PlayStation Now Hints at Bright Game-Streaming Future

Sony’s PlayStation Now on Thursday entered open beta, making it available for the first time to all PlayStation 4 owners in the U.S. and Canada. The game-streaming service had been in a private beta period since January.

PS4 users now can choose from a library of more than 100 titles for rental periods from four hours to 90 days. Pricing ranges from US$2.99 to $19.99, with a $1.99 option coming in a few weeks for some four-hour rentals.

To play, users need a Sony Entertainment Network Account and a steady broadband Internet connection ranging between 5 and 12Mbps.

Later this year, the PlayStation Now Open Beta will come to 2014 BRAVIA TVs, the PS Vita and PlayStation TV, as well. A subscription option is in the works.

Multiplayer Capabilities

Visual and gameplay quality on PS Now will be much like what users are accustomed to with other PS3 games, Sony said.

The streaming service will feature cloud game saves, as well as support for other popular network features such as trophies, friend lists and leaderboards. Users can play seamlessly online with other people on PS Now or with players who have the downloadable or disc-based version of the game.

‘Game-Changing’ Potential

“PlayStation Now has the potential to be a game changer in terms of how consumers access their content,” Liam Callahan, a director and games industry analyst at the NPD Group, told the E-Commerce Times.

“Digital rentals have not really been a viable option in the past, and PlayStation has the consumer awareness and infrastructure to execute on delivering this to consumers,” Callahan added.

The challenge will be in “managing pricing, which the beta will stress-test, as well as delivering a high-quality streaming experience,” he noted. “Gamers have high expectations in terms of quality, and if this is diminished — or priced too high — adoption could be slow.”

‘Worked as Advertised’

During PS Now’s private beta period, the service “worked as advertised by and large — I didn’t find it laggy, and the audio quality was decent,” said Lewis Ward, IDC’s research director for gaming.

To access PS Now, Ward used FiOS 20/5 service — several times the minimum level required — and “it was pretty good,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Once an hour it would get glitchy and pixellated.”

Some 122 games are currently available for PS Now, Ward noted.

As for pricing, “they did introduce the $2 pricing tier at the last minute, and it was probably a smart move,” he said. “If you’re not somebody who plays lots of games, the pricing may seem relatively high.”

‘The Value Proposition Would Have to Be Tuned’

Game streaming is “very dependent on connection quality and distance to server,” noted Ted Pollak, a senior analyst for the gaming industry with Jon Peddie Research. “In our tests, even high-quality cable connections sometimes experience issues. The hurdles can get even more complex for multiplayer.”

Still, “as the U.S. moves toward expanded fiber connections and the streaming servers are deployed closer to the player base, services like this will get better and better,” Pollak told the E-Commerce Times.

The pricing model is “good for experimentation and single player,” he opined. “However, many gamers spend years on their favorite titles. The value proposition for them would have to be tuned, and it sounds like Sony is open to that.”

‘It Is a Luxury’

Until PS Now’s full library of games is available, it’s difficult to say how competitive it will be, noted Christine Arrington, a senior analyst for games with IHS.

“I do believe that any streaming service is going to have to have the hits as well as the long-tail library,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

“It is interesting that they noted in the comments that they are considering PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 4 titles in the future,” Arrington added. “I think having those PlayStation 4 titles to drive interest and then showing gamers the library of older games will make the service more competitive — if they can serve those advanced PS4 titles reliably and with high quality.”

While the pricing is currently high, “the fact that they have already announced a price cut for the four-hour rentals confirms that Sony knows the pricing is not optimal right now,” Arrington said.

“Their confirmation that they are working on a subscription model does show that they are hearing the consumer and understand that right now, the pricing is a limiting factor for the service,” she pointed out.

Meanwhile, Sony has an advantage in that it currently has no competitors in the console streaming space, noted Arrington.

“It is a luxury to be able to spend this much time testing pricing, technology and content,” she concluded. “If they continue to listen and integrate consumer feedback, they will have a much better chance at launching a well-received service.”

Katherine Noyes has been reporting on business and technology for decades. You can find her on Twitter and Google+.

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