Opinion: How Sony Should Manage PlayStation Now
It's been a big day for PlayStation Now news. Not only did Sony just announce that it was sending out PlayStation Now beta invites, but rumors have started circulating that Sony could be prepping PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 emulators for the PS4. While Sony is still working out details like pricing, game rollout, and an official launch date, we'd like to offer a few suggestions on how Sony should manage the service once it's actually live.
People have already started comparing PlayStation Now to Netflix, which is fair because both services are designed to stream entertainment across the Internet and into our homes. However, the analogy isn't perfect. Netflix is an amazing deal, allowing you to stream a seemingly infinite number of television shows and movies to your house for less than $10 a month. People are likely expecting a similar deal from PlayStation Now ("look at all the games I can play for a low monthly subscription.") But people shouldn't be excited for PlayStation Now because it will save them some cash. They should be excited because it could introduce them to games they never knew existed.
Let's follow the Netflix analogy for a second. I remember the "golden age" of video rental stores. At the time, it was exciting to go to a Blockbuster and find a video for the night. However, more often than not, the video store was out of copies of the film I wanted to watch, and I would have to find some second rate video that I kinda wanted to watch. Then I ended up arguing with whoever I was with because they wanted to watch something that looked stupid.
Netflix changed that process. Not just the fact that you no longer needed to go to a physical store to rent the movie, but because it widened our viewing options by such a wide margin that it changed the process by which we choose what we watched. Netflix uses an advanced analytics system based on user reviews and what you've already watched to tailor a short list of films and shows that you might like. And it works. Most of the people I know rarely load up Netflix knowing what they're going to watch; most of the time you surf through Netflix selections and find an obscure gem you never heard of before. This is how I found films like Zodiac, Primer, and Manhattan, and I'm very glad that Netflix told me about these amazing films, because I might never have found them otherwise.
This is what PlayStation Now should be.
Sony's new streaming service won't have as massive a library as Netflix. In fact, they probably won't roll out every game from the PlayStation 3 library right away. We'll probably see a slow rollout of various games from throughout PlayStation's history. But while most people think that Sony needs to hurry up and put the big guns like Uncharted, God of War, and Infamous on PlayStation Now right away, I say give us the obscure, little-known, and even strange titles that we've never heard of.
Netflix doesn't have everything you want to watch. It lacks many new releases and premium programming from stations like HBO. But while Netflix may not have Game of Thrones, it has so many other things, and it's so good at showing you the things that you might like to watch instead of Game of Thrones that you're not going to cancel your subscription. This is what I want from PlayStation Now.
I'm lucky enough that I get to work with a bunch of people who all love games and are ready to advise me on what I should be playing. Even so, there are still titles that fall through the cracks. I passed by 3D Dot Game Heroes when it first came out, but after a friend finished the game a year after release, he shipped it my way, and I fell in love with Silicon Studio's ode to classic action/RPGs like The Legend of Zelda. Sony's service should do what my friend did for me: Recognize that I like Zelda and stick obscure titles that I might have passed up in front of my face.
Sure, we need some big guns like The Last of Us on PlayStation Now. But Sony shouldn't just focus on the big guns. Sony should push to get as many games on the service as it can, as quickly as it can, and then design an interface that points us to the content it thinks you'd love. Sony could save some of the AAA titles for down the road; everyone will want to play The Last of Us once it's available on PlayStation Now. But less familiar titles should be available as early as possible.
When someone jumps on to play a racing game like Gran Turismo, PlayStation Now could suggest they play Dirt as well. After someone finishes God of War III, the service could tip them off to games like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow or Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Do you love Call of Duty? Well, did you play Spec Ops: The Line? Or Bulletstorm? Or Metro: Last Light?
I don't know if PlayStation Now will feature all of these games, but the best way to make that service a real service to gamers is by loading it up with games that we didn't know we wanted to play. PlayStation Now could expand your gaming diet and make you a more well-balanced gamer; let's just hope it actually works.