Is PS Now headed the same way as PS Vita and PS TV?
Sony, as much as I love the company, has been a sheer coward when it comes to some of it’s new products. Both Playstation Vita and Playstation TV lack many things to be really successful devices, but they are still great products and I enjoy them both a lot. They certainly don’t deserve the lack of support Sony has given them. PS Vita has been left completely aside by Sony, I’ll will cover on another post how I think this could have been avoided from my humble point of view. PS TV launched with no marketing in the West after it showed small sales in its first weeks in Japan. This wasn’t due to it being a bad device, it was due to Sony’s bad communication and marketing strategy and some external factors, I’ll will cover it as well in another post.
When Sony announced the acquisition of Gaikai, I was hyped. I had been testing OnLive, Gaikai’s main competitor which Sony also acquired later on, and even if it was a very rough service I was starting to see what I longed for many years, computing power becoming a commodity like electricity did long ago. Sony made us dream of playing games always with cutting edge graphics from any device without needing to spend a fortune on a high-end gaming rig.
Later Sony announced the launch of PS Now, and the problems started right there. Sony wasn’t able to identify PS Now’s unique value proposition and hence wasn’t able to leverage it. Let’s ask ourselves: why do we really want to stream games? In order to be able to play them instantly without downloading anything but more importantly, in order to play games with graphics that our local hardware couldn’t run. Sony launched the service allowing you to stream PS3 games at a compressed resolution of 720p at max. 30 fps, so it completely failed delivering on the real dream of streamed games. Nvidia is already streaming games at uncompressed 1080p at 60fps so it is possible to do this. Games will safely run at 720p30fps with download speeds of 5mb/s which is quite common in most parts of the US and Europe. In Spain’s cities it is common to have connections of 100–300mbps, but Sony keeps on saying it won’t launch PS Now in Europe because we have low speeds… Whatever.
Sony should made it so that the PS3 games that were also launched for PC (and published by the same company) wouldn’t stream the PS3 version but the PC version at highest settings and even upscale the resolution of the PS3 titles to 1080p or even 4K for those with a good enough connection, same as it upscales the resolution of backwards compatible titles of PS2 titles to 1080p. It would have given PS4 a huge edge over Xbox One making it the only home consoles capable of offering 4K games and it would have given people a real reason to pay for PS Now, because the could play improved versions of old games instead of paying for an inferior version. Sony should have done the same for PS2, PS1 and PSP titles. Having diversity is key for a subscription service since the worst that can happen is that I login to PS Now willing to try something out but don’t find anything interesting. I’d have even gone the same way as Nintendo and brought non-Sony platforms on board like classic consoles or even PC titles. The future for Sony lies in PS Now becoming the biggest gaming platform, not in its own hardware.
As for the pricing model I’d have kept it simple. Renting by days makes no sense as someone with a lot of free time will get more value out of it than someone with little time. I’d have either kept it as subscription only or also allowed publishers to set a price for unlimited access to their game while Sony would charge for the processing of each second the game is played.
There’s been a lot of discussion wether traditional backwards compatibility is better than Sony’s solution with PS Now or not. I see them as two, different, compatible things. Backwards compatibility is for people who want to play games they already own (like on Xbox One) or for those who don’t have Internet speeds sufficient to stream games through PS Now. And PS Now should be for those willing to play old games they never played but with premium graphics, that can be played on any device and without needing to commit to a game by buying it, nor needing to wait to download it.
I think PS Now would be a huge selling point for PS4, PS Vita and PS TV if done right, like Nvidia is doing, and if marketed right. You need to put it in front of your users. You need a modal window to appear to those who turn on their PS system for the first time after PS Now having launched in their area that takes them for a tour of the service and offers them a free trial. You need to show it in your marketing that PS4, PS TV and PS Vita play their games + thousands of games from all the past generations and other consoles. That PS4 can now play 4K games. There’s a very strong story to be delivered with this if Sony has what it takes to invest in it. As a tech entrepreneur I know that the premise of “Build it and they will come” is a lie, if you don’t market something properly you’ll launch and nobody will come giving you the same invalid signal Sony has received with PS Vita, PS TV and PS Now and that has brought them to abandon those great products.