Sony's streaming games service, PlayStation Now, launches into open beta tomorrow, July 31, on PlayStation 4 in the United States and Canada. If you're a PS4 owner in either of those countries, you'll be able to pay to play certain PlayStation 3 games without ever downloading them or putting a physical disc in the system. Even with so many new users about to begin using it in less than a day, there remain numerous questions about Now and how it'll work--questions Sony continues to avoid providing answers to.
GameSpot recently spoke with PlayStation Now senior director Jack Buser and Gaikai senior VP Robert Stevenson about the service, which they are happy to note is the first of its kind on consoles. Sony says more than 50 publishers have signed on to offer their games through Now, although an exact list of games planned for it has not been made available. (More will be added "all the time," according to Buser.) The company still won't give exact numbers for how much data you can expect Now to use--a real issue for those in dorms or with ISPs that have data caps--but Stevenson says, "You can think of it [as] very comparable to movie streaming. It's not exactly the same, but it's similar." We'd previously heard you will need a 5 megabits-per-second connection for a "good experience."
A closed beta that's been running since earlier this year has provided Sony with a lot of data to work with--more than 300,000 hours have been streamed so far--that it's already used to improve Now. "Some areas we've really focused on have been in the [user experience], making sure that users really understand the service as we go into open beta," Stevenson says. The Now beta has been using its own dedicated app, but the PlayStation Store itself will become the home for the service as it enters open beta, which presents new challenges. Sony has changed the messaging it uses and tried to ensure people aren't confused when they go to rent a game.
Stevenson also highlighted the addition of cloud saves partway through the closed beta, which allow users to save their game and then resume it on another device at a later time. There are also plans for a new $1.99 price option for certain rentals that is $1 less than the lowest price we've previously heard about. And Sony will make it clearer when streaming games offer DLC, which is said to be part of the reason why rentals during the closed beta could be more expensive than buying a brand-new physical copy.
These kinds of refinements are to be expected, and are no doubt critical to Now achieving a real degree of success. But just as important are many of the issues gamers have been wondering about since Now was announced in January: How will a subscription option work, and when will see one? Can I get free or discounted access to games that I can verify I already own (reportedly the answer is no)? Who is this for? Unfortunately, neither Buser nor Stevenson were willing to provide us with the kinds of answers we were looking for.
"I think, ultimately, you look to this vision of expanding to a wide number of devices and you can imagine that there is this very rich catalog of PlayStation 3 games available to them." -- Jack Buser
Repeatedly describing the service as being in "early days," the two shied away from answering questions about the particulars of a subscription option. Sony is aware of the interest in such an option, and Stevenson says it's "researching exactly how to deliver that. We've got some really strong ideas, but nothing to disclose today in terms of timeline or pricing or anything of that sort."
Fair enough, but how about the way Now will deal with users who own a supported game and would like to stream it to their PS4? "[We have] nothing to discuss at this time," Buser says. "As I mentioned, we are going into open beta on PS4. It will be a rental offering, you'll see a variety of different durations, and, again, a variety of different price points. You'll see durations as short as four hours for an evening of fun--something where maybe you maybe want to come in and just check out a game--you'll see longer durations, like 30 days, 90 days. And Robert talked a lot about the cloud save feature, where you can try out a game for a short duration, save your game to our cloud servers, decide you want to continue playing, rent for a longer duration, and pick up where you left off.
"You know, this is a beta, we are listening to our customers, and if customers want to see features or functions as part of PlayStation Now, they should feel free to let us know. And we'll be collecting that feedback as part of this open beta process."
You'll notice there was no specific mention of what we asked about, something which happened again when we asked about The Last of Us, which has been shown to be playable using Now but was released this week on PS4 as The Last of Us Remastered. Considering PS4 owners who never owned a PS3 now have a way to play the game, who is Sony targeting with the Now version of a game like this? "We're entering into open beta on PlayStation 4, so this particular period is all about the beta and hearing about people's experiences and how things are going," Buser answers. "I think, ultimately, you look to this vision of expanding to a wide number of devices and you can imagine that there is this very rich catalog of PlayStation 3 games available to them.
"It's all about giving the PlayStation community options on how they want to access content." -- Jack Buser
"We're making this available to the PlayStation 4 community. Many of these titles are going to be brand new to these folks, because they're new to the PlayStation ecosystem, and the PlayStation 4 is maybe their first PlayStation device. And as we expand beyond there, you can imagine an entirely new type of customer who maybe doesn't even have a game console of any sort, who is going to be experiencing this rich catalog for the very first time, and really understand the thing we, in the industry, have known for so long, which is how wonderful these experiences are. The different types of content will fill different kinds of needs depending upon who that target customer is as we move forward."
Stevenson reiterated the idea that Now presents PS4 owners who never got to play The Last of Us on PS3 with a way to do so. (He didn't mention that Remastered does this.) We brought up the fact that Sony is, in a way, competing with itself in a case like this; for a PS4 owner who can choose to pick up Remastered--an improved version of the game--what is the appeal of being able to stream the PS3 version? "Well I think, in general, we're just interested in providing options for our gamers, just to give them the freedom to discover and play games in ways never before possible," Buser says. "So I think we look at all these options as existing symbiotically with one another. It's all about giving the PlayStation community options on how they want to access content. And I think PlayStation Now is really a part of that larger vision for the platform itself."
This was similar to what Buser tells us when asked about the possibility of new games being released directly onto PlayStation Now. "I couldn't comment on that concept specifically," he says. "One thing that's exciting about PlayStation Now is that you have a whole bunch of people who are new to PlayStation in general who own a PlayStation 4, and they might have missed out on a lot of these great PlayStation 3 titles. I think that's one of the things that show some of the power of PlayStation Now as a game-streaming service. So both ourselves at PlayStation as well as publishing partners are really exciting about introducing these amazing PlayStation 3 games to customers who own PS4 but are maybe new to PlayStation. I think that's really exciting."
Even with the open beta kicking off on PS4 tomorrow, many issues will remain unanswered for the time being; the beta will only offer rentals and Sony can point to the beta label to explain why it has so few answers about the service.
But at least we'll have options.
|Chris Pereira is a freelance writer for GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @TheSmokingManX|
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