At CES early this month, Sony finally revealed what they had been up cooking up with Gaikai. Sony’s game streaming service, PlayStation Now, debuts in June. PlayStation Now leverages Gaikai’s cloud-based technology to stream games, a proposition Sony teased last year during its PlayStation 4 announcement. The service allows users to stream games from Sony’s library ranging from popular to classic titles. PS Now offers users the ability to rent specific titles or to purchase a subscription to the service. PS Now will offer games from the PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3. There are plans to offer PlayStation 4 games down the line. At the beginning of the service, it will only be offered through the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3, but will be expanded out to the PlayStation Vita, 2014 Sony BRAVIA TVs and eventually other Sony and non-Sony devices (like tablets). While the idea of PlayStation Now is exciting, there are still plenty of questions surrounding the service from how subscriptions/rentals will work to what games will be offered to what performance will be like when streaming games.
One major issue with streaming services is its rental and subscription pricing. Rentals for streaming videos are not terribly expensive anymore. They now range from $3.99 and up, but compared to a monthly Netflix or Hulu Plus subscription, they are pretty pricey. The reason streaming rentals work on Amazon, iTunes, the PlayStation Network and other streaming video services is that they offer brand new (and premium) movies not packaged in a monthly subscription service. This rental vs. subscription problem will be a big issue with PS Now since it is offering older games via subscription/rental. When looking at PS Now that rental vs. subscription pricing becomes a bit more skewed. Since no pricing information is available on the PS Now subscriptions or rentals. It is all guess work. The question is how rentals or subscriptions will work or how much a specific game rental will cost (or how long users can play the rented game for), it is a guess on whether or not the subscription will be infinitely more valuable than a rental. However, let’s say a monthly subscription to PS Now is $14.99 conservatively (it could be cheaper aiming at that sweet $7.99 Netflix/Hulu Plus pricing or much higher given its conetnt type and bandwidth usage) for a month of service, and an individual game rental is $6.99 (slightly more than your average movie stream rental) then it is obvious that the subscription is the best route. Subscriptions to PS Now being an attractive option will obviously be dictated by the games offered and how Sony plans to add content long term to PS Now.
So far, Sony has only revealed cryptic information about PS Now offering PSone, PS2 and PS3 games through the service. During CES, they showed PS Now running The Last of Us, God of War: Ascension, Puppeteer and Beyond: Two Souls. Now those are some of the most recent Sony titles (and let’s be honest The Last of Us is the main thing most people who would be into the service would want to play), which means older titles will be offered at some point, but that leaves a huge question mark on the service’s viability outside of these four guaranteed titles. What will determine the success of the service is how Sony structures the way games are added to the service and what is initially offered upon the service’s launch. Obviously, offering a huge selection of Sony titles split between PSone, PS2 and PS3 is ridiculous, but what is a healthy ratio of games to offer? Going off other subscription based streaming services, there needs to be a sizable collection offered initially. Then the question is how does Sony add attractive games over time to encourage subscription renewal or bring back subscription turn over? What happens when they run out of Sony titles? There has been no mention of offering games outside of the Sony brand, so can they do a licensing deal like Netflix, where they add specific titles from third-party publishers/developers? It is a mystery still, but if PlayStation Plus has taught us anything, don’t count out Sony giving a value to consumers.
The final (well, not final, but final initial concern) is the performance of streaming games. It is one thing to hear good things about a demo at a controlled (well, as controlled as a convention can be) environment, but the true test of PS Now will be when the closed beta launches and how it performs across a varying range of set ups. Sony’s stated the bare minimum for a good performance is an internet connection with a 5 Mb/S speed. That is not demanding much, but that is a theoretical ideal for basic good performance. Honestly, a solid performance will likely demand at least a mid range broadband package (which is about 20 Mb/S). Then there are a number of factors that will likely spring up in actual use that will affect performance that most streaming and intensive bandwidth services run into. Then there are issues of bandwidth caps (even with better speed), broadband availability across the country, service provider performances and throttling. Not to mention the cost of a good broadband service, which can get pricey. This is all outside of the stability of the servers for the PS Now service or how it can handle high user impact.
PS Now also might be aiming at a small target: a market that missed out on Sony titles. It is a service that likely will catch on better once it rolls out to non-Sony devices, but its main appeal is going to be adding backwards compatibility to the PS4 (giving converted Xbox users a chance to experience PS3 titles they may have missed). However, it may catch some PS3 users who want to buy a subscription to check out some Sony titles they passed up. There is a huge potential in the PS Now service, but some major concerns will need to be addressed by Sony in the coming months to help alleviate reasonable concerns regarding its pricing, library roll out and overall performance across a wide user base. As the June debut inches closer, many of these issues will become clearer and whether PS Now will fall flat on its face or not.