Ever since Netflix took the world of media streaming by storm a few years ago, binge entertainment consumption has become a celebrated part of everyday culture. It takes only a few clicks or button taps (and a whole lot of free time) to tear through a few Hollywood blockbusters or a full season of Breaking Bad.
Doing the same for your favorite video games isn't quite as easy. Sure, there's GameFly, which lets you rent one or two physical games at a time for a flat monthly fee. But that process involves painful waits for new games to hit your doorstep, and I'd rather have a digital library of on-demand games at my fingertips.
There's been some progress towards that. Sony is trying its hand at on-demand streaming with PlayStation Now, and Xbox One owners will get a vault of all-you-can-play games with EA Access. Still, these programs have a ways to go before they rival the value, library size and immediacy of video streaming on Netflix.
Here's a brief look at how these two game-subscription services stack up, and how Sony, Microsoft and EA should step up to make both offerings worth your dollar.
PlayStation Now: Not yet great
Sony's PS4 doesn't play PS3 games out of the box, but PlayStation Now is changing that. Currently in beta, the service allows you to rent digitally streamed versions of PS3 games to your PS4, and eventually to your PS3, PS Vita, and even select Sony Bravia TVs and mobile devices.
On paper, PlayStation Now is a Sony devotee's dream come true. You can finally play PS3 games on a PS4 system with zero backwards compatibility, and you can do so without waiting an hour for a game to install onto your hard drive.
However, the current iteration of the service comes with some serious caveats. In our testing, the streamed versions of PS3 games like Dead or Alive 5 and Killzone 3 didn't look quite as good as their original forms, and I don't quite like my game's visual quality fluctuating alongside the stability of my Internet connection.
Even more troubling is the heinous pricing.
Of course, the PlayStation Now beta is still just that: a beta. Playing PS3 games on a truckload of different devices could rock, and Sony could fix all of the program's pricing woes by charging a set monthly fee (with a possible discount for PlayStation Plus members) for unlimited gaming. The per-game pricing could very well be in place to ensure publishers get a good cut, but I'm still hoping it changes.
Expanding Xbox One with EA Access
If PlayStation Now is a pricey, digital Blockbuster, EA Access is more like a true Netflix of games … except that all of those games come from a single publisher. Available now as an Xbox One exclusive, the service lets gamers download and play a "Vault" of EA games for $5 a month or $30 a year. (You don't need Xbox Live Gold to subscribe.)
Right out of the gate, EA Access (which EA offered to Sony, but Sony declined) has a few advantages over PlayStation Now. Since its games are downloaded instead of streamed, you'll get full visual quality regardless of your Internet connection. And once you've downloaded them, you can enjoy your Access games offline.
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There's also the price. For half the cost of a new retail game (or most 90-day rentals on PS Now), you get a year's worth of access to any games EA uploads to The Vault, 10 percent off any EA digital download (this includes games and extra content) and early access to select games, such as the upcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Unlimited access to EA's Xbox One back catalog sounds like a great deal, but unfortunately, that catalog isn't very big yet. The program's launch lineup consists of four games: Madden NFL 25, FIFA 14, Battlefield 4 and Peggle 2. That's two sports games that will soon be out of date, a shooter that will likely dwindle in popularity with the release of Battlefield: Hardline and a $12 puzzle game.
All of those games are critical and commercial hits, but EA will have to further flesh out The Vault to make Access truly appealing at launch. Throwing in a fairly recent smash like Titanfall would certainly help.
I'm a big fan of EA Access' overall structure and value compared to PlayStation Now, but one of its biggest faults is right in its name. You're obviously not playing any non-EA games through Access, whereas PlayStation Now taps into just about every major publisher.
Access also lacks the last-gen reach of PlayStation Now. EA has a treasure trove of beloved Xbox 360 franchises such as Dragon Age, Mass Effect and Dead Space, and making those games playable for Xbox One owners would up the ante in a huge way.
Making it Worthwhile for Gamers
Battlefield 4, one of the first games available on EA AccessBoth Sony and EA need to realize that no matter how good a value either service becomes, most gamers already pay yearly or monthly subscription fees to Sony's PlayStation Plus ($50 yearly) and Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold ($60 yearly). Both these services let gamers play their favorite games online, and both offer a rotating roster of free games.
When you ask players to drop an extra $30 a year (or, in certain PS Now cases, $4 for just a few hours of game time) on top of those subscriptions, suddenly PS Now and EA Access don't seem like such sweet deals. Still, Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus members are used to being rewarded for their paid loyalty, and providing those subscribers with significant discounts off of either service could potentially bring in an influx of users.
EA Access and PlayStation Now might not be worthy of the title of "Netflix for Games," but they've brought the world closer than ever to having one. If you were to combine PS Now's wide, last-gen library with EA Access' pricing and early access benefits, you just might have something that even the most jaded of gamers would subscribe to in spades.
If these two services succeed, I wouldn't be surprised to see heavy hitters like Activision, Ubisoft and, in some fantastic alternate universe, even Nintendo offering something similar. Whether this is a good thing or not is in the eye of the player. But, either way, it feels like gamers are on the cusp of an era when blasting through full game-franchises is just as convenient as blowing through a few seasons of Orange Is the New Black.
Mike Andronico is an associate editor at Tom's Guide. When he's not writing about games, desktops and mobile tech, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter. Follow Mike @MikeAndronico and onGoogle+. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.