Sony’s PlayStation Now service, which allows players to stream a selection of PlayStation 3 games on their PlayStation 4, won’t be in open beta until late July. However, the service is currently in closed beta and Sony’s initial pricing trials for the service are starting to leak out. The prices are, as Kotaku bluntly put it, “currently insane”. Sony charges up to $5 for a four-hour rental and up to $30 for 90 days of access to a game if Final Fantasy XIII-2, a game that sells new for about half that price on disc. A game like Guacamelee costs $15 for a 90-day rental or a full download on PSN.
It’s important to note that these prices are not final and could easily change by the time PS Now launches in open beta or beyond. It’s also important to note that Sony has mentioned some sort of subscription for PlayStation Now, which would presumably provide Netflix-style unlimited access for some sort of monthly fee. That seems much easier to digest than renting a la carte streaming games, depending on the specific price Sony charges.
Looking at PlayStation Now prices as they stand now, we’re starting to think that the problem isn’t the prices themselves, but the whole idea of renting out streaming games for a limited real-world time span.
Temporary rentals for downloaded and/or streamed content can work quite well for TV shows and movies, as iTunes and similar services have shown. That’s because these forms of entertainment are presented as separate entertainment units ranging from 30 minutes to a few hours, forming a more or less self-contained story. With a rented movie or TV show, you can be relatively confident you’re done with the experience once you’ve watched it once in the 24-hour rental period (or, if it’s the kind of work you expect to do multiple times). to look at). , you can buy it).
Games are not like that. A four-hour paid rental for a game like Final Fantasy XIII-2 is not the same type of entertainment device as a $5 rental for an HD iTunes movie. While you could get the complete movie experience in such a short time frame, you’d only be done with about 1/7th of the “main story” in Final Fantasy XIII-2 during a rental of the same time. In general, there are very few games that can be fully appreciated in just four hours these days, and those that can are generally sold new for less than premium prices. For most games, a four-hour rental is no better than a demo, and at a time when publishers are giving away unlimited 48-hour demos of entire games for free, asking for such a demo is a non-starter.
PlayStation Now also offers longer rental periods, which means there is at least enough time to theoretically complete even longer games in their entirety. Renting a streaming game for seven days at a price of $6 to $8 is similar to the game rental offerings at brick-and-mortar outlets like the now-defunct Blockbuster Video. Back in the pre-broadband days, I was more than happy to use my limited pocket money for an extended trial of games I couldn’t afford to pay full price for. However, the whole concept seems a bit outdated now, born out of a scarcity of rentable game cartridges and discs that simply doesn’t exist in the Internet streaming realm (not to mention the ridiculous overhead of maintaining a real store and storing / shipping rental inventory). Times and the market have changed, but the basic rental model that Sony proposes has not.
A dosed solution
The problem with time-limited game rentals in general is that they have a built-in pressure for players to maximize their value by playing the game as much as possible in that limited time period. When you come home from work and feel like doing something else with your free time for entertainment – watching a movie, reading a book, taking a bath, whatever – you are essentially wasting the limited amount of time you have to enjoy enjoy your rental car. This may not be much of a problem if you’ve rented a game for seven days that can be completed in ten hours, but if you’re working your way through an epic game in a short period of time, renting makes the experience feel like a job with a tight deadline.
Back in the days of brick-and-mortar rental stores, this was pretty much the only workable system, since you eventually had to return the game for someone else to rent (although even Blockbuster experimented with a weird “no late fees” structure at the end of its lifespan). In the digital world, artificially limiting real-time streaming game rentals makes no sense except as an artifact of that bygone era.
If Sony is committed to the idea of charging for individual rentals on PlayStation Now (rather than full-access subscriptions or some sort of licensed streaming “ownership” system), it should leverage the power of the Internet and should charge based on play time, not real time. Players were able to purchase packs of “PS Now credit” which could be used on any game in the library at any time. Credits are only spent when you’re actively playing a game, meaning you don’t have to worry about “wasting” a paid rental by enjoying another form of entertainment (or, you know, going to work). to go).
Based on current leaks, Sony charges between $3 and $5 for four hours of gameplay on PlayStation Now. Let’s calculate that to $1/hour and translate that into the metered credit schedule. So the $60 you would normally spend on a new AAA game would now translate into 60 hours of title-agnostic streaming gameplay. It would be nice if you got a bonus for buying time in bulk or a better hourly rate for playing older older titles, but for now let’s stick with the $1/hr that Sony has already proven they’re willing to charge to bring to its streaming service.
Suddenly the pricing seems a bit more reasonable, at least in some situations. According to the credit system, playing takes from six to ten hours to beat a game like this Guacamelee would only cost $6 to $10 (or less). That’s a little less than it would cost if you wanted to download the game all the way for $15. The 13-hour average to get to 100% completion also works out slightly cheaper under the time credit method, even at Sony’s current “insane” rates. And unless you plan to play the game again after it’s completed, you’ll have pretty much the same experience as if you had bought it.
The main difference between time credits and the current rental arrangement is the added flexibility. Under this system, if you try a game and find you don’t like it after an hour or two, you can give up and you’ll only be out a few bucks for the privilege of trying it. If you want to temporarily put a game aside because life or other entertainment options get in the way, don’t waste money on a prepaid rental. If you’ve beaten the main part of a game and decide weeks or months later that you want to come back and get 100% completion, you can do so without worrying if a real-time rental has expired.
There are, of course, numerous situations where this system would not pay off for the consumer. Epic RPGs and multiplayer online games where you can expect 100 hours or more would quickly break the bank at hourly rates. Older titles that go for less than $10 at GameStop or in the PSN bargain bin are probably more efficient to buy outright than to invest in streaming time as well (although Sony could charge discounted hourly rates for such games if it wanted to make it more attractive ). Some players are still willing to pay extra to buy a game, so they have the option to play forever at will without worrying about being charged for playtime.
For the average single-player game lasting five to 20 hours, even paying up to $1 per hour isn’t that unreasonable, especially for relatively recent titles. And again, these are the worst of the “insane” prices Sony is already charging for its four-hour rental during the PlayStation Now beta – hopefully longer purchases or less popular titles would yield better hourly rates.
Pricing and game selection details would matter quite a bit if Sony started offering metered hourly rates for PlayStation Now streaming, as would the quality of the streaming gameplay experience. In any case, a Netflix-style all-you-can-play subscription is probably simpler and more workable. But if Sony wants to stick with an à la carte rental price for its streaming service, it would be much more workable if players were given control over when that playtime was spent rather than being subjected to an ever-ticking real-world clock.