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What are you willing to pay for PlayStation Now, and for what?

PlayStation 4 Screenshot - 1163521

It’s become increasingly obvious that this console generation will be about more than games themselves—at least, in part. Multimedia endeavors have been gaining ground for years now, but since the release of PS4 and XOne, they’ve been on center stage. We all know how subtly Microsoft has targeted viewership, but even Sony, as they dote on the PS4’s gamer-centric design philosophy, continues to push their platform’s streaming services. Spearheading that push is PlayStation Now, a veritable digital library and Sony’s answer to the industry’s growing fondness of streamed content.

When revealed, PSNow plucked every nostalgic string it could, but with every scrap of information Sony drops, the lofty dream of frolicking unabated through fields of childhood favorites and missed classics becomes less and less realistic. Almost like interactive entertainment is an industry or something.  

PlayStation Now

Friggin' businesses and their need to make money.

The idealism really starts to fade when we get to the dicier aspects of the service, namely pricing and delivery. The elephant in the room is the fact that PlayStation Plus is all but required for PS4 owners, and stacking another service on top will leave a hefty subscription weighing pockets down. PlayStation Now is a PS4 owner’s wet dream at a couple bucks a month, but when you look at total costs, factoring in the unconfirmed but realistic price point of $50 annually, you’ll end up putting at least $100 into your PS4’s online services each year. And that’s if PSNow opts for the membership model; early leaks also hint at a by-the-game fee, running $4.99 to $5.99 for PS3 titles alone. Once again, that’s bite-sized if it’s once or twice every few releases, but will become unsavory for some when it starts to add up. With any luck, both options will be included, which is likely given how PS+ is structured.

And to the terminally optimistic who are still holding out hope that PSNow will be included with a PS+ subscription, I say jump ship now. The idea of Gaikai being able to sustain the no-doubt unruly maintenance costs of running PlayStation Now by simply leeching off PlayStation Plus—which, itself, is necessary to support PlayStation Network—is past naïve and just plain outlandish. PS+ members could very well see a tantalizing discount, somewhere in the 5-10 percent range, but you can only cut prices so much before titanic bandwidth becomes infeasible. Besides, you’re already saving like $100 a month just by being a PS+ member, so cry about your over-stuffed wallet elsewhere.

Crucial as the ticket price is, how content is delivered—specifically, for how long—could easily prove more divisive. PlayStation Now caught fire in the public eye because, at least in theory, it offered unlimited access to the games of old—or at least the ones we missed last generation. However, feedback from PSNow beta participants as well as images straight from Gaikai have pushed that idea to the window; they haven’t quite thrown it out, but they’ve gotten sick of how much space it takes up and the neighbor’s lawn is just asking for a new ornament.

PlayStation Now Bravia

You know what'd go great with PSNow? This grossly expensive TV.

A rental system has been confirmed for PlayStation Now, with durations ranging from 1 to 30 days, although price points for each haven’t been nailed down. Regardless, it’s clear that it won’t be a pay-it-and-forget-it service, or at the very least, not all the time. Admittedly, this was fairly obvious from day one, but damn was it an enticing dream. In any case, this raises a number of questions regarding what Sony hopes to accomplish with their streaming poster-child.

If they’re looking to establish their own digital console, they’re out of their mind and are doomed to fail. If they want to establish a digital Blockbuster chain, I’ll bite. The advantages of streaming rented games rather than wrestling with drop boxes are obvious: It’s immediate (as immediate as your internet can handle, that is), you can play your rented games from any supported device using just a DualShock controller, and you won’t slam your fingers when you go to “return” your games. However, no matter how cheap or long the rental, ownership is always more appealing. Well, it’s usually more appealing. I’ve yet to rule out the idea of renting a Wii U just to play Pikmin 3.

Unfortunately, own isn’t appropriate for PSNow titles. The hypothetical is this: For a flat-rate, you purchase access to a digital version of a game that you can then play from any device. Save for not requiring console access, that describes the PlayStation Store, meaning PlayStation Now will never offer it; otherwise, Sony would effectively obviate their own digital marketplace. Interestingly, though, it does highlight a prime advantage of the rental system: server load.

Limiting how many games can be purchased at a time and how long they’re available will greatly reduce the strain on Gaikai’s servers. And for players who genuinely want to just play through a game without buying a hard copy, a 5-buck, 7-day rental should suffice. The question then becomes “Will we be able to return to a game we’ve already purchased?” With any luck, Sony’s E3 presentation will answer that question. And the twenty others that have come up here. And the ones you’ll surely leave in the comments below. 

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Austin Wood
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