Checking In with PlayStation Now Beta (PS4) – 8/2/2014

With no native backward compatibility for PS3 games in sight for the PS4, Sony decided to take the next best step and invest in Gaikai’s streaming tech to offer an alternate solution to let people play PS3 games on the PS4 with their new service called PlayStation Now.

This service is now available on PS4 in an early open beta where people can pay to rent from a list of more than 100 titles of PlayStation Network games, retail PS3 titles, and even some PS3 games that you couldn’t get on PSN for the PS3. I made the video above to look at what it’s offering right now and play a bit of a game to see how it works in a real world setting. Just to be clear, my internet connection isn’t that good, so any issues you see are mostly my own and not necessarily the fault of PlayStation Now.

The core features of PlayStation Now is that it is a rental service right now with options to rent games for four hours, seven days, thirty days, and ninety days where you can play the full game for that length of time, including online and local multiplayer modes. You can earn PS3 trophies when playing these games and your saves are kept in the cloud, though there’s no way to continue from a PS3 save that you might have saved on the PlayStation Plus’ Cloud storage servers. The rental period works exactly like the way that Amazon, iTunes, and other movie streaming services work. You have about 30 days to start the game you’ve rented and then your countdown timer begins. You cannot use accessories like PlayStation Move or the Eye camera along with DLC not being offered for these titles, so some of these publishers are doing a good thing by offering the Ultimate Edition versions of some titles to give you access to every bit of content possible. The way this service is set up, it’s clear that the focus on rentals right now makes this a service for those that didn’t own a PS3 or have largely not played much from this past generation of games.

I took the time to look through the entire library and filled up a Google Docs spreadsheet with the current offerings. It shows a big range of prices being offered for similar games that is the result of publishers being able to set the prices of their own products and decide with rental periods. That means that companies like Codemasters can charge $15 to rent Dirt 3 for a week and Telltale Games offers a number of their pre-The Walking Dead series only for 90 days at $4 per episode so that you’d have to pay essentially the full $20 to play the entire season. Those types of extreme pricing and a weird focus on only the four hour tier are the things that are dominating the feedback about PlayStation Now right now, but I see some patterns forming right now that offers some hope for the publishers’ ability to offer fair pricing.

The most common pricing for retail PS3 games on PS Now are priced at $3/$6/$8/$15 for the tiers. That means a weeklong rental is about $6, which is the period you’d need to beat most of the games on the service for a price that I used to pay for Blockbuster games back in the day. Sony has been upfront about the four-hour pricing being a little high, so they have announced that many of those games will be dropping it to $1.99 in a few weeks. That option in particular seems like the perfect choice for when you have a friend over to play games and you want to try something new, so $2 to play something is the ideal solution to that problem.

The 30 and 90-day options for PlayStation Now have less use for me and probably most others, but I’m sure games like Final Fantasy XIII and Alpha Protocol might be better suited for a 30-day rental due to their length. Those options just seem like the most unappealing rental options to have, especially when Sony launches the subscription option for PlayStation Now. Sony has also been upfront that they are working out the details for a subscription form of PlayStation Now that would be the most appealing option for most of the hardcore crowd.These are the ones that don’t want invest in this service in a piecemeal manner that would be expensive with their hoarding ways and their desire to own games so that there is no time pressure. My prediction for the subscription service is that it’ll offer a selection of the full library for $9.99 or $14.99, so you wouldn’t get access to everything at once but would still have dozens of games to choose from. To be clear, there is no purchase option for any of these games and I don’t see that happening at all until some distant point where they have a much bigger library and more robust servers, so you don’t get free access to games you’ve purchased on the PS3 or anything like that.

With it being so early for PlayStation Now, there’s no reason to judge it on the limited library and pricing just yet. We have reason to believe that pricing will change a bit as publishers see how people react to the crazier prices in that library. The subscription model should be a more enticing option for most of us that are not interested in an a la carte gaming rental system, as that could finally offer the gaming version of Netflix that people have been hoping to arrive at some point. As far as what’s there for PS Now at this moment, it’s a solid streaming service that works as you’d expect that just needs to Sony to know how to grow and evolve this service to reach its full potential.