Given that PlayStation Now is built with technology that actually does a very good job of streaming games to these new consoles, it would seem that Sony is in an ideal position to make a lot of money from the service. Unfortunately there are two major problems that might outweigh this solid foundation and cause the service to flounder when it should in fact wind up thriving.
In case you have not heard of PlayStation Now, the concept is similar to a rental service where convenience is the key. Sony's marketing dubs it as a means to "stream games with no downloads, patches, installs or trips to the store required, giving you the freedom to game whenever the opportunity arises.". Sounds great, right? The theory always sounded, good, especially when PlayStation Now seems committed to bringing quality titles to the service, such as Metal Gear Solid V, Ratchet and Clank, Ultra Street Fighter 4 and more. Sony is also leveraging the cloud-based technology to work on a variety of different devices ranging from the PlayStation 4 and 3 to the handheld Vita and even BRAVIA and PlayStation brand of televisions. Video games without consoles!
My primary concern was how well the technology would actually be leveraged. Anyone who has ever purchased a 'streaming' blu-ray player for programs like Netflix or Hulu knows that processing power on those devices certainly struggles when compared to a beefier console like the Xbox One or a well-built PC. While I have not had a chance to try the service out on televisions, I have been spending quite a bit of time with it on my Vita, PS3 and PS4 and there is almost no significant difference in performance. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on things like internet connection. One of my best friends has the worst broadband imaginable and the two of us struggle to finish a game of Madden 25 online, so he is obviously not the target audience for this technology as his experience would no doubt be a miserable one.
The type of game will also probably matter. Having had a chance to play a game where precision is key, lag can be something of an experience killer. One specific example is in a shooting game, even a more tactical one like Sniper Elite V2. That little bit of lag is simply 'there' most of the time, and I question if it will get worse when more users are accessing the services (which enter open beta on the PS4 at the end of this month). It is hardly a deal killer, as anyone who has ever played an online sports or shooting game has certainly experienced and learned to live with this kind of latency. Other titles, where quick twitch reflexes are not needed, such as an RPG or strategy title will no doubt hold up even better.
All in all, Sony has created the foundation for a service for which there appears to be a demand, which serves as an indication that PlayStation Now should be a huge success. The real problem is that Sony is letting the publishers set their own pricing and pricing structures, and while some of the games are quite reasonably priced, others look as though they could border on ridiculousness.
The pricing will be a very fluid thing, which means some titles could be discounted for a time or outright changed for better or worse with no notice. The idea is that you can sign up to rent the game for hours, days or even months at a time. My most baffling example is Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which when it first arrived on the service offered the following structure:
4 hours: $4.99
7 days: $6.99
30 days: $14.99
90 days: $29.99
Now, keep in mind that at the time of writing this article, this same game could be purchased on Amazon for $12.13.
Of course, there is truth to the Sony marking, that mentions instant gratification and no patches required, but having the physical disc would still mean you can play it (or even sell it when you are finished with the game, trade it in) for less than one would pay for a one month rental.
And that four hour price? That's crazy. Obviously that is being done so the publisher can make the longer options appear far more valuable, but in no world does that particular pricing structure make sense. Of course not all games are created nor priced equally. Another example is the original Darksiders game, which in the beta was priced at:
4 hours: $2.99
7 days: $5.99
30 days: $7.99
90 days: $14.99
Certainly more reasonable by comparison, especially since right now it is roughly one and a half dollars more than Deus Ex on Amazon, ringing in at $13.61 currently.
So the pricing is definitely a concern, but it is only one of two that I have about the upcoming service. The other is in the calendar-based way it is handled. Renting a movie for a day or two made sense back when we were dealing with physical media at the video store. The longer we kept a video out, the fewer other people were capable of renting it, so the stores had to make certain someone was paying for the time said video spent away from the store.
That does not apply to this sort of digital service, so why tie it to a calendar at all? Instead the service should be based on how much time is actually spent on the game. If I rent it for a week and something goes wrong (I have to work extra, a kid gets sick, my wife suddenly wants to visit the in-laws, our ISP goes down for a few days), suddenly I am stuck paying for time I am not using.
Additionally a calendar-based system ties into the mentality many paid MMO users, including yours truly, have struggled with in the past. Back when I used to play World of Warcraft I had this nagging voice in the back of my skull that liked to tell me I should be online and playing so I was getting the most out of my monthly subscription, even when I was otherwise happily doing other things. Most of the time I was able to push that nagging voice out of the forefront, but it definitely had an impact on how I digested and spent my time with the game and I can see that same sort of thing happening with PlayStation Now as well, which is simply not healthy but almost certainly unavoidable for people who are trying to figure out the best way to spend their gaming allowance.
Sony is no doubt soliciting a great deal of feedback on the PlayStation Now service, and while nothing is yet set in stone, the current direction is both interesting but also disconcertingly flawed. I for one would like to see it succeed as I believe there is a definite interest and market for it, but if it gets off onto the wrong foot, PlayStation Now might go from a great idea to something gamers decide they can do without.
Article by Nick