Sony recently announced its pricing structure for its PlayStation Now rental streaming service and while the disapproval of the high price compared to the short rental term structure has been loud and clear, I thought it would be helpful to compare what PlayStation Now is offering in terms of a rental service against other game rental services to show how, despite its relatively high prices, PlayStation Now may still become the best on the market.
First, let’s take a quick look at what exactly PlayStation Now will offer when it is released later this year. The new streaming service, currently in open beta, will offer gamers the chance to play PS3 games on their PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Sony Bravia television sets, along with tablets and cellphones for on-the-go gaming. Made possible by the Gaikai-based streaming technology, which Sony acquired in 2012, players will be able to access a catalogue of PlayStation 3 games to be streamed via Cloud server to their hardware of choice over their local Internet connection. If it works — and with the service still in beta, it’s difficult to know for sure, given the potential for lag, poor connection issues, etc. — then not only will the new service solve the ever constant backwards compatibility issue that plagues cross-generational gaming, but it will also offer gamers instant access to some of their favorite games. What does this mean for the other gaming rental services?
Gamefly and Redbox have been offering gamers the ability to rent their old and new favorite games for a price. How will Sony’s service of streamable content affect these more well known, better established services? Currently, Gamefly offers its customers the option of renting either one or two games at a time on a monthly subscription basis with prices set at $15.95/month for one disc or $22.95/month for two, plus any applicable taxes and the option to buy the games you rent at a discounted price. Where the site is lacking, and where PlayStation Now will potentially grab a foothold in the market, is in access. Depending on your proximity to one of Gamefly’s distribution centers, receipt of your rented games could take a couple of days, whereas a game rented on PlayStation Now can be played almost immediately after purchase.
This latency between renting a disc, receiving it, and then returning and waiting for the next one, has been a point of issue for all physical media for as long as services like the one offered by Gamefly have existed. It’s something that until now gamers have begrudgingly accepted as part of the benefit of having access to their favorite games that may otherwise be unavailable. PlayStation Now’s new instant streaming service purports to remove this last obstacle and provide gamers with the immediate gratification they’ve been looking for, which could spell trouble for the disc-based Gamefly.
Redbox, another, albeit newer, game rental service, has been offering gamers the option to rent games from their kiosks since 2011, but unlike Gamefly and other disc-based outlets like Blockbuster and Hasting’s, it hasn’t been as successful a venture. Redbox has traditionally had the smallest selection of games to rent and many of them aren’t available until a week or more after the game’s release date. Couple that with the price — $2.00 per day before tax — the fact that the games must be picked up and dropped off at one of Redbox’s kiosks, and that the company currently doesn’t offer next-generation games for rent, and the costs of renting from the company quickly begin to outweigh the benefits.
With game rentals accounting for only 3% of Redbox’s revenue and with recently announcing its decision to close over 500 of its kiosks, it’s unlikely that the company will be allocating more resources to expand the service anytime soon. In many ways, just as Blockbuster and Hasting’s before it, the option of renting games through Redbox may soon disappear, clearing the way for PlayStation Now to fill the void. The key thing to take away from this is that PlayStation Now aims to solve the issues inherent in physical media-based rental services. By removing wait times and giving players instant access to their favorite games, PlayStation Now is setting itself up to be the definitive game rental service and, if successful, could pave the way for other companies like Microsoft to develop similar services for their specific platforms, ushering in the new generation of gaming rental services for an all digital age.