Lost in translation

January 10, 2014 by Tim

Playstation Now looks great. A decent compromise to backwards compatibility, the service will allow people to stream older games to their devices, like an OnLive for Playstation games. If it works, it will be pretty cool.

I have to wonder, though, if anyone at Microsoft is scratching their heads regarding the favorable reaction to this announcement so far. Playstation Now is a strictly digital service… which means in order to benefit from it, you need a good internet connection. So it will only be available to people in certain parts of the world, and a lot of people will be left out. And you don’t own these games… you can only use them as long as you have internet. Not unlike Microsoft’s original digital-heavy concept for the Xbox One, which drew so much ire because it would “disable games you paid for if your internet went out” etc.

Well that’s a risk with the Playstation Now service too, but nobody’s freaking out.

So I imagine the argument here would be “Well, Playstation Now is totally optional.” That’s true… but I’d point out that the entire act of purchasing/using a console at all is optional. We don’t need video games to survive, it’s something we choose to do. And can choose not to do if we don’t like what is being offered. Nobody would have been forced to buy an Xbox One if they didn’t want to, and the Playstation 4 would have still been there as a next-gen option. Yet people got angry at the Xbox anyway.

Then is the level of outrage the internet expresses over having its games locked behind digital access directly related to how much they want said games? Or perhaps related to their perceived “newness?” People were angry with not truly “owning” (ie, having complete and unrestricted access to use/trade/sell) their hot new Xbox games, but they care less about outdated last-gen/retro titles so the concept is acceptable?

I assume price weighs in here too. People might get more upset over losing features on a $500 machine than they will in a $15/month subscription, but again, money is money and you expect to get what you pay for regardless of the denomination.

When Playstation Now goes down (and it will) people will complain. They will make big forum posts about how they’re paying for a subscription and they aren’t being provided with the service they paid for, etc etc. But I don’t see them complaining about it now, months before the service even goes live. Yet people were legitimately livid about a similar idea on the Xbox nearly a year before a similar outage had a chance to even affect them.

Ultimately, I still think the concept is sound. We are moving towards an increasingly digital society, and Steam has proven this works, as have the digital marketplaces on the Xbox/PS, and the favorable reaction to Playstation Now shows that people aren’t entirely reluctant to the idea of accessing games they don’t own in a traditional sense. Which leads me to believe that Microsoft’s biggest mistake (and I will certainly agree they made mistakes) was not in suggesting the idea of moving in a more digital direction, but perhaps simply that they tried to move there too far, too quickly.

Sony is easing people in using a subject that people are less fervent about (old games), which appears to be the smarter play. But once the infrastructure is in place, and tested and proven, I would not be surprised to see another push towards digital as a primary delivery method. If not with this generation, then with the next.

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