After much conjecture the commercial service based on Gaikai streaming technology has been revealed as Playstation Now.
The service will act like Netflix for video games. You pay a fee and then have access to a library of PS3 games that you play on Playstation 4 through the internet. But Sony’s vision goes further. They would also like Playstation Now to branch out and eventually allow tablets, phones, and TVs to play Playstation games as well. In addition to PS3 games there seems to be plans to bring both PS1 and PS2 games to the service.
This last point is the one I would like to examine because personally I am not all that pleased at what this could mean for folks like myself who never really stop playing their older game libraries. I can’t get JRPGs like they used to make them so I have to play the old ones if I want that gameplay. While I do have some of my old discs Sony has made the PS4 completely non-backwards compatible. The PS3 at least had some of that.
Without the ability to buy rare games at their astronomical prices it was time to start embracing the digital age anyway. PS1 and PS2 Classics were a great way to do that. I bought them through the Playstation Store which is of course a part of the PSN. When I got a PSP the main reason was that it would play those PS1 classics. When I finally upgraded to Playstation Vita again playing those PS1 classics was a big reason to buy it. Yes I want the new games and tech but Sony has shown time and again that they are supportive across consoles of customers who buy their digital products. This may not be the case with the PS4.
With the announcement of Playstation Now I think there is a genuine possibility that we may never see support for PS1 or PS2 Classics on the network. Yes I do plan to hang onto my PS3, but I’d prefer not to be tied to it forever. I buy new hardware not just because I want the new software but because of the record of positive experience as a customer, the belief that when I purchase something digital from their service it will be available on the platforms that support that service.
Playstation Now is potentially an insidious program. Software emulation for PS1 and PS2 games on the PS4 is something I’m confident would be easily achieved. But I’m understanding, I know a business is in the game to make the big bucks. Even if they don’t want to do any work to make my old discs function in the system. It probably shaved a couple bucks off the price to leave a CD laser out of it. Still, how difficult could it be to get those Classics back up on the network and functioning on the system? They did it for Vita relatively quickly.
The only reason to leave this out is to squeeze customers onto the Playstation Now service. “You don’t have to buy, it’s just an option,” the apologists will say. “Stop acting entitled” and all of that nonsense. It isn’t entitlement to expect what you buy, however digital, to be available to you so long as you are a continuing customer.
There has been talk that in addition to the subscription service there may at one point be a way to “buy” each game. To me what that looks like is you pay a one time fee to have access to that one game on the streaming service either forever or until they find another creative way to make you have to buy it again. Keep in mind I’m talking about games that, often, you have already bought from them twice over by now.
I won’t even delve into the internet problems like latency, bandwidth caps, and service downtime we would have to deal with just to enjoy what we already bought. No, the bigger issue at stake is how this kind of thing is going to affect ownership in the future. I may be old school but I’m not blind, I know we are headed into an all-digital world of gaming. It won’t happen nearly as fast as everyone says but I do think that eventually consoles will be a thing of the past. In the mean time I think it’s important for gamers to put their thoughts out there in order to induce a conversation about just what will be available to us in the future.
We once feared a world where all of our games were packed onto a hard drive instead of a shelf, just a set of data that was constantly at risk. Now it’s possible that, very soon, we will even be deprived of that kind of collection as well if this new service is the only recourse for big-library gamers.
Sony and their PS4 is on top of the industry right now, but if they want to stay there I would caution them to listen to the gamers who have been with them for their whole gaming odyssey and consider keeping some traditions, even relatively new ones like downloadable PS1 classics, intact.