Sony had been on a bit of a roll in terms of public opinion since the launch of the PlayStation 4. Most the internet’s vitriol had been squared entirely on Microsoft’s initially poor handling of the Xbox One. However, PlayStation Now is an excellent reminder that it doesn’t matter how high a company is on public opinion, a stupid move can hurt. And the PlayStation Now beta is indeed a stupid move on the part of Sony. What should have been an exciting and unique feature for Sony’s platforms has become a stain on their record. Today, I’d like to delve into the problems inherent with this system in its current form.
PlayStation Now is Sony’s answer to backwards compatibility. The idea is that they give players the ability to stream older games from Sony’s massive library for a cost. At first blush, this is a great idea. It harkens back to the old concept of the rental place, where gamers could try out games instead of having to buy them. For games that I only had a fleeting interest for like Alpha Protocol, it is definitely something that struck my fancy. Originally, Sony had been promising a flat fee for the service such as Netflix, but, at this time, they seem to be relying on a rental-style model with different rental periods costing different amounts of money.
It is the cost of the service that has attracted the most visceral reaction. You get four options for rental: 4 hours for $2.99, seven days for $7.99, 30 days for $14.99 and 90 days for $19.99. The prices vary per game, but that seems to be the standard rate. Again, that’s not too incomparable to rental places such as Blockbuster adjusting for inflation. However, there are a few significant problems.
Firstly, and largest of all is the fact that these are all PS3 games. This means that all of them are older and have an intrinsically diminished value. This allows for some absurdities with the pricing. Many of the games on PlayStation Now are actually cheaper to buy than to rent using the service. Alpha Protocol, to go back to my earlier example, is only $10 right now on Amazon.com, and that’s far from the best deal to obtain that game. You see, if these were all brand new games that could only be acquired for $59.99, there would be some value in the service, since you could duck the huge cost and try out a game for free. The way it is now, Sony seems to expect that people will pay a premium for the ability to stream older games they could get cheaper elsewhere. In other words, the massive price hike is unjustifiable.
Then there’s the wonkiness with the timing. A 4 hour duration doesn’t make sense. Now let me clarify: it could make sense for party games and the such, where you rent it for the evening simply to have fun with friends. Let’s ignore for a minute that if you want to play party games, you should buy a Wii U instead of any Sony or Microsoft device, and focus on the absurdities. 4 hours for a party game isn’t a bad idea. That isn’t what’s being offered. Instead, the 4 hour time period is offered for every game, and it seems that Sony is treating it like one of their hour long demos that used to be available for PS+ users. Let me ask you a question? Is there anyone in the world that wants to play only the first 4 hours of Final Fantasy XIII? How about the fact that for only a couple more bucks you could have the game for 42 times longer? The 4 hour time period doesn’t just not make sense for most games, but it also stands as the worst deal of the bunch at $2.99. If the 4 hour period had only been available on select titles, you know, ones that actually made sense to be played for 4 hours, then maybe this wouldn’t be a point to highlight.
I’m not going to talk about the general quality of the streaming itself. That is very dependant, like all streaming services, on each person’s internet connection. To some, it may seem unusable, while to others, there is effectively no difference between that and owning the disk. While it would be nice for the service to allow a download option so that players with slow internet speeds could use it, that idea may be untenable.
So, getting past the vitriol, can Sony turn this around? After all, it’s only a beta, and Sony has stated that they are looking specifically at pricing and timing issues. The good news is yes they can, and I’ll tell you how. If Sony decides to only use older games, then they have to move to a subscription model. Gamers will pay $5 to $10 dollars a month to get access to Sony’s library, and the pricing point would be low enough that a huge volume of gamers would be willing to join up even if they don’t use the service very much. This avoids the gouging prices, and, more importantly, the absurd results when you compare direct prices to the real world. The current model, however, would work quite nicely with brand new games. I would pay $7.99 to play Little Big Planet 3 for a week. Get rid of the 4 hour rental though, and maybe replace it with a 3 day one. Seriously, that 4 hours is an insult to us all.
At this point, the best I can say about the service is that it has a pretty good selection of games considering it only just launched. It remains to be seen if PlayStation Now will become something that every gamer cares about, or something that Sony lets fade into the background like the Playstation Move, 3D gaming, the PlayStation Vita, etc. With proper care, PlayStation Now could be a winner, but the logistics of getting the proper licenses and putting them up on the site frequently may be too much for Sony to bother.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer