Tech by VICE

Sony Is Putting the PlayStation's Back Catalog to Work for PC Gamers

A big step away from the console wars.

by Ian Birnbaum
Aug 26 2016, 11:00am

Image: Josh Hallett/Flickr/Flickr

PS Now for the PC will require this wireless dongle. Image: Sony/Flickr

Sony announced this week that PlayStation Now, the game-streaming subscription service, will soon become available for Windows PCs. This means that, for the first time, long-running PlayStation exclusive games like The Last of Us and Journey will be playable without a PlayStation.

Launching in Europe "soon" and North America "shortly thereafter," the new PlayStation Now PC app will give streaming access to Sony's back catalog of PlayStation 3 titles, Netflix style, for $25 a month. One minor catch is that PC customers will need a PlayStation controller to enjoy these games.

While this is big news, it also feels slightly inevitable. For one thing, console exclusives are rare and getting rarer with each new console cycle. In the late '90s, there was relatively little overlap for games published on different machines. Now, the situation has mostly reversed itself, with fewer games staying exclusively on one platform.

This is also makes financial sense for Sony. We've already seen how lucrative a long back catalog of old games can be when put to use: Rare Replay, a collection of games from developer Rare's 30-year history, sold like crazy last summer. For Sony, piles of money are going to flow in when anyone with a Windows PC and a half-decent broadband connection (5 mbps) pays for old classics like Shadow of the Colossus or Uncharted.

Nathan Drake, soon on your PC. Image: Sony

We're always going to see a few standout series, like Halo on the Xbox or Zelda on Nintendo, that are just too valuable to share with other hardware platforms. These games—and more specifically, the fact that fans can only play these games on specific game consoles—are a big way that console makers can make their product different from competitors. This is doubly true as computing power increases and becomes more efficient, and PlayStations, XBoxes, and PCs becoming increasingly similar to one another.

Still, the PlayStation Now announcement gives me hope that, over time, exclusive games will become more readily available. In the same way that GOG.com made a name for itself by selling classic PC games that were no longer commercially available, opening up back catalogs to everyone contributes to a shared history of video games. Looking back, the history of cinema wouldn't be as incredible if only half of all moviegoers had been able to watch Ben Hur or Star Wars. In another fifty years, video games will have enough time behind them to need similar touchstones.