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PlayStation Now? PlayStation, No!

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By Nelson Schneider - 01/12/14 at 01:52 PM CT

This past week at the Consumer Electronics Show, Sony finally pulled the sheet off the garage science project they’ve been tinkering with since they purchased Gaikai in July 2012. The result of almost two years of work? PlayStation Now, an underwhelming cloud-based service for streaming ‘classic’ PlayStation 3 games to PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Sony Bravia TVs, and… PlayStation 3. There has been mention of ‘future’ compatibility with non-Sony devices, but I believe that about as much as I believe Nintendo Virtual Console games will become compatible with Steam.

What exactly does PSNow bring to the table? For starters, there’s cloud-based saving and ‘always’ having the most up-to-date, fully-patched version of a game. For finishers, there’s the ‘customer friendly’ choice between renting individual titles or paying a subscription to ‘explore a range of titles.’

Sony expects us to pay for the dubious privilege of cloud-based saves and updated games that are available ‘anywhere’ via streaming? How about, “no,” Sony? Steam has been offering cloud-based save backups and automated patching for years, and Valve gives it away for free. While pricing hasn’t been revealed yet for PSNow subscriptions, combining any additional subscription to add half-assed backward compatibility (or sideways compatibility) with the now-mandatory PlayStation Plus subscription for online play seems like it would push $100 per year… which over the lifetime of a console could easily double the price of the hardware.

Setting aside the greed angle for a moment, how does Sony actually expect this service to provide value to customers? ‘Always’ having access to PSNow requires a 5Mbps Internet connection. I don’t even have close to that speed at home, and while I know I’m a fringe case in getting screwed hard by Windstream in the home broadband market, I don’t know of any wireless broadband providers that would work well with PSNow, what with their caps, throttling, and other BS restrictions. And let’s face it: if someone is streaming a rented or subscribed copy of a PS3 game instead of just playing the damned thing on their local hardware, they’re probably doing it on-the-go, perhaps using a Vita or a Sony-branded Android device. Since streaming requires a constant, quality connection, it can easily have its foundation swept out from under it by flakey wireless service.

So, we’ve established that PSNow is greedy and situational. At least it provides perpetual access to all of our favorite PlayStation Brand games, right? Wrong! Sony, much like Nintendo, has their hands tied by the worldwide spiderweb of patents, copyrights, and other IP laws, which naturally limits what third-party games they can make available. Unlike Nintendo, Sony’s gaming empire is built almost entirely on third-party, rather than first-party, titles. But setting that aside, Sony is being ridiculously unambitious with PSNow in streaming only PS3 games to start, with no information about when older PS1 and PS2 games might become available. This situation is like promising full access to everything that made The Beatles one of the greatest bands in the history of rock & roll, but then only providing access to the crap Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr recorded after the band broke-up. Instead of glorifying the PS3, Sony needs to throw a sheet over it, pretend it doesn’t exist, and trot out the PS1 and PS2 games that built them, then solidified them as a major force in gaming.

Games are a fundamentally different media experience from movies and music. As such, the same distribution methods won’t always work for all three. With my crap Internet, I don’t stream anything, but even if I did have enough bandwidth, I’d only stream movies at home. Who streams a movie on the subway or when standing in line waiting for a sandvich at Subway? How much ADHD do people have that checking TwitFace isn’t good enough to fill brief moments of downtime? How does Sony expect gamers to put in the large chunks of time required by their best games while the streaming process continually chomps away at their precious and tiny bandwidth allotment for the month?

Seriously, I don’t even want to stream games from one PC to another on my own private network using SteamOS, so why would I choose to stream PS3 games from Sony when I could just buy discs/download them instead? PlayStation Now (nee Gaikai) still seems to be a solution in search of a problem. Instead of working on solutions without problems, Sony should be spending their time and R&D money on perfecting a solution that has already solved a lot of backward compatibility problems: Emulation. Instead of fixating on the buzzwordiness of ‘The Cloud,’ Sony could serve their former, current, and future fans by building stand-alone emulators for all of their past consoles that can run on a variety of platforms, including the PS4. Of course, a one-time payment from a customer to buy an emulator looks a lot less juicy to accounting department bean counters than a perpetual vampiric subscription. Then there’s the IP deathgrip that prevents console makers from releasing their older games without draconian DRM, despite the fact that both the music industry and the PC side of the gaming industry have proven that a DRM-free model can work beautifully and helps to build a positive reputation. If the past is to serve as a lesson (as it usually does), PlayStation Now is destined to follow in the footsteps of OnLive: Loved by none, missed by none.

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