Roundtable: PlayStation Now or never?

GamesIndustry staff offer their own forecasts for Sony's multi-device cloud gaming service

Sony made headlines at the Consumer Electronics Show this week with the announcement of PlayStation Now, the upcoming Gaikai-based game-streaming service. Set for release on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 this summer, PS Now will allow users to play a variety of PS3 games from a host of online devices. Sony is launching the initiative on its home consoles, but has promised to expand it to the PS Vita, its 2014 Bravia TVs, and eventually tablets and smartphones.

It's certainly an appealing proposition, a Netflix-like service for games, giving people the ability to browse a library of PS3 games from wherever they please. And a demo on the show floor gave attendees an idea of what could be done to keep the visual fidelity up and the input latency down. But there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding PS Now. Sony hasn't revealed the business model yet, much less actual pricing. And given the early success of Microsoft and Sony's new backwards incompatible consoles, how much of a market is there to play last-gen games at all?

There's also the question of how PS Now fits into Sony's larger plans as a hardware company. Sony Computer Entertainment America's marketing VP John Koller has already downplayed PS Now's threat to the traditional console model, but if the tech works and the dollars make sense, why stay in the business of shipping hardware to stores?

While we wait for details, the GamesIndustry International staff shared their thoughts and concerns about PlayStation Now, from what happens in the best-case scenario all the way to the worst. We're all talking about PlayStation Now this week, but will we be by year's end? Is this the future, or just another trip through history from people who didn't learn from the OnLive debacle?

Brendan Sinclair

It's appropriate this news came out of CES, because I've always associated the show more with interesting novelties than anything I or anyone I've ever known would actually purchase, like an oven that runs Android , the world's first connected electric toothbrush, or a bendable TV. That's not to dismiss PlayStation Now entirely; I just think that--much like Xbox Live Arcade on the original Xbox--the service is little more than a proof of concept to see if this can be done. If it can, then the real revolution will come in the next generation.

"Much like Xbox Live Arcade on the original Xbox, the service is little more than a proof of concept to see if this can be done."

This time around, the service just doesn't fit the rest of Sony's ecosystem. I don't think Sony will be able to get away selling access to individual games because people will almost certainly have to accept some compromises when it comes to input latency or visual fidelity.

The only course of action I see here that would result in satisfied customers is to sell people a subscription to PS Now with unlimited access to a catalog of titles, Netflix-style. That's an option, but how does it fit in with the Play Station Plus scheme, which is already booming thanks to the PS4's requirement for online multiplayer and free game giveaways? Is PS Now included in the cost? If so, where's Sony's motivation to keep the selection of streaming games fresh and expanding? If not, how much will people be willing to pay for inferior play experiences of last-gen games? If playing those old games on the new hardware was really such a draw, you'd think it would be helping the Wii U a bit more, or at least that Sony and Microsoft would be hurting in its absence.

PlayStation Now is cool, but I don't think it's going to have much impact until PlayStation Later.

James Brightman

I'm mostly in agreement with Brendan. As I stated in our staff predictions for 2014 feature, I'd be shocked to see much impact this year from cloud gaming in the PlayStation ecosystem. The potential is absolutely huge, and thinking of an all-you-can-eat streaming games service in the style of Netflix makes me giddy, but I have serious doubts that the technology will realize that vision any time soon.

"The promise is there and I'm far more optimistic about PS Now than I ever was about OnLive, but we've got a long ways to go."

There are simply too many obstacles at this point. Reports from the PS Now demos at CES did describe some lag between button presses and on-screen actions--and that's in a relatively controlled environment without millions of users! What happens when PS Now is out in the real world, among many homes' spotty broadband connections, which can easily get choked up from Neftlix, YouTube, Xbox Live, or anything else? I have a fairly decent 50 Mbps connection and even that fails on me more than I'd like. The US broadband infrastructure definitely needs to step up its game.

