PlayStation Now, a new streaming game service in open beta, is a grand concept in its infancy. The technology behind it has been in the works for a number of years. If you told me just three years ago that we would be able to play graphically rich games, streaming over broadband, I would have said you were nuts. At long last the day has materialized where the technology and infrastructure needed to support streaming is now feasible.
Platform support is limited to PS3 and PS4, with support for Vita and PlayStation TV coming later this year. The recommended bandwidth requirements Sony suggests is greater than 5Mbps, however, I’m very skeptical about this claim as it seems extremely low to me. My home network runs at 100Mbps/5Mbps, so I very much doubt my connection will be a limiting factor any time soon. The last time I downloaded something from the PSN store over a wired connection, I could never get games to download faster than 35Mbps. I can only assume the infrastructure that supports PS Now will be dynamic (like Netflix) and adapt to accommodate low and high bandwidth scenarios, gradually ratcheting up or down the level of detail seen on-screen.
I tried two games, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation and God of War: Ascension, the latter being a more recent game released in 2013 (Painkiller is an older game released originally for PC in 2012). After choosing a rental option, it took only a couple of seconds for it to be authorized on my PS4 and then I was right in the game (just like any other DRM content). I played both games for about an hour and although I had no FPS counter, everything felt pretty smooth. God of War felt like it dipped below 60FPS for only a couple of seconds during the first few minutes, but it ironed itself out. I have not done a side by side comparison between the original versions on PS3 and the streaming versions, but from what I saw, everything looked quite impressive with no obvious artifacts; they both looked like top notch PS3 games.
Depending on the game you want to rent, the cost will vary slightly. I can only assume it has something to do with how new they are. Below is an example typical rental fees.
- 4 hours: $1.99
- 7 days: $5.99
- 30 days $7.99
- 90 days: $14.99
The pricing for 90-days gives you the best bang for buck and should be more than enough time for anyone to finish a single game. The largest quibble I have with PS Now is the rental pricing and the way it’s structured. I would love not to have to turn on my PS3 to play the games I already purchased. I feel strongly that this will not be an enticing offer to existing PS3 owners who’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on games. I’m a loyal PSN+ member and happily pay the $50 per year membership. I receive plenty of value in having a membership and would even pay extra if it meant I could get access to previously purchased titles. Heck, charge me double, Sony. I’ll fork over $100 per year in an instant if it meant I could stream what I’ve bought.
One day we’ll be looking back on the days of physical media and waiting for 15+ gigabyte downloads as a farce I’m sure, yet I find it difficult to envision a day when I won’t own a game. Habits can change over time as we’ve seen major consumer shifts towards streaming music services from album downloads. To do this day I still prefer buying whole albums, but I concede that my habits may eventually change some day, and perhaps they will for how I consume games. There’s plenty of room for improvement that I think we can start making today to the current download experience. We can all get on our Apple TVs, buy a movie, and almost instantly start watching. Why can’t we do this with games? Instead of waiting for a ridiculously large download to complete, allow the user to start playing after a couple minutes of buffering. I know we can solve this problem.
PS Now is still very early days. Pricing has yet to be finalized and I suspect we are at least a couple of years away from being able to ascertain how successful the service will be. I remain optimistic about its future and see this as a steppingstone to disrupting current distribution models we are familiar with today (digital download and retail physical media). What will streaming mean to publishers and developers if it supplants older distribution methods? Only when one takes over another can we determine profitability and long-term sustainability for publishers and developers. Just as the switch made from software on physical media to digital app stores, the impact of that switch isn’t felt until one becomes truly dominant.