For Rural Players, PlayStation Plus Premium is a Non-Solution

The ghost of the cell processor lingers.

During a time in which the question of how to preserve video games only seems to become more complicated, video game streaming feels like a solid answer. Services like Sony’s PlayStation Now and Microsoft’s xCloud provide a console-agnostic means for people to play older games. In a world where systems like the PlayStation 3’s cell processor architecture was so distinct (and often difficult for developers to develop for) from other platforms on the market, having swaths of its library playable through cloud streaming allows those games to be playable for years to come, even as companies move away from proprietary or outdated tech. 

But as enticing as that ideal is, using streaming for a medium that punishes even the slightest bit of lag between player input and in-game action still feels like a lofty fantasy that much of the world’s internet infrastructure can’t actually support. I should know — I live in a place where game streaming simply isn’t viable.

If you’re not up to speed on the news, Sony announced today it’s rolling out new tiers for PlayStation Plus in June. The subscription service that once acted as a portal to online play for PlayStation 4 and 5 is now getting two new price points that add new features alongside online play and monthly free games. Here’s the breakdown:

PlayStation Plus Essential

  • Benefits: 
    • Provides the same benefits that PlayStation Plus members are getting today, such as:
      • Two monthly downloadable games
      • Exclusive discounts
      • Cloud storage for saved games
      • Online multiplayer access
    • There are no changes for existing PlayStation Plus members in this tier.Price: $9.99 monthly / $24.99 quarterly / $59.99 yearly

PlayStation Plus Extra

  • Benefits: 
    • Provides all the benefits from the Essential tier
    • Adds a catalog of up to 400* of the most enjoyable PS4 and PS5 games – including blockbuster hits from our PlayStation Studios catalog and third-party partners. Games in the Extra tier are downloadable for play.
    • Price: $14.99 monthly / $39.99 quarterly / $99.99 yearly

PlayStation Plus Premium

      • Provides all the benefits from Essential and Extra tiers
      • Adds up to 340* additional games, including:
        • PS3 games available via cloud streaming
        • A catalog of beloved classic games available in both streaming and download options from the original PlayStation, PS2 and PSP generations 
      • Offers cloud streaming access for original PlayStation, PS2, PSP and PS4 games offered in the Extra and Premium tiers in markets** where PlayStation Now is currently available. Customers can stream games using PS4 and PS5 consoles, and PC.*** 
      • Time-limited game trials will also be offered in this tier, so customers can try select games before they buy.Benefits:
      • Price: $14.99 monthly / $39.99 quarterly / $99.99 yearly

On paper, a lot of this sounds pretty good despite lacking day one first-party games like God of War: Ragnarok — an advantage that defines its primary competitor, Xbox Game Pass. The catalog of approximately 400 downloadable PS4 and PS5 games gives Sony an answer to Xbox’s equivalent service, which is regarded as one of the best deals in the games industry and something PlayStation has failed to respond to up to this point. The PS Plus Premium subscription, which adds another 340 games through cloud streaming and downloading, particularly sounds like a great value at first. For about $18 a month in the U.S., you’ll have access to just under 800 games in addition to free PS Plus games and online play.

For Rural Players, PlayStation Plus Premium is a Non-Solution

However, there’s one significant drawback: PS3 games specifically can’t be downloaded — they can only be streamed to your system. This raises the question of just how much value a person living in a rural area — where internet download speeds are much slower and tied to the gross methods that internet service providers use to bypass monopoly laws — actually gets from PS Plus Premium.

I live in a small Georgian town that is referred to as Bumfuck Nowhere around these parts. As of this writing, I have a download speed of just under 10mbps. My ping is pretty alright, so if I’m playing an online game natively, I tend to manage with minimal lag. But there’s a significant difference in the bandwidth it takes to stream a game to my PS5 while the system pings back and forth between a server to represent every time I make an input.

To be fair, 10mbps is twice the speed Sony recommends for streaming games on PlayStation Now. But I don’t live alone, and my internet is not mine to siphon to my PlayStation anytime I want. Any time I play online games has to be coordinated with my roommates, who can’t stream a Netflix show at the same time, or everyone will suffer through lag and buffering in tandem. Many people who live in places with decent internet aren’t operating on the precarious foundation that people in rural areas must consider when using online services. The knowledge that my internet connection can’t handle streaming games has been central to my lack of buy-in to things like PlayStation Now and xCloud.

This isn’t Sony or Microsoft’s fault — the truth is that this is a systemic issue. Despite internet use long becoming essential for modern-day living, the market is dominated by a handful of companies, some of which have a monopoly-like hold on areas like the one I live in. Companies like Windstream — the only internet service provider that will install a modem in my home — have entire towns on lock while providing subpar services in comparison to both their competitors and their own advertised service. But it ultimately doesn’t matter because no other company is here to compete and require them to actually follow through on what they sell. Even if it hasn’t stopped the company from filing for bankruptcy.

For Rural Players, PlayStation Plus Premium is a Non-Solution

The heart of the matter is the games industry may be ready to make streaming a business pillar, but the internet infrastructure of the world isn’t. For as much as we see companies like Microsoft and Sony — and even Google at one point — position it as the future of video games, big tech companies fail to consider that it’s a goal that isn’t even distantly visible for those living in rural areas. It’s a fantasy some of us can’t conceive of because we can’t play an online game if someone is watching the latest season of Bridgerton in the next room over. There’s a larger discussion to be had about how streaming games allows us to preserve games long after the console they were developed on becomes obsolete. But considering how little the games industry has shown it cares for preservation to begin with, that’s probably not on Sony’s mind right now. Streaming is a means to an end. Sony is looking to undercut its competition — putting games like the original Infamous duology in a playable state in 2023 is just a nice bit of happenstance.

For people who live in rural areas, it’s not feasible. But the digital age has never cared about us, to begin with.

As much as I would love to play some of these old games on my PS5, perhaps it’s just best for me to stick to playing Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time on my Vita. Hell, even with the original PS2 games hypothetically being natively downloadable onto the PS5, I’d much rather be playing the PS3 HD remasters of the first three Sly Cooper games, which can only be streamed in this current setup.

PS Plus Premium doesn’t feel like it’s the foolproof fix Sony needs to fill the gap in its console’s capabilities. It’s not a problem entirely of its own making, as tech companies can’t be beholden to the monopolies shitty ISPs have on areas too poor to have a better foundation. But it’s a reminder that none of these companies have figured any of this out. If the services and solutions they’re providing aren’t viable for people like me, there’s not much sense in upgrading to its premium subscription come June.