Sony stumbles with Playstation Now open beta pricing

Sony Playstation PS4
Credit: Sony

Yesterday Sony launched Playstation Now, its streaming game service, into open beta. I think it's going to disappoint a lot of people and I hope Sony is treating it as a real beta.

Not because of the technology, which worked pretty well the last time I used it (I've been in the closed beta for several months), but because of the business model. The prices are just too high.

As of today, the typical pricing model (certain titles vary from this) is $2.99 for 4 hours, $5.99 for 7 days, $7.99 for 30 days and $14.99 for 90 days. These times are measured from when you first load the game up and time runs according to the clock, not according to how much you play. I think the 4 hour fee is the worst of the bunch. Most of us don't often have time to sit down and play a game for four hours straight, so often that tier is going to wind up being $2.99 for however long a single gaming session for you tends to be (for me its 1.5-2 hours).

If Playstation Now offered games that were current and sold for $50-$60 dollars I wouldn't have as much of an issue with the pricing but as it stands now, most of the titles are either older titles or digital titles that were only $15 or so when they were new.

In this age of great deals on digital titles (I purchased the PS4 version of Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition, a title that was $60 when the PS4 launched last November, for less than $9 last week) I think Playstation Now needs to offer a better value. Either offer newer titles or cheaper prices. For instance in the walkthrough video embedded below they use Darksiders as an example. Darksiders sells for $19.99 regularly and often goes on sale for far less (I bought it for $5 if memory serves). That's the PSN digital cost. But Amazon has it on disk for $13.61, new. Your local Gamestop can probably get you a used copy for even less. Renting it for $14.99 doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. If you're going to plow through it in a week and never return to it, maybe the $5.99 rental makes sense. But I think I'd still rather spend a few bucks more and get a disk from Amazon and re-sell it or give it to a friend when I was done.

Of course, taking advantage of the lower Amazon pricing requires that you own a PS3 to play the game on, so in a sense comparing prices is pointless. If all you have is a PS4 and you have a burning need to play Darksiders then maybe $15 for 3 months seems like a great deal. I'm just doubtful that there are enough PS4-only owners who are that motivated to play old PS3 games on their next gen system. If those owners were getting a good deal then they might dip a toe in now and then.

The good news is that Sony does seem to be listening. They've already mentioned there will be some $1.99 offerings (4 hour rentals) coming soon and they're actively working on a subscription service which could be a great offering depending on price. I suspect they've started with prices deliberately high with plans to lower them until the audience stops complaining. So please keep complaining about these prices!

For now though, the timing couldn't be more comical. Earlier this week Sony told Eurogamer that Electronic Arts' EA Access program (that gives gamers a selection of games to play) wasn't a good value at $5/month, and here's Sony offering a single game for $8/month.

I've seen in comment threads some misconceptions about Playstation Now and I wanted to do my best to clear them up.

First, I've seen people say this sounds like a great way to demo a game before spending $60 on it. Well, not really, at least as things stand today. First, Playstation Now is only on the PS4, but only includes PS3 games, so you'd have to own both platforms to use it to demo. The service is scheduled to roll out on the PS3 though (it's already in closed beta testing on that platform). The bigger issue is that recent games don't seem to be included, at least not yet.

So in theory we could reach a point where it's a great way to get an extended demo for a few bucks, but we're not as things stand today.

Second, I've heard Playstation Now referred to as Sony's way of offering backwards compatibility. Again, not really, though I guess it depends on what you expect from backwards compatibility. To me at least, it means being able to play your games from the last generation on this generation's hardware.

Playstation Now will give you access to PS3 games on the PS4, sure, but not your PS3 games. If you own a PS3 game and want to play it on Playstation Now, you'll have to rent it (assuming it is available, which with 100 titles at roll out, certainly isn't a sure thing). I was hoping there'd be some way to play for free if you could prove you already owned a game (that seemed at least doable for Playstation Store purchases) but there's no indication Sony is considering anything along these lines.

So technically it is backwards compatibility in that you can play a PS3 game on your PS4, but I don't think its the backwards compatibility that most of us wanted (using our existing library of PS3 games on the PS4 without spending more money).

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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