The lights are on
At E3, Sony announced that PlayStation Now will be going into open beta later this summer. Since then, users in the closed beta have noticed some changes, namely that there are prices associated with content rentals now. The problem is that the cost for renting games doesn’t make much sense.
Before we get into the weeds, it’s important to note that this is a beta and, therefore, final pricing might be more realistic in relation to other purchasing options. In fact, it needs to be, because out of eight games we sampled at random (approximately half of those available), there are less expensive options for owning.
In an email to beta participants, Sony says that pricing is set by developers and publishers. Based on what we’re seeing, it’s clear that content owners are charging prices for rental that they know exceed the purchase price. (The moral is that you should do your research before starting a rental.)
PlayStation Now allows users to rent games that are stored on the server and streamed to a PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and eventually a PlayStation Vita and PlayStation TV. This is similar to the concept behind OnLive and different than having a game locally on disc or on your system's hard drive. Sony will be offering a variety of rental periods, which it is testing along with prices during a beta period.
*Surveyed from a Amazon and GameStop (note: GameStop is Game Informer's parent company).
There are benefits to PlayStation Now that go beyond the price, though. If you don't have a PlayStation 3 (or PC or Xbox 360) on which one of the titles is available for purchase, a PlayStation 4, Vita, or even a PlayStation TV will be compatible with the rentals. This also means that you'll be able to play these games across devices using your account.
Put simply, Sony needs to insist that rental prices do not exceed the cost of purchasing a game via PSN. Additionally, ownership pricing via PSN should be clearly disclosed on the PlayStation Now page. It's up to the user to check retail pricing (just as it is with digital purchases now), but for the sake of transparency, Sony needs to display its digital storefront pricing options (and related limitations, like only being able to play on one type of device) in one place.
It's also important to note that Sony is currently testing durations. The four hour option is an absurdly short length for a relatively exorbitant price across the board. Spending four hours with Final Fantasy XIII or XIII-2 (or even Deus Ex: Human Revolution for that matter) won't give you much insight into the games. Why anyone would choose that over spending an extra $1 - $3 is beyond me.
Publishers should reject that duration as it will likely harm them in the long run. Can someone who played Final Fantasy XIII for only four hours really make a fair assessment of the game? Probably not.
On paper, PlayStation Now is a good idea, but if this pricing scheme is a portent of things to come, it's likely going to die on the vine. Rental, especially at these prices, won't be appealing to many users. It certainly won't incentivize positive word of mouth, and if publishers don't start seeing benefit from the service, they'll have little reason to commit to it for the long-term.
Sony has a lot riding on PlayStation Now, starting with the $380 million purchase of Gaikai, continuing through technology and marketing investments, and concluding with consumer faith in one of Sony's key promises from the February 2013 PlayStation 4 reveal. Sony can't afford to mess this up, and that means this pricing needs to change before the public launch.