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I’d like to preface this article by saying that I currently have my PlayStation 4 connected to Wi-Fi, and my average download speeds even out around 45Mbps to 50Mbps.
Even though my PS4 was not connected directly using an Ethernet port, I was stunned with the quality of the games I was streaming through PlayStation Now, Sony’s new online game-rental service. It takes about two seconds to download the app. Once you get it installed and launched, it brings you into the equivalent of the PlayStation Store, where you can see the titles that are currently available for streaming.
When I first started, the beta pricing was marked as “free,” and I could choose to rent games for a few hours, a week, 30 days, or 90 days. Given the cost, I saw no benefit to renting the games I was interested in for any less than 90 days. I went through selecting a few titles that interested me and added them to a Netflix-style queue so that I could play them later.
I picked up Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD, Dead Island: Riptide, Legasista, Overlord: Raising Hell, and Way of the Samurai 3. I was reasonably pleased with the selection of games offered to me, and I liked that the service had some obscure titles that I had always wanted to try but never wanted to pay for.
I fired up Oddworld first and was blown away by how quickly I was in and playing. When you first start up a game, PlayStation Now will test your Internet connection to make sure it’s capable of handling the service. Once you’re cleared, it starts a countdown of 15 seconds before launching your selection. I was pretty impressed with how fast the service was, and I was even more impressed with how good Oddworld looked once I fired it up.
It appeared to be streaming in HD. I can’t confirm whether it was 1080p or 720p, but it appeared to me that it was in 720p. Regardless, the game did look crisp and clear, and it controlled beautifully with no noticeable lag between button presses and my character taking action onscreen. When I told Stranger to jump, he jumped. When I told him to shoot, he shot — all without any lag or even a hint of delay.
If I hadn’t loaded up the game from PlayStation Now myself, I wouldn’t have believed that I was playing a game that was streaming over the Internet. Before getting into this beta, I didn’t believe that streaming games was a possibility, and I certainly didn’t think that I was going to be able to do it so flawlessly over Wi-Fi.
I logged a few hours in Oddworld before switching over to Way of the Samurai 3, followed by Dead Island. The service continued to deliver the same quality experience I had while playing Oddworld. I even caught myself thinking that, depending on the games the final version of the service would offer, my PlayStation 3 might be out of a job once PlayStation Now went live.
The service was nearly flawless, but there was a noticeable drop in quality once someone else started using the Wi-Fi in my house. Gameplay would stutter and skip from time to time, and the video quality would also drop below HD. In some rare cases, the game I was playing would even crash and bring me back out to the PS4 menu.
This is to be expected. I’m sure it takes a tremendous amount of bandwidth to stream a game, and on top of that, I wasn’t even hardwired in over the Ethernet port, which Sony recommends for the best gameplay experience. When you factor in these variables, it’s completely forgivable that the service would lag a little under such high demands.
I really couldn’t have been more pleased with the service until this week. Sony finally introduced pricing to their rentals, and they aren’t great options. Sony stated in an email to PlayStation Now beta users that “these prices are ultimately decided on by the participating developers and publishers.”
The move to let developers and publishers set their own prices for rentals may ultimately be PlayStation Now’s downfall. Almost every game on the service has a different price for all four time periods. For instance, Guacamelee costs $3 for four hours, $6 for a week, $8 for 30 days, and $15 for 90 days. On the other hand, Deus Ex: Human Revolution costs $5 for four hours, $7 for a week, $15 for a month, and $30 for 90 days. Saints Row: The Third, however, can only be rented for four hours at $5 or 90 days at $30.
Third parties are setting the amount they charge for rentals and the time periods available to users unrealistically high. Maybe if there weren’t hundreds of copies of Deus Ex sitting in GameStop $5 bins all over the world, you could get away with charging $30 for a 90-day rental. But as the market currently stands, I could go out almost anywhere, buy that game for next to nothing, and keep it forever.
Guacamelee is another example of poor pricing. Why would I pay to rent that game for 90 days when I can purchase it from the PlayStation Store for the exact same price? I am not making this up. You can literally go to PlayStation’s website and download it for $15 and keep it forever.
What Sony needs to do is eliminate pricing from the individual games all together. If you could sign up for the service and pay a lump sum every month — say, somewhere between $10 and $15 and then be able to play all the games you want — the service would become a lot more attractive.
It isn’t enough for PlayStation Now to work well. No one is going to pay to rent a game when you can own it for either the same price or far less. Luckily, PlayStation Now is still in its beta, so hopefully Sony will see that Netflix already has people trained to expect an insane amount of content for one lump sum. Otherwise, when it moves out of beta testing later this year, it may find that there are millions of other gamers who agree with me.