Well, that was a bomb shell wasn’t it?
I can tell you that I’m a bit jaded. When you’ve been around gaming as long as I have (going on 30+ years), it’s just going to happen. That’s not to say that things can’t still excite (or even utterly shock) me at this point. So, it does feel good to know that I’m not completely dead inside. A perfect example of this is the bomb shell that Sony dropped on the gaming world at CES. It’s called PlayStation Now. It’s a rental service that will allow you to stream not only classic PlayStation titles, but current ones as well. In a smooth move, Sony also had both barrels locked, cocked and loaded ahead of the announcement (as it’s already gone live with a beta sign-up page). The beta will be the first step, with the full serviced planned to roll out for summer 2014.
While this is great news for Sony and gamers in general, there is one company left standing in the aftermath of this impact-crater that might be less than enthused: a company called GameFly.
Just as a heads up, I plan to be not so nice to the folks of the games-by-mail rental service. I could point to the countless horror stories out there of other customers to prove my point (albeit not all are bad) however, I’ll just focus on my own experience for now. I can tell you that I absolutely loved the concept of GameFly; game rental access from an almost bottomless pool, anytime I wanted, without the hassle of constant trips back and forth to a brick and mortar store (with no more late fees). In my excitement, I quickly signed up. The service had already been rolling along for about a year or so at this point, and I fantasized about the joy of pulling an endless supply of AAA game titles from my mail box every week (think Ralphie and the decoder pin from A Christmas Story). I was quickly disappointed, as my hopes slammed into the wall of reality. This is when I realized that the idea of GameFly was great in principal, but not in practice.
I won’t bore you with the details of countless unplayable discs (due to scratches and god knows what else people had done to them), but the biggest frustration was by far the waiting list. The commercials would have you believe that you’ll have new releases delivered to your door step anytime you want. I say this honestly: the entire time I had a subscription, I never saw a game that was newer than 6-8 months old. In fact, most of my rentals involved games that had come out years earlier that I never got around to playing (despite having my queue filled with prime cuts). In the end, it just led to a disenfranchisement and eventual cancellation of the service.
Granted, I know it’s not really GameFly’s fault.
I guess if I have to blame them for anything, it wouldn’t be the inability to ship me the games I really wanted. It would be the fact that they lead me to believe it could be done. I realize they can only get their hands on so many copies of new releases (with the demand probably clocking in at double or triple what they actually have in stock). So you see, I have just highlighted the very reason why GameFly’s business model has just been drug behind the barn and shot by the farmers at Sony. All the bad disc shipments and supply vs. demand problems a physical media based company faces will become obsolete, when Sony allows you to gain access to endless gaming content via a few simple button presses, all day every day.
Sony’s announcement really took me back to the days of the Sega Channel. For those of you who may not know, Sega offered an attachment during the early to mid-90s that would plug into the top of your Sega Genesis and be connected to your cable company via coax. They would then stream an uninterrupted supