titles they may have missed from PlayStation history while pioneering cloud gaming technology. If it worked well, PS Now meant no more losing access to beloved games when new consoles replaced old hardware every 5-7 years.

In reality, PlayStation Now stumbled out of the gate. With no PS1 support and a mere fraction of standout PS2/PS3 games, nostalgic players felt letdown. And persistent performance issues made streaming feel like a laggy, janky mess for most.

Still, PlayStation Now slowly improved over time as Internet speeds increased. Sony added PS1 and PSP games in 2017 along with downloadable PS4/PS2 games. The streaming catalog expanded to over 650 games while streaming resolution increased to 1080p by 2020.

But with pricing at $9.99 monthly/$44.99 quarterly/$99.99 annually, PS Now remained a difficult sell next to the cheaper, more essential PlayStation Plus. And with no bundled subscribers between services, many players stuck with just PlayStation Plus rather than spring for both.

Why PlayStation Felt Compelled to Change

Pressure slowly mounted for Sony to find a way to reconcile its fractured premium service ecosystem. Several key factors drove the company toward its massive 2022 PlayStation Plus overhaul.

1. Xbox Game Pass‘ Runaway Success

Sony couldn‘t ignore Xbox Game Pass‘ continuous growth since launching in 2017. At just $9.99 monthly, Game Pass serves up day-one access to new Xbox exclusives amidst a Netflix-style catalog of hundreds of games.

From 25 million Game Pass subscribers today projected to grow to 70+ million by 2026, PlayStation felt intensifying competition to deliver a comparable bundled service.

2. Consumer Confusion Around Multiple Subscriptions

Between PlayStation Plus, PlayStation Now, and standalone services like EA Play, consumers faced choice paralysis when considering their subscription options. Simplification and bundling clearly emerged as priorities for Sony.

3. More Provider Bandwidth for Game Streaming

Internet speeds continued improving globally, with many regions reaching the baseline required to make cloud gaming viable. This expanded Sony‘s potential streaming reach and improved reliability for current PlayStation Now subscribers.

4. Maturing Cloud Infrastructure

Sony built on almost a decade improving its PlayStation cloud infrastructure since launching PS Now. Leveraging enhanced server capacity, Sony could now boost its streaming catalog to new generations of games.

5. Player Demand for Classics on New Consoles

Support for playing legacy PlayStation games on PS4/PS5 continued gaining vocal fan demand. Xbox‘s stellar backward compatibility efforts only amplified calls for Sony to unlock extensive classic game support.

With these market forces and technical advancements as a backdrop, Sony drawing the curtain back on PlayStation Plus made perfect sense in 2022.

PlayStation Plus Relaunch – The Good and the Bad

Sony announced in March 2022 that PlayStation Now and PlayStation Plus would be retired and replaced by a new three-tier PlayStation Plus service:

  1. PlayStation Plus Essential – Same benefits as original PS Plus
  2. PlayStation Plus Extra – Adds a catalog of 400+ PS4/PS5 downloadable games
  3. PlayStation Plus Premium – Expands catalog with 300+ more PS1/PS2/PSP games supporting cloud streaming

On paper, the new tiers smartly consolidate access to Sony‘s legacy games and online services under one brand. But how well have these early days met player expectations?

What Sony Got Right

Lasting Value for Casual Players – PlayStation Plus Essential preserves the same benefits at the same $59.99 yearly pricing that many core subscribers relied on for more than a decade.

Streamlined Cloud Gaming Offering – Folding PlayStation Now completely into PlayStation Plus Premium helps new subscribers better understand Sony‘s cloud gaming pitch.

Healthy Streaming Catalog at Launch – With 340 PS3 titles available for cloud streaming globally from day one, Premium offers great depth without the confusing multi-tier legacy barriers of PlayStation Now.

Enhanced Classic Game Access – PlayStation Plus Premium members can now stream popular PS1, PS2 and PSP games without needing to own legacy hardware or discs.

Where Improvements Remain

Communication Mishandling Legacy Subscriptions – Sony poorly explained how existing PlayStation Now subscribers would be converted to new tiers, resulting in some players losing cloud streaming access.

Streaming Performance Inconsistencies – While streaming has improved markedly since 2014, performance issues persist for some members reliant on Sony‘s aging cloud infrastructure.

PS3 Game Streaming Limitations – Due to PS3 system architecture complexities, Sony currently only supports game streaming and not downloadable access for its back catalog. This can limit appeal for some fans hoping to directly play older titles offline.

Gaps Remain for Key Sony Franchises – Surprisingly, many iconic PlayStation exclusive franchises like Uncharted, God of War and Metal Gear Solid still have significant catalog gaps across PlayStation Plus Premium today.

While still early, the updated service generally provides broader value – it just may not seem that way for loyal subscribers of the legacy PlayStation Now ecosystem. Sony still has work ahead earning back trust here.

PlayStation Plus Tiers Breakdown

Key Attribute Data Comparisons

Essential Extra Premium
Monthly Price $9.99 $14.99 $17.99
Yearly Price $59.99 $99.99 $119.99
Game Catalog Size 2 monthly games 400+ PS4/PS5 games 740+ games spanning PS1 to PS5
Cloud Streaming Access No No Yes (for 340+ classic games)
Exclusive Franchise Access No Selected PS Studios franchises only More PS Studios classic franchises

The Road Ahead – What Will the Future of PlayStation Plus Look Like?

Given Sony‘s tremendous early success pioneering premium gaming subscriptions with PlayStation Plus, we should expect their dedication to evolving this service to continue going forward.

What might that future evolution entail?

Here are some predictions:

Catalog Expansion – More gaps will slowly fill across flagship PlayStation studios franchises along with iconic 3rd party series that defined past PlayStation generations. Could former exclusives like Metal Gear Solid come to the Classic catalog? Time will tell.

Cloud Streaming Improvements – Sony will keep enhancing back-end infrastructure to boost streaming performance and minimize latency issues. Support for streaming PS4 games will likely get added over time too.

Extended Game Trials – The Premium tier currently offers 2 hour trials for brand new games. Expanding those to 5-10 hour trials for more major releases seems plausible.

PlayStation Store Discount Boosts – Greater PlayStation Store savings for PlayStation Plus subscribers could help drive more digital game sales and incentivize subscription renewals.

PC Support – Enabling cloud streaming not just console access would align with competitors while expanding Sony‘s reachable audience, especially important as subscription growth slows among console owners.

Of course, Sony could have far more radical changes envisioned we won‘t foresee here. But based on the first 12 years of PlayStation Plus, constant evolution now seems embedded in PlayStation‘s DNA – and that can only benefit gamers going forward.

For any nostalgic PlayStation fan or Multiplayer lover, the new PlayStation Plus still delivers tremendous, lasting value while pointing to a bright future. Sony may have taken their time getting here, but the company finally has a service to compete toe-to-toe with Xbox Game Pass. The only winners in that scenario are gamers everywhere.