PlayStation Now is a hugely exciting idea that feels like it comes directly from the future: a big library of games streamed direct to your console with little to no waiting. It's idyllic in concept, but my own experience (and the experience of many of our readers) has been far from perfect.
After my PlayStation Now experience, I'm $8 poorer with nothing but frustration to show for it, and I'm not the only one. Right now, as a result, the service is impossible for me to recommend, but that's something Sony could fix with one little addition.
The Aborted Odyssey
PlayStation Now puts players through a check of their available bandwidth before they rent a game, and I passed this check without issue. I average speeds around 24 mbps down and 5 mbps or so up over Wi-Fi, which far exceeds the 5 mbps down that Sony suggests. The company also says that a wired connection is ideal, but I passed the test, so I assumed I was in the clear.
Just to be safe, I looked to see if there was any other trial available, even just a 10-minute snippet to see if the service would actually work as promised. There wasn't, so I pushed on.
I plopped down my eight bucks to rent the terrific Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. (Note: I maybe should have started with the cheaper four-hour rental period, but the seven-day rental is an exponentially better value. Ironically, I was trying to make the better financial decision.)
Just roll the dice and hope you're not flushing money down the toilet.
So, I fired it up and ... no dice. At first, the game just told me it was unable to start. Other times, the game would load, begin to slow and jitter and then kick me out before the opening cinematic completed. My week expired without me ever being able to get the game running properly.
Sony recommends shutting down anything else that might use up bandwidth (your roommate watching Dota 2 Let's Plays, your little sister playing Minecraft with her knucklehead friends) before playing PlayStation Now, but even that didn't seem to help.
I asked Polygon readers about their experiences with the service and found that my results were far from atypical. In our totally unscientific poll, around 20 percent of readers found PlayStation Now to be hit or miss, and 40 percent couldn't get it running at all. Even if the poll numbers are wildly off, it's not hard to find anecdotes (both in the comments of that same post and elsewhere) about struggles similar to mine.
Fighting with PlayStation Now has been frustrating, but largely because I really felt like playing Enslaved. I'm really not all that surprised or put out that I couldn't get it working. The service is in its infancy, Wi-Fi is finicky and even if my speeds are good, there's still the question of latency. No big deal.
What I can't get past is that I performed a check to specifically avoid this exact situation and still ended up losing eight dollars.
"The connection test provides a snapshot of a network at a given point at time," a Sony spokesperson told me. "It is entirely possible for a user to pass the connection test, but have their network drop in quality later. This is especially true when using Wi-Fi, as there are more variables that can affect the network."
So, as Sony admits and my experience attests, the network test is really more a guide than a rule. But if that's the case, the real test of whether or not PlayStation Now will work for you is to rent a game and try it for yourself. Just roll the dice and hope you're not flushing money down the toilet.
The Acid Test
Why, then, is there not a single free game that players can use to put PlayStation Now's rubber to the proverbial road before they start laying out real cash?
Listen, I'm not looking for The Last of Us here. Put the first Uncharted up there; everybody already owns that anyway. Maybe Haze? No one is gonna play that for a second longer than they have to. Hell, I'd settle for Lair. Just give us some way to actually see if our money is going to be wasted. I'm told there were free game tests available during the closed beta for some titles, but they have since been removed.
I asked Sony why there's no ability to test PlayStation Now for free and was told, "While there are no plans to offer free content at this time, we plan to continue to collect feedback during this Open Beta phase to make further refinements to the service."
So my advice would be to provide just that feedback with your voting dollars: Don't lay out any actual cash for a PlayStation Now rental until Sony gives you the ability to be sure it's going to work. That's only fair.
Maybe you have more money than you know what to do with, and it's worth dropping a few bucks as an experiment. That's fine. But if you're a bit more fiscally conscious, I'd recommend waiting until Sony isn't charging players for the privilege to gamble on their service.