There's also a matter of the business behind-the-scenes. Gamers will only care about the upfront costs of a subscription, but what about revenue sharing? How much will third-party publishers get from the subscriptions or one-off rentals? I'm sure negotiations are already ongoing, but Sony needs to make the terms appealing if the company wants to quickly build up a sizable library of cloud-based content. The constant negotiating that Netflix has to do to secure content from movie and TV studios is no doubt one of the more irritating parts of operating a streaming service, but it's going to be crucial for Sony to find the right balance. I also think that it would benefit Sony in some ways to tie PS Now to PS Plus. Figure out the offering and the economics and just do it. There are too many sub-brands at work here. Netflix is just Netflix, not Netflix Plus and Netflix Now and whatever else.

Ultimately, I think the promise is there and I'm far more optimistic about PS Now than I ever was about OnLive, but we've got a long ways to go. Hopefully we--and Sony--will learn more from the closed beta that kicks off later this month.

Steve Peterson

PS Now has some great potential to bring PlayStation games to a much wider audience, but I'm far from convinced it will have a major impact. The technical issues involved with scaling up the service to handle (potentially) millions of users are non-trivial, to say the least. While Gaikai made great headway in solving latency issues and creating a fast network, there's still the limitation of cost to consider. Providing a back end capable of running tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of PS One, PS2, PS3 and PS4 games is not going to be easy or inexpensive.

"The most immediate benefit of PS Now to Sony may be a marketing one...they'll be able to say the PS4 has backwards compatibility."

The key issue is the business model. Nintendo hasn't seen a huge impact from selling old Nintendo games on the Virtual Console, and much of that is probably due to pricing. Sony could easily find itself without a lot of customers for PS1 games if they cost $10 to stream them, and then there was some lag or image quality issues as well. An all-you-can-eat subscription model makes more sense to customers, but that may get difficult or expensive for Sony to create--at least for games they don't own.

If the price is low enough, people will overlook technical issues like some lag or graphics that are a bit lower than the original. PS Now could be a great way to get people to try out PlayStation games and then upsell them to a PS4, a PS Vita, or a PS Vita TV. The need for a Dual Shock controller will keep PS Now from having a big impact if it ever gets to Android tablets or phones, but perhaps by that time some workarounds can be engineered.

The most immediate benefit of PS Now to Sony may be a marketing one - even if the initial range of games available is limited, they'll be able to say the PS4 has backwards compatibility. That's a feature Microsoft won't have, at least not until they unveil their own streaming game solution.

Dan Pearson

My first thoughts on this were: latency, server costs, infrastructure, revenue share complexity and impact on retailers, but I don't want to retread subjects already covered above and elsewhere, so instead, I'm going to put on a different shade of Krampus hat and think about how the hardcore are going to take it.

From the devil's advocate side, there are a few obvious objections. Firstly, this is likely to strike something of a discord with customers who've been invested in the PlayStation eco-system for some time. Sony has already done a big U-turn on backwards compatibility once, removing the capacity to play PS2 discs from the later iterations of the PS3-- a move which brought it fairly extended criticism. To reintroduce the potential to play old favourites, but under the proviso that they're paid for again, rather than just dug out of the attic and put in a disc drive, is likely to leave Sony fans with a decent back-catalogue feeling more than a little put out.

"If the tech works, I can see this being a valuable proposition, and likely worth the grumbling that these issues give rise to."

That's something that Sony may well address--we've already seen a fairly sensible system of discounts put in place for people upgrading PS3 software to PS4 versions--but for now I can't really imagine anyone paying for another copy of a PS3 game if they've already got the disc laying around, especially if the only differences are portability and a touch of input delay. That's a barrier which is only going to be compounded when we're talking about digital games. If I've bought a game on PSN before, and it's made available on a new platform in exactly the same version, I don't expect to have to buy or rent it again.

The other grump-trigger I can see huffing its way on to the horizon is the potential impact on PS Plus: it strikes me that PS Now is going to mean that we're highly unlikely to see any classic PlayStation titles added to Sony's existing subscription service. Don't get me wrong, I think PS Plus is probably the best value for money games subscription there is to be had at the moment, but this is going to be stealing a very desirable piece of that virtual pie. Now that PS Plus is essential for online multiplayer, it's probably strong enough to survive that, but I can't see many people being too happy about it.

