Right now, PlayStation 4 owners in the US can enjoy 90 days of the PS3 racing game F1 2013 for the low, low price of $US49.99. Too rich for your blood? You could try 90 days of NASCAR 14 for $US39.99, or 90 days of Dirt 3 for $US26.99. Codemasters' Grid 2 comes in at the relatively affordable $US22.99 — also for 90 days.
What if you're not in the mood for a racing game? What if, say, you want to rent a nice meaty RPG? You could try Deus Ex: Revolution, which comes in at $US29.99 for 90 days, $US14.99 for 30 days, $US6.99 for seven days, and $US4.99 for four hours.
Or, if you're feeling like some stealth action, you could rent Metal Gear Solid 4 at $US14.99 for 90 days, $US12.99 for 30 days, $US7.99 for seven days, and $US3.99 for four hours.
If those numbers are making your head hurt, you're not alone. PlayStation Now — a streaming service that allows users to rent old PlayStation 3 games — entered open beta on the PlayStation 4 today, and with it, every PS4 owner has entered a fantasy world where Sony believes it's acceptable to charge up to $US50 for 90-day rentals.
Last month, when Sony first launched pricing in the PlayStation Now closed beta, I called the costs insane. Things haven't changed very much. The service — which now offers 100-something PS3 games for streaming on your PS4 — is still à la carte, and will still cost you way more than buying used PS3 games at GameStop or Best Buy ever would.
Earlier this week, when I had the chance to chat on the phone with PlayStation Now senior director Jack Buser and Gaikai chief business officer Robert Stevenson, I asked if they planned to lower their prices at all.
"One of those things that we heard about was we received some critical feedback around certain price points as you're very familiar with," said Buser. "As a direct result of that feedback, we're gonna soon introduce titles starting at $US1.99. We hope this offers users a wider range of price points to choose from, and we encourage our testers to continue to tell us about what their experience is with every aspect of the service."
During our conversation, Buser continually emphasised that Sony is listening to beta testers and will incorporate as much feedback as possible. The service is in beta, after all. Sony wants to hear to what people want.
So here's my feedback: PlayStation Now games need to be cheaper. Who in the world thinks it's OK that Sony wants you to pay $US14.99 for 30 days of Final Fantasy XIII-2 when you can buy it new for that same price at GameStop?
Sony's new service isn't even out of beta yet, and it already feels obsolete. We live in a world dominated by streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, which offer monthly subscriptions for unlimited access to their content. That's the type of model that people want. Even EA knows that — though Sony doesn't think their service has much value.
Granted, Sony's already aware that fans would like to see them take the Netflix approach and offer subscription-based pricing. But they don't see it as a replacement for piecemeal rentals.
"We are looking for the subscription offering to complement our rental offering," Buser told me. "We believe both options provide gamers the freedom to discover and play games in a way that weren't previously possible before."
It's unclear just what that subscription offering will look like — Buser wouldn't go into details — but if it isn't something like "unlimited rentals for a reasonable amount of money per month," I don't see how it could ever be good for gamers. We are talking about old games here, not the hottest new shipments that are coming in at $US59.99 a pop.
Two years ago, Sony helped sink the Vita by charging way too much for the proprietary memory cards you need in order to use it. History is repeating itself with PlayStation Now, as the folks behind the PS4 — who ostensibly care about and listen to their fans — continue to choose indefensible money-grabs over respecting and investing in their most loyal customers. That's a real shame.
Right now, PlayStation Now's pricing is just straight-up unacceptable. Which really is too bad, because in theory, Sony's fancy new PS4 could be a powerhouse for fans of retro games. Sony has missed a grand opportunity to beat Nintendo at its own game and offer up its own version of the Virtual Console complete with selections from the past two decades of PlayStation gaming, from Final Fantasy VII to Uncharted 2.
And, yes, Sony's inability to commit to getting PS1 and PS2 games running on PlayStation 4 is also a real shame, especially today, in the thick of the summer drought, as we all wait for this fall's games to be delayed to next year.
I mean, just picture it: imagine a veritable buffet of PlayStation games from the last three generations, streaming and playable whenever you want, all for, say, $US20/month. Maybe you can only rent a couple of games at a time — or maybe you can only rent a few games every month — but instead of paying exorbitant prices for each of them, you pay for the all-you-can-eat special featuring as many games as Sony can stick on there.
Maybe we'll get there one day. Hopefully. But today...
Well, today we have this:
Update: In response to this article, in which Sony had nothing to say about its plans to put PS1 and PS2 games on the streaming service PlayStation Now, the publisher sent over some additional clarification:
We are also currently considering measures to offer original PlayStation, PS2 and PS4 titles in the future, but at this time, only PS3 titles are being offered.
Not exactly total transparency, but at least they answered the question this time — and at least there's some assurance that Sony hasn't totally given up on plans to add older games to PlayStation Now.
PlayStation Now enters open beta on PS4 today.