PlayStation Now is a very cool idea. It was welcomed with enthusiasm by PlayStation fans when it was announced at CES back in February. Unfortunately now the wind has radically changed, and the service mostly raises eyebrows and triggers irritated frowns. The pricing model is nearly the sole culprit of this downturn in popularity.
The reason for this unfortunate situation is pretty simple: not only Sony Computer Entertainment opted to launch an “open beta” for the service asking its testers to actually pay for the games they rent (which raises a few questions in itself), but to add insult to injury, the pricing model is absolutely ridiculous, demanding customers to pay for ninety days of rental (and in many cases even for thirty) more than what they’d have to drop if they purchased the same games from the bargain bin at the neighboring shop.
Marketing 101 teaches that if there’s one thing that can prove bloody hindering awkward for the launch of any product and service, that’s releasing at the wrong price point, and Sony should have learned that lesson the hard way with the PS3. They actually seemed to have grasped the concept quite well with the launch of the PS4, but apparently someone needs a refresher.
The funny thing is that game rental services aren’t anything new. Besides the concept of streaming, Sony isn’t reinventing the wheel. That’s why I can’t for the life of me understand why they simply didn’t take inspiration from prices that are already widely accepted by customers in the rental market and used them as a base to build their pricing model up.
Below you can see the two extremes of the current PlatStation Now pricing model.
Renting a video game at a quite widespread outlet like Red Box will take a couple bucks out of your wallet for 24 hours. On the other hand, not only there’s no rental option for a single day on PlayStation Now, replaced by a rather nonsensical demo-like four hours window, but it costs between three and five bucks, which is simply out of this world.
Sony went ahead and promised “some” games for $1.99 for four hours, but that’s hardly more than a mere placebo.
Here’s a more reasonable and realistic pricing model for the higher end of the catalog:
As you can easily see, a few strokes of Photoshop have done away with the four hour period. It’s simply redundant, and it just makes gaming less enjoyable by instilling an undue sense of urgency. I replaced it with a free one hour demo. It’s simply a reasonable option to expect from a service that has everything to prove, and would let customers evaluate the streaming quality and whether or not a title really interests them.
Secondly, I re-introduced the classic one day rental, for the pretty much widely accepted price of $1.99. That’s what you pay to rent a physical copy of a game nowadays, and you don’t have to worry about the speed of your connection and streaming quality.
Afterwards, I drastically reduced the pricing for seven, thirty and ninety days. The original ones were really excessive considering the age of the games involved and the fact that you’re just renting the titles and not purchasing them.
Finally, I added a permanent purchase option. It intentionally costs less than purchasing the same game on the PSN store, and the reason for that is pretty obvious: you don’t really own the game. The moment Sony Decides to shut down PlayStation Now for good, you’ll lose any right to playing it. This, of course, adds up to a degree of input lag and to the fact that the quality of the visuals won’t ever be on the same level as that of a game that is running directly on a PS3.
On the other hand, the existence of a permanent purchase option adds a degree of lasting backwards compatibility to the PS4, which I’m sure many users would welcome.
To apply the same model to the lower end of the PlayStation Now catalog, you simply need to halve all the numbers.
I hold no doubt that with this kind of pricing the acceptance of the new service would be much more widespread and enthusiastic, and that’s exactly what Sony needs at the moment.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, PlayStation Now is a very cool concept, but for the moment its execution is flawed. It’s easy to say “it’s just a beta,” but it’s a beta for which North American gamers are already paying.
It’s also a beta of a service that still has to prove its worth to customers. If Sony launches it with its current pricing model (including “some” games for $1.99 for four hours), I honestly can’t see many being even willing to give it a chance. I surely am not.
In the end the ball is in Sony’s field. They aren’t launching in a market with no competition, and the significant lead of the PS4 over the Xbox One even thanks to the lower price point should have taught them a thing or two.
Rumor has it that when Microsoft announced the $500 price point of the Xbox One, Sony’s executives were dancing in the hallways. I can pretty much guarantee that when Sony announced the prices for PlayStation Now, no one danced.