We've been cautiously excited about the prospect of PlayStation Now. When Sony bought out Gaikai, the purchase set tongues wagging and fingers tapping away at keyboards across the world. Could we expect a subscription streaming service? Would Sony deliver a PlayStation experience much in the same way that OnLive had been trying with varying levels of success? Back in January at CES 2014, PS Now was finally unveiled, although details were thin on the ground.
Now, however, the PS Now beta has gone live in the US, and there are some rather worrying signs indeed to suggest that the service might struggle to gain traction.
It all begins with the pricing. Given the generosity of PlayStation Plus, we were rather hoping for a premium tier to be added on top of the basic subscription or something along those lines -- an affordable, option-stuffed route to enjoying PlayStation titles across a range of devices. As for the reality, well,. there are certainly options, but you probably won't like any of them. For starters, there is no general subscription for the service -- games are "rented" on an hourly, weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. However, Sony aren't curating the pricing themselves, they're apparently allowing third-parties to sort that out for their own games, and with developers and publishers themselves setting the prices, it's all gotten a little bit ridiculous.
Game Informer produced a handy little chart showcasing the beta pricing for a range of titles, and comparing that with a retail price point obtained via Amazon and GameStop, and the PSN purchase price where applicable
There are a number of things to notice straight away, not least that some of the 90-day rental prices match or even exceed the asking price to buy the games outright on PSN. While it's true that PS Now does come with some added benefits, such as being able to play supported games across PS3, PS Vita, PS4, and PlayStation-enabled Sony TVs, alongside account-based cloud saving to allow for one game to continue across those multiple devices, these prices seem seriously steep.
he four-hour rental window is absolutely laughable, particularly when you consider that there's a negligible gap in many cases between the price for that initial tier, and the price for a 7-day rental period. There is no way that four hours with a game like Deus Ex: Human Revolution of Final Fantasy XIII is going to cut the mustard and give the players concerned significant bang for their bucks at all.
But the pricing is really a symptom of a much larger issue. We expected a subscription service (potentially one with individual rentals as an option) because that's what we've seen across the other entertainment mediums. You take a look at Netflix and NowTV and Amazon Prime and you have choices, particularly with the latter where you have a subscription model supported by individual rental prices should consumers not want to be tied into anything. Speaking personally, I have to say that I buy far fewer DVDs and boxsets now that we live in a streaming-dominated age, and I haven't bought a music album in two years because of initiatives such as Spotify and Sony's own Music Unlimited.
Content-subscriptions are not perfect by any means, but they are at least consumer-oriented. In the music and film/TV industries, companies taken heed of the desire for digital convenience and engineered services that capitalise upon that, offering access to wide-ranging libraries at a recurring monthly rate that doesn't break the bank and often offering purchasing opportunities as well. Set against a present where such things have been standard for several years now, a digital rental service seems archaic. PlayStation Now, much like most Xbox/PSN digital pricing, seems caught in limbo between trying to service consumers and attempting to appease the old retail gods and seemingly avaricious publishers inflating prices just because they can.
It also seems like a massive missed opportunity on Sony's part to have failed to integrate PS Now with PS Plus. It is to be hoped that we don't see the quality of the Instant Game Collection and PS Plus discounts decrease just because PS Now exists.
Back in January, Sony declared that a subscription option would be coming:
We want to offer you choice when it comes to how you want to access content on PS Now, so you will be able to rent by title for specific games you are interested in. We’ll also offer a subscription that will enable you to explore a range of titles.
But I find it staggering that Sony would release a version of PS Now into the wild looking so utterly unbalanced, even if it is a beta. The fact that you have to put down money to test out the service is somewhat reprehensible to begin with -- we're absolutely not fans of paid betas -- but it baffles me that Sony would debut a streaming service that they spent $380 million on to acquire without what would surely be its flagship pricing model, presenting rental prices that are ludicrously inflated at best, and downright disingenuous at worst.
Things can still change, of course, that's one of the advantages of having a beta. But this is the first big test for Sony now that the PS4 has been released. It's one thing to say that they're listening, but whether or not they'll actually act and make PS Now a viable proposition rather than the rather unfunny joke it first appears to be will remain to be seen.