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If Sony wants PlayStation Now to succeed, it has to treat us better than GameStop

Chris Plante co-founded Polygon in 2012 and is now editor-in-chief. He co-hosts The Besties, is a board member of the Frida Cinema, and created NYU’s first games journalism course.

Dear Sony,

Long time no talk. The comparable lack of opinions about your business speaks to both your competence in launching a video game console and your relative lack of ambition in doing so. Microsoft has been pulverized by press and fans the past couple years, partly because Microsoft has tried to do big things.

Today, you are trying to do something big, launching the open beta of PlayStation Now. The service could be be humongous — the Netflix of video games that every other games company wants to own. The future could be bright. The present, however, is not.

This could be huge

The PlayStation Now service has tremendous potential. You will provide people with access to hundreds of PlayStation games through the black magic of streaming. From Metal Gear Solid 4 to Catherine, Darksiders to Jimmie Johnson's Anything with an Engine. The breadth of options alone elevates the plan above its competitors. You're even planning to use PlayStation Now to appease the people who want to play their old PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games on their new console. They'll pay for it, of course.

This could be huge. But right now, you — and presumably, the developers and publishers you're negotiating royalties with — are standing in the way.

The money is all wrong

While the service feels refreshingly modern, the pricing structure feels like the knock-off Nintendo 64 in a Best Western hotel room by the airport. You chose to open the beta with one payment option: rentals. This is the wrong model.

To rent Darksiders, a game that's been practically given away to PC owners thanks to Humble Bundle and the collapse of publisher THQ, you can pay $14.99 for 90 days, $7.99 for 30 days, $5.99 for 5 days or — no joke — $4.99 for four hours.

$4.99 for four hours

I paid $4.99 for five-day rentals at Blockbuster in the early 2000s. Blockbuster, for people and companies who might have forgotten, was a film and game rental company. It went out of business because its rental model was outdated and ludicrous. You're copying a failed business model. You're looking at the bones in a tar pit and hoping to see the future.

Worse, Darksiders isn't even the most expensive game. As Kotaku's Jason Schreier points out, Final Fantasy 13-2 costs $29.99 for 90 days. A used copy of the same costs $20 at GameStop. Normally I wouldn't recommend buying used copies of games, but when it's $10 cheaper to own a game than to rent one, I make an exception.

What's stupefying about this comparison is that the purpose of these new online game distribution services, like PlayStation Now and EA Access, is to kneecap the used game market. If someone's going to make money off old games, the publishers and developers would like it to be them.

Which brings us to a simple rule to follow when it comes to the video game business: If your strategy treats the consumer worse than GameStop, get a new strategy.

This is a tremendous opportunity for Sony and the publishers and developers smart enough to partner in the venture. Back in the day, companies would have needed to print more copies of a game, ship those copies, re-promote and shelve them. Today, Sony will put them in an online store. The margins will be higher. The prices shouldn't be. We know the days of owning games are nearly over, but an over-priced digital rental program is just rubbing our faces in it.

If your strategy treats the consumer worse than GameStop, get a new strategy

Fixing it is relatively simple. Everyone involved just needs to do one thing: Think about the consumer. Stop being so out of touch with how average people spend their money. Stop assuming you can rent an older game for more than the price of new, exceptional indie games on PC, or used copies of the same game that the player can keep forever.

Speaking of: Learn from PC, learn from Humble Bundle and Steam sales and Amazon's digital store. Learn from Netflix, learn from all the companies that know the value and potential of a deal. People are willing to spend a little money a lot of times, but nobody will test drive Jimmie Johnson's racing game for $4.99. Not even Jimmie Johnson.

Do a cursory amount of research, and you'll find that your pricing model is old and expensive.

Sony, I know you're working on a subscription service. But judging from the absurdity of the current pricing structure, I'm worried. If you want Netflix's success, you need to mirror Netflix's price. I can get thousands of movies for $7.99 a month. I'd pay twice that for your game collection.

But I'll never pay $14.99 for a game I can find for a couple bucks at a garage sale. As it stands, your catalog of great games is being one-upped by the family next door with a basement full of junk. Fix it.

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