All that aside, if the tech works, I can see this being a valuable proposition, and likely worth the grumbling that these issues give rise to, especially if it gives me a chance to polish off that pile of unfinished PS3 games without rewiring my living room again. Still, though, that's a very big if, for now.

Rachel Weber

Like Steve, I think price is going to be crucial if Sony is going to get through this and maintain the "good guy" image it built up with the release of the PlayStation 4. Because in my eyes that's the biggest risk, the potential for public relations fallout when the scheme hits inevitable snags. Set it too high and you'll scare off all those gamers that are already paying $60 a time for PlayStation 4 games, set it low and you'll risk not covering your costs and facing a riot if you try and raise it at a later stage.

"Price is going to be crucial if Sony is going to get through this and maintain the 'good guy' image it built up with the release of the PlayStation 4."

Already people are noting, with slightly furrowed brows, that if they want to play some of their old PS3 favourites on their new PS4 or their Bravia TV they'll need to purchase them again. Why would a solid Sony fan pay to play a game that's probably still sat on their shelf on your PS4? I'm one, I've already played all the games I loved on PS3 and I'm excited about what's new on PS4, not what's old. Could I be tempted by a few PlayStation classics? Maybe, but my experience with retro gaming is always the same: "That does not look as good as I remember."

So the question has to be, "Is it a service first time PlayStation owners are crying out for?" If they haven't owned a PS3 or an Xbox 360 then I'm sure they'd be interested in a boost for their new machine, especially if it can be played on their Vita and other non-PlayStation devices - but those people are likely to be intimidated by the choice. And don't forget the market is flooded with PS3s at a reasonable price, with a pile of pre-owned games to go with it. How does Sony make sure players choose PlayStation Now over an $80 pre-owned console and dirt cheap games?

An easy answer is an all-you-can-eat-buffet for those gamers, but that model is easier said than done with so many games needing adaptations to make the transition, especially taking into account how different control schemes will have to be on tablets or phones in the future. You might want to play The Last Of Us on a tablet when you're on the move, but will you really remember to pack your DualShock? Or want to grapple with shooting mutants with a series of sad finger jabs?

I have faith in Sony that they can change my mind about the service, that there'll be some twist or killer punch they're yet to deliver. Free with PS Plus, perhaps? Or a series of lovingly updated PlayStation 1 and 2 titles that will be like a face full of nostalgia. It'll take something like that to get me interested.

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Latest comments (12)

Anthony Chan4 years ago
I am definitely excited about the opportunities this presents for Sony as a whole. I agree mostly with the columnists that this technology is too new and as such will be subject to limitations and frustrations (my biggest peeve would be lag, then next would be graphical blips). However thinking as an equity analyst, this is great for Sony.

Sony has been following a path that separates their home electronics from their Playstation business. This, in my opinion, has created difficulties for the company leading to multiple cultures and lack of continuity in business plans/goals. This "small" step brings back Sony Electronics to SCE together. The plan for 2014 Bravia television sets to have built in PS Now is a great step forward. I hope they succeed, and I hope they market the hell out of this.

I have been waiting for televisions to appear that actually have useful apps and intutitive controls. I have personally felt the XMB for PS3 easy and smooth to use, and always felt the BRAVIA television line could borrow that kind of menu screen. The more they unify the best of each product together when it fits, the better.
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Pete Thompson Editor 4 years ago
I'd like to see it working, but I just can't see why or how it will be any better than Onlive, a game streaming service known for latency issues, add to that the two-way comms issues of sending controls for movement and firing etc and I can only see more latency..
But I wish them well with it..
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 4 years ago
I'm forced to agree with apter. Streaming is fine for certain genres. Adventure and strategy games for example. The second you start playing an action game or a platformers the slightest hiccup creates instant frustration. I played Deus Ex in the service, it was ungodly horrible. Even if Gaikai is 2-3 times speedier and more accurate, people will go berserk when they die and die and die.

