Sony's PlayStation Now Charges Beta Testers Outrageous Prices For Game Rentals

When Sony bought the Gaikai streaming service and announced it was building custom PlayStation 3 boards to drop into servers for its PlayStation Now game service, a lot of folks got excited by the potential. This type of service delivery could mark the future of gaming, make backwards compatibility a non-issue, and in the long run, completely transform the console business.  Over the long run, a game console might function more as a media and control hub than a standalone rendering machine -- and Sony seemed to have their finger on the idea much more firmly than Microsoft, which was off chasing Kinect and offering vague statements about cloud rendering.

Unfortunately, this is Sony we're talking about -- the company has a long-standing history of combining great technology and questionable use policies. Kotaku recently took the PlayStation Now beta for a test drive, and what they report back points to far more problems than the usual performance issues -- the game prices are nuts. Want to play Final Fantasy XIII-2 for four hours? That's $4.99.  Want to play it for three months? That'll be $30 please.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is $4.99 for four hours, $29.99 for 90 days. Let's compare that to GameFly, where you can rent one game per month at $15.96 or two games for $23. Alternately, you can just buy Deus Ex: HR for $14.95. Alternately, and far more sensibly, you can just buy the game for PC or last-gen console for between $8 and $15 depending on your choice of venue. By any standard, renting a game for 30 days for the same price you'd pay to purchase it outright is a lousy deal.  

But then, this raises the interesting question of whether GameFly and it's equivalent services are particularly good deals and I suspect the question depends on just how quickly you finish games and how long you want to keep them around. If you're playing 4 games a month, GameFly is a great deal. If you're playing one game a month, especially if it's an older title, buying it outright may be the better option. Then again, you have the option to explicitly do that with Gamefly, whereas PlayStation Now doesn't currently offer any such function.

There are games with lower prices, but even there Sony is slamming into the same problem. You can buy Guacamelee on PC for $14.99, or rent it for 90 days for $14.99. Sony's basically charging purchase price for indie games and older titles,  and it's not going to sit well with fans. It's also making beta users pay for the privilege of testing something, when the entire point of testing a beta service, typically, is that you don't pay for it -- unless you're the kind of neurotic hyper-invasive yuppie who thinks paying $1500 for a face computer and calling yourself a Google Glass "Explorer" actually represents a service to mankind and not an invitation to be thrown out of every business in town.

Glassholes aside, the overwhelming majority of people aren't willing to pay for a service that, by all accounts, isn't working very well at the moment. Reports from almost every tester boil down to "Interesting, but way too laggy to rely on" right now. Paying $4.99 for a four-hour play session is bad, paying $4.99 for jerky, stuttering game performance is intolerable.

Sony says that they're experimenting with a variety of pricing models and that they intend to offer some kind of monthly service plan alongside or on top of per-game pricing and I sincerely hope that's true. A monthly PS Now subscription with full access to a robust back catalog could be a great value-add for PlayStation, but not if it's going to come with sky-high pricing and terrible performance.