PlayStation Now, Sony’s streaming game platform, has been all over gaming news lately because of A) its relative secrecy, and B) its outrageous prices as reported by users of the PlayStation Now beta. As Kotaku recently noted Sony’s pricing scheme for PlayStation Now games are currently insane, with the cost for a 90-day rental of Guacamelee the same as purchasing the game outright. A 30-day rental of Final Fantasy XII-2 would cost almost as much as purchasing it used at most retailers. Since the initial outrage, Sony has stayed mostly quiet and left the internet to come to its own conjectures for possible improvement.
But what could Sony do to fight the firestorm against PlayStation Now?
Sony may be considering changes to make PlayStation Now more appealing to consumers, as well as the gaming press. PlayStation Universe reported that it might be possible to stream items already purchased on PSN for free, and DualShockers notes that a recent Sony survey asked whether or not users would pay a 15% premium to play a game with all of its DLC. Still, neither of these potential solutions address the primary problem: the cost of using PS Now compared to purchasing games outright.
Allowing users to stream games they’ve purchased digitally allows them to reserve more space for physical games, DLC, and newer digital titles, but this alone won’t persuade most gamers to use the service. The 15% premium for DLC is an interesting idea, but an extra 15% of zero is still zero; if Sony can’t convince gamers to use the PS Now because of the initial price, then bundling the DLC for more money won’t help them either. The core issue of poor pricing destroys the entire product, so much so that I actually can’t help but hope that Sony isn’t even considering using the debuted pricing structure.
Two potential solutions would make PlayStation Now a viable service in the market, one based on a pay-for-usage model as proposed by Ars Technica, and the other involving a Netflix-style subscription model as envisioned by much of the public. Ars Technica suggested a pay-for-usage model as opposed to a pay-for-access: PS Now users would essentially buy tokens redeemable for X amount of time on any game in the library. At a proposed rate of $1/hr, even playing through a 20-hour RPG seems reasonable at $20, particularly when it’s enjoyed at leisure instead of being jammed into a week or month-long period (as those with full-time jobs or course loads can attest). Though I prefer this model to Sony’s current one, the pressure of basically seeing a running clock in the corner of my screen reminding me to hurry through my JRPGs would push me to bypass the service outright.
Pay-for-time schemes work for other media like books and movies, but games require so much time that they break the model. Viewers fully digest a movie in just a couple of hours, so renting a movie for multiple days isn’t really renting additional time with the movie as much as renting the ability to watch it at your leisure. Games, on the other hand, can take 5, 10, 20, or more hours to fully experience even just the main campaign. Over the course of a week-long rental, that purchased time becomes pressure instead of relaxation; any free time spent not playing the game feels like money thrown down the toilet.
The majority of gamers seem to want a subscription-style model for PlayStation Now similar to video streaming services: pay a flat fee per month to stream any games from the catalog available. This relieves the pressure of feeling forced into spending time with any particular title, and allows gamers to sample from a large range of games without penalty. In order to increase revenue, this likely means a tiered membership model for PS Now: gamers would stream select titles at the minimum price, and purchase access to premium tiered games. This actually turns PS Now into a viable threat to the used game market: why would gamers go pay $20 for a game they might not like when they could stream it from home as part of their PS Now membership?
Then again, why not have pay-for-usage AND subscription access? Considering many gamers will already own titles PS3, PS2, or PS1 titles they’d like to stream on their system, a blanket subscription model allows Sony to handle the costs of streaming games and doing business while us gamers get to play our older games on newer consoles without feeling robbed. If we decide we want to play games outside of our subscription range, maybe brand-new releases or select classics, then we could use some tokens to get a taste of the game and decide whether or not it’s worth increasing our monthly subscription cost.
Whatever Sony decides, something has to happen now with PlayStation Now. Sony’s purchase of Gaikai’s cloud-based streaming technology needs to pay off, and that’s still possible if they play their cards right. The PS4 may have market share over the Xbox One right now, but Microsoft has the opportunity to improve on whatever Sony does first, meaning Sony’s debut in the streaming realm could make or break a significant market advantage. With any luck Sony will take some time to consider all their options and do what’s best for gamers; that will be what’s best for their company in the end.