Sony’s streaming game service PlayStation Now is at E3, but is the cutting edge technology behind it strong enough to make it a successful product for Sony?
Sony’s games as a service (GAAS) offering will enable consumers to play PlayStation 3 games over the internet, streaming from Sony’s cloud servers to PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, the upcoming PlayStation TV set-top box and standalone Sony televisions (select models to be announced).
Streaming video games are rendered on remote servers, compressed, and transmitted to the consumer’s screen. The technology is hampered by compression artifacts during gameplay, as well as the high entry costs to build the server infrastructure that delivers the games as a service experience.
PlayStation Now Test Results
We tested PlayStation Now on a PlayStation TV set-top box, the PlayStation 4 and a standalone Sony television. The performance on each appeared the same in our loud and chaotic E3 floor test.
The service delivered the action and motion of games without delay. We tested both racing and fighting genre experiences, and there appeared to be no delay in sending our actions to the cloud server and receiving the related video on our screen.
However, upon close examination, the graphical fidelity of the streaming video appears poor, although casual consumers will have few complaints.
Compression is present – if you look for it. As shown in the screenshot below, compression artifacts do appear in images of high contrast and color variance, as illustrated above the black & white lines of the Ultra Combo bar in Street Fighter. Casual gamers will not notice it, but picky gamers spoiled with 1080p next-gen experiences will instantly.
The second challenge with the technology is fast-moving action that forces the entire screen to update full screen attributes frequently. Racing games look good when quickly glanced at in motion, but the high fidelity and sharpness seen in actual console experiences is lost – racing games are actually a blurry mess in still-frame. It’s worth noting that the same experience seen in 720p YouTube videos – in motion it looks sharp, but hitting the pause button will illustrate the illusion with low quality for visual identifiers that are quickly replaced in future frames.
Is it Good Enough?
While the visual quality does not mirror the traditional console experience, with the right pricing, PlayStation Now can clearly be “good enough” for most consumers.
The greatest advantage PlayStation Now has is it lets consumers play their games without purchasing an expensive video game console. The consumer cannot be as picky about visuals f they’re only purchasing the PlayStation TV for $99, or getting the service for free with their next Sony television.
If Sony attracts more casual consumers on PlayStation TV and their own televisions, visual complaints will be minimal, and consumers will be satisfied getting access to a great game library without having to invest in pricy console hardware.
But if consumers are purchasing Sony products for high quality technology experiences (especially given the premium pricing of Sony’s television line), the streaming experience may not be good enough to those consumers.
Further, it’s hard to see PlayStation 4 owners satisfied with the experience, ass they are at forefront of the technology adoption curve and expect only the best technology experiences.
Pricing PlayStation Now by the Value it Provides for Each Customer Segment
Still, the PlayStation Now technology will always be “good enough” if the pricing is “good enough.” Both core gamers and casual gamers will not balk if games on the service are delivered at a price that is adequate to the value provided to consumers.
Sony is not talking about how consumers will pay for games – and rumors abound about rental fees, content license purchases and even subscription access.
CONSULGAMER expects Sony to offer two different pricing options – one for subscribers of the PlayStation Network online service, and another for consumers not subscribing (likely more casual gamers and those experiencing the service on PlayStation TV and Sony televisions). This will allow Sony to charge higher prices to customers who paid little upfront cost to play their games, while enabling the company to provide lower prices for picky core gamers who would balk at and socially talk down the service based on the poorer graphical fidelity.
Room to Expand
With the technology now finalized, and a public beta beginning July 31st in the US and Canada, Sony is now ready to focus on content and pricing. Sony expects the service to launch with approximately 100 games, and the library can only grow from there. For the first time, console quality experiences will be delivered as a service, enabling Sony to expand the offering with daily streaming promotions, bundled rentals across franchises and themes, and niche offerings that can be tied to current events. Sony has a new channel to distribute content to gamers, and there are many innovations Sony can provide to monetize their library.
The future is here, and it might just be “good enough.”