How Sony’s PlayStation Could Backdoor Its Way Into the Streaming Wars

Thanks to the rise of cloud gaming, Sony could have a foothold as a major player in the crowded SVOD space.
PlayStation logo seen displayed on a smartphone screen on a desk next to a Macbook
PlayStation logo seen displayed on a smartphone screen on a desk next to a Macbook
Photo illustration by Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Without a platform to call its own, Sony is the arms dealer of the streaming wars. It made a deal last year to provide movies and programming to Netflix that includes everything from “Spider-Man” and “Morbius” to “Cobra Kai” and “The Night Agent.” However, it’s still possible that Sony has a major player in the streaming wars — and no, we’re not talking about buying Crackle back from Chicken Soup for the Soul. You might have heard of it: PlayStation.

PlayStation, of course, is Sony Interactive Entertainment’s 28-year-old brand devoted to kitting out the world’s gamers with consoles, AAA games, and even VR. All those platforms, titles, and loyal users give it a very, very big head start in cloud gaming… which may also be the next major frontline for streaming dominance.

“The battlefield isn’t as locked as we assume,” said angel investor Matthew Ball, founder of the NYSE-traded Roundhill Ball Metaverse and author of 2022 Wall Street Journal bestseller “The Metaverse and How it will Revolutionize Everything.” (He also used to be the global head of strategy for Amazon Studios.)

Cloud gaming seems like a natural extension for streaming platforms: Much like films and TV shows, cloud gaming relies on remote servers to stream games directly to a console, smartphone, or PC — no local storage (or downloading) needed. Netflix gained its streaming foothold with films and TV and is looking to add cloud gaming; why can’t Sony start with cloud gaming and add movies and TV?

Sony already tested the idea in Poland with PlayStation Plus Video Pass, which gave users a library of TV shows and movies to watch for free. Could that concept travel elsewhere, including the U.S.?

“The benefit was a limited trial run,” a PlayStation spokesperson told IndieWire. “We’re always looking for opportunities to strengthen the benefits we offer through PlayStation Plus.”

That’s definitely not a “no.”

Sony has long been an industry leader in cloud gaming: Its PS Now service pioneered the business in 2014. That was later discontinued in favor of subscription service PlayStation Plus, which provides access to hundreds of games as well as cloud gaming.

It’s not the only player in this space — there’s Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, (per spokesperson, 25 million subscribers and more than 20 million people have used Xbox Cloud Gaming), Nvidia (25 million-plus registered worldwide users across membership tiers, both free and paid, per a spokesperson) and the nascent Amazon Luna (a spokesperson declined to share membership or usage statistics).

PlayStation Plus logo
PlayStation Plus logoSony

However, none of those compare to PlayStation: At the end of 2022, there were 46.4 million global PlayStation Plus subscribers. As Ball points out, the scale of Sony’s PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Network “exceeds that of many of the biggest streamers of the world.”

That’s still a lot smaller than Netflix, which currently has more than 230 million global subscribers and launched a gaming division in 2021. Since then, it’s launched 55 mobile games and plans to introduce more than 40 more in 2023. Speaking at the 2022 TechCrunch Disrupt, Netflix VP Games Mike Verdu said the company was “very seriously exploring” a cloud gaming service. Google also made a stab at this with Stadia, which launched in November 2019 and closed in January 2023.

Others could follow suit. Ball sees Warner Bros. Discovery “in a unique position” to make a cloud gaming play via white-labeling Amazon or Google’s cloud game-streaming tech “so that HBO Max subscribers can play the smash hit ‘Hogwarts Legacy’ or ‘Batman Arkham Asylum’ from within the otherwise film-/TV-centric platform.”

Maybe if that had been part of the April 12 “Max” reveal, shares of Warner Bros. Discovery stock would have moved in a positive, not negative, direction. And why wouldn’t Disney+ get into the game as well?

However, Sony’s already well on the way.

“Sony’s Insomniac Studio has made two outstanding Spider-Man games, with another entry due this year, and a Wolverine adaptation due in 2024 or 2025,” Ball wrote in his free online publication The Streaming Book. “These titles are initially exclusive to Sony’s PlayStation, but after two years or so, they typically add a PC edition. In the years to come, one can imagine Disney+ buying an exclusive streaming window, perhaps running on a white label of PlayStation’s own cloud service.”

"Hogwarts Legacy"
“Hogwarts Legacy”Screenshot/YouTube

PlayStation not only has the Plus subs and PlayStation Network monthly active users (112 million at the end of 2022), but Sony also has the content library, the technology, balance sheet, and branding to enter the fray.

“It’s likely the battlefield will have thinned by the end of this decade, with Sony not just skipping this phase’s costliest period, but with other participants having financed the growth of its content library,” Ball wrote in the mini-book. “And despite the delay, Sony might still have one of the world’s largest monthly subscription services… and probably one of its most profitable, too.”

Ultimately, Ball says he does not believe Sony or Microsoft will (as he puts it) “press Start” on SVOD, though he concedes: “If Microsoft has a chance… then Sony certainly has a lane.”

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