Back in the middle of June, I wrote this piece about PlayStation Now, and asked whether it would be ‘good news for gamers?’ If you didn’t see it (and don’t want to read it now), I hedged my bets a bit, and said that the answer to the question would very much depend on what sort of pricing system the service would employ. As the open beta went live (in the US & Canada) on Thursday, we’re now in a better position to answer that question, and, unfortunately, it’s not particularly good news.
Although the prices do vary greatly depending on the game, on average, they’re not what anyone could reasonably call “good value”. As it stands, you will (usually) have the option of ‘renting’ a game for one of four time periods (4 hours, 7 days, 30 days, 90 days) which, whilst being a fairly smart spread of options, only muddies the ‘value for money’ waters further. Allow me to demonstrate, by taking the PlayStation 3 title F1 2013, and showing you how you can play it in the new magical world of cloud-based game streaming. If, for example, you wanted to play it for 90 days, you’d have to pay a whopping $49.99. That’s not my fat fingers mis-typing, folks. I repeat:
$49.99!! For effing F1 2013. For 90 days.
And 30 days would set you back $22.99; 7 days $11.99; and 4 hours $6.99. Now, admittedly, I’m not a massive fan of Formula 1 games, and even less of a fan of actual Formula 1, but would even the world’s biggest Formula 1 fan be prepared to pay any of that, for any of those options? I’ve just looked online, and I can buy the same game new for $37 (£22), or pre-owned for $30 (£18), and have it delivered to my door, for free, within 3 business days (i.e. without having to put on pants and/or leave the house). So why, in the name of all that is Holy, would anyone consider paying $50 to rent it for 90 days?
And furthermore (and I ask this question genuinely worried that the responses may very well make me question my faith in humanity): would anybody, anywhere, ever even consider paying $7 to play the game for four hours? As somebody who’s had to endure the odd F1 race on the telly, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t even be enough time to finish one race, right!?
Sure, F1 2013 is one of the more expensive titles (more on that in a bit), and some games take the piss considerably less. Metal Gear Solid 4, for example, will cost you $14.99, $12.99, $6.99, and $4.99 (for 90 days, 30 days, 7 days, and 4 hours, respectively), which is much, much better value for money. That would be worth thinking about – particularly the 90 days option. Again though, I could buy it new for $25/pre-owned for $10. Likewise, Deus X: Revolution is priced somewhere in the middle of the two, and comes in at $29.99, $14.99, $6.99, and $4.99 (again, for 90 days, 30 days, 7 days, and four hours respectively).
In fairness to Sony, a big part of the reason that there’s such a discrepancy, and why some games seem to be more of an experiment aimed at testing the bounds of human stupidity is because Sony are currently having to negotiate with game developers/publishes individually, and they are having a fairly big say on what prices should be charged.
Now, on the one hand, it’s fairly understandable that they would want to continue to gain revenue from games they may have put a lot of initial investment into, but, honestly, I think some of them may have crossed a line. In fact, they’re so far past the line that they can’t even see it anymore. In essence, the line is just a dot on the horizon to them at this point.
And again, even though I personally love second-hand game stores, I can sort of understand how they might upset game developers and publishers, but only to a point. The argument for and against re-selling intellectual property and whatnot is a massive one in-and-of-itself, and one I won’t go into now (incidentally, Rich Keech covered it very well here), but if these opening prices are anything to go by, it’s going to be increasingly hard not to see the developers/publishers as money-grubbing Uber-Monty Burns types –and undeserving of any sympathy, right!?
Finally, and in the interests of balance, there are two other mitigating factors that are important, although again, to what degree will likely be subjective, rather than objective. The first, and one that Sony themselves have been keen to stress, is that most of these games will be streaming fully loaded, unlocked and complete, i.e. inclusive of DLCS, add-ons etc, etc. This, they argue, makes my above comparisons with how much it costs to buy a game a case of “comparing apples with oranges” because I’m not factoring in all the additional expense necessary to get the same experience I would on PlayStation Now.
Well, yes and no. Yes, because all that stuff can add up, for sure, but no because, more often than not, a Game Of The Year edition of a really good game is, at most, usually only a couple of dollars/pounds more than the plain old vanilla one. In fact, thanks to a particular promotion at my favourite second-hand game store, I picked up The GOTY editions of Fallout: New Vegas and Red Dead: Redemption for less than the regular versions!! (Of course, that was mostly down to luck, but still, you get my point).
The second factor is more important, but, conversely, not guaranteed as of yet; namely, the possibility that Sony will, eventually, offer a subscription option, much like Netflix does. This is currently, the only thing that can prevent the whole PlayStation Now thing being anything other than a complete and utter catastrophe, depending on how it works in practice, obviously. If it’s a genuine one-fee-for-access-to-any-game/unlimited use type scenario, I could see it as something genuinely worth considering – and would pay a reasonable amount for that option. If, however, it’s either a pay-a-subscription-but-then-pay-extra-for-anything-worth-playing, or play anything, but with a monthly charge up there in the region of first-born-children/vital organs, then, again, I’d consider that a mahoosive step back towards ‘you’re havin’ a laugh, aren’t you!?’ territory.
As I said in my original piece, there are advantages to renting/streaming games, but it’s only really viable long-term if the costs aren’t ridiculous, and at this point, at least some of them are, particularly when a lot of the advantages themselves apply almost equally to buying the actual, physical copy of the game (like the convenience of free delivery), or even properly equally (like when you can buy the game on PSN anyway for the same price it costs to rent it). And then, when you factor in the benefits of buying the game over streaming/renting it (selling it back when you’re done, being able to play it even if your internet’s down, lending it to a friend etc, etc) PlayStation Now begins to look even more ludicrous.
Anyway, as the more astute of you may have gleaned by now, this is something I have fairly strong opinions about, so I’ll be watching this quite closely (particularly how the subscription thing pans out) so keep reading TwinStick for updates. In the meantime, if you’ve got your own opinions, feel free to jump into the comment section and let us know what they are.
Am I being too much of a Scrooge here, or have Sony made a Microsoft-sized error with PlayStation Now??
Let us know what you think……