I think there's frat potential merit to the service, but that it will never reach the mainstream. Hardware based backwards compatibility is simply too expensive for the sub 5% of PS3 owners who cared. I'll certainly give it a shot though. I'll be happy to be prove. Wrong.
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Gregory Hommel writer 4 years ago
If Sony has proven anything in the past generation it's that they are willing to add tremendous value to their products, even when the consumer is too stubborn to take advantage of it. The options available on the PS3 at launch, the maligned but completely free and optional plethora of content that is Home, the free or budget priced DLC for first party titles and most recently the huge library of free or discounted content for PS+ subscribers.

I am not interested in a rental service or any service that is separate from PS+. I have been an early adopter of Sony products for a long time but I will definitely pass on PS Now if it follows that sort of path. Although I don't believe it will. Sony knows their customers too well to try to sell them a trip down memory lane at a time of great excitement for the future.

I believe this service will undoubtedly be bundled along with PS+ just to add value to an already undeniably valuable service. I would pay a decent amount more for PS+ if this were included. Even if only Sony's first party lineup was available it would be a fantastic value to unify the past and future of Playstation Gaming. Either way I trust Sony to follow through and I don't believe they would have come this far if Gaikai's technology wasn't sound.

I don't think Sony or PS4 owners should count on this just yet. My faith will never blind me but I am most excited to watch this play out and I hope Sony will see fit to offer this as an added value rather than a new way to separate my money from my wallet.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 years ago
We should make a distinction between hottest way to deliver games and serviceable marketing strategy across product categories. This is the ladder.

On the bright side, you can imagine this as some "buy now, play now" type of deal. Buy the game, play for an hour, have the console download the game overnight, then resume your save game with less lag and compression artifacts. The same goes for instant play demos or previews which are designed to hook you and trigger pre-purchasing and pre-downloading. Considering PS3 and/or Bravia integration, it might even sell a PS4 or two. A small piece of the puzzle and certainly no big deal on its own. It'll be one way to reach some of your customers, nothing more.
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd4 years ago
It's bizarre that anyone would assume that the details that haven't been announced with be anywhere close to how Onlive did things. Even when Gaikai were trying to do this independently they weren't stupid.

Of course they're not going to charge full whack for access to individual games. Why would they need to? You can only stream one game per device at a time so their running costs are fixed. I imagine that third parties will take a similar attitude with their back catalogues as they have on Steam - any revenue is better than nothing.

All the comparisons with physical backward compatibility or rebuying old hardware completely miss the point. Millions of people buy music on iTunes and watch movies and shows on Netflix that they have (in superior quality versions) on their shelves. The selling point here is convenience.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 4 years ago
I dont really care too much about playstation now. Like Ive said on previouse posts I like owning my own copy of the game. I like to collect games, been doing so for 25 years. Maybe my mentality is of an old dinosaur, however I do realize companies need to move with the times. And SONY is making the right moves.

I probably wont use the playstation now, unless it offers some sort of backwards compatability for games I already own and for free. i dont think its fair that I have to pay a fee on top of what I paid to have the game. However like I said, SONY needs to move with the times. My internet connection probably cant support this. Its a 4MB connection. Internet latency/bandwith is an issue with me. But its good that SONY offers something for peole who like stuff like Netflix and Hulu, who are ok with watching a movie once or twice without any intention to ever see it again.

I probably wont use it to stream games, however my hope is that they can offer some sort of backwards compatability with my old games. I really wished they created an app for that, but cloud based hardware emulation is better than nothing and it would eliminate the need for the older consoles. But if anything I just keep the older consoles.

But on broader scale, this service helps eliminate the walled gardens that plagues the video game industry. Although my prefered method to enjoy a game is on a proper video game console and 40"TV, its cool that I can access my games from anywhere.

A good example is as with an RPG, if anyone understands the concept of grinding, you know that many RPG's require you spend many hours simply leveling up and custumizing your characters. And shopping also can take time. these are things I an do at a bus stop or lunch break at work from my celphone. Then i can go back home and continue questing and furthering the story and battling bosses and otherwise complete tasks that requir more of my attention and extended playtime.

Again, because of my internet connection I probably wont use this service, but the sooner SONY gets it out the door, the sooner it can start improving. I just hope they still have products to sell for people who like collecting games and owning their own copy of a game and like to play offline, without a ball and chain attached.

So Playstation Now is gonna role out. Its gonna have its problems, not everyone will be able to use it snd it may not be for everyone, like me.... but its a start for something new. And Im ok with it as long as a company offers it as an alternative to what has always been there and still works.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 10th January 2014 1:08am

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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 4 years ago
Online is a good place to start, and latency is a HUGE issue with twitch games. OnLive worked great on the show floor too. Until it's running in real people's homes all over the country, how it performs cannot be judged. What we do know is what people's Internet is like, so that's also a good place to start.


PS1 software emulation is doable, PS2 case. By case, PS3 emulation is simply out of the question the amount of horsepower required is simply beyond what PS4 is capable of by a long shot. This support infrastructure something like this requires is well beyond what say, a $2 UltraViolet disc to digital does. A single blade server can easily move a dozen streams at once. This requires a PS3, a n expensive video encoder and more. Not cheap.
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Ryan Locke Lecturer in Media Design, University of Abertay Dundee4 years ago
Hmm, its certainly a decent enough starting point and one of biggest and bravest moves SONY have made - there's undoubtedly problems and frustrations ahead, but moving forward on this scale is the best way to start pushing the idea and solving problems as they go. It'll need an extended and healthy beta period to really mitigate major issues but I am excited about it, I have to admit - access to a library of 2 decades worth of playstation? Can't wait to see how it plays out. I just hope the user experience is easy, uncomplicated and smooth.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up4 years ago
Once you add on the costs of running the servers and the back end operation, you've got to be looking for growth for it to remain viable and to grow beyond the experimentation stage. It cant just be for playing PS back catalogue games for the duration of the life cycle of PS4. More users will obviously mean higher running costs at the backend. This growth, if it happens, will lead to the demand for new and current content I would assume. The question is: can new content here co-exist with the same new content on the console without affecting the console hardware business. That isn't clear yet.

Obviously the Gaikai guys will be pushing on with their agenda in the organisation and they will be looking for that new content to appear on the streaming service if they are showing good numbers. Providing the back end energy and running costs are viable over time and the game prices can remain competitive against things like Steam, then I would say in the long term they are looking pretty sweet in all of this. They can reach more people without selling boxes and at some point the networks will be fast enough. How much of these running costs are passed on to consumer and the final price of the games will probably decide things.

I'm sure they will work it out, but for the duration of the PS4 lifecycle though, the company will have a lot of work to do unifying their message. Pricing and choosing which content can appear where will be a tricky balance to strike if Playstation now is the one that is looking more profitable.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 4 years ago
@Jeff Kleist

I understand the technical difficulties of having to emulate the cell processor and PS3 enviroment. I was thinking it can work something like this... I can put my PS3 disk in the PS4 the PS4 can read it and authorize the game to be played using the playstation now service. Like I can take my copy of The Last of Us put it in a PS4 and play it from PS now. The disk would function more like a dongle or key. Samefor any games purchase on PSN. And for games that people already own there is no cost for accessing them. However if you dont own the game, then you can play them by renting them or paying a monthly fee. Which is fair.

I dont know how far out this idea may seem. But thanx for shedding some light on the matter.

I just hope that for future generations of consoles SONY has the whole backwards compatability thing straight. Cause the transition from one console generation to another has always been a pain, rendering your investment and old games obsolete.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 4 years ago

UltraViolet already has a disc to digital service that works like that. You make a good observation about the disc needing to be there to prevent rent n rip.

I don't think anyone is leaving X86 antime in the foreseeable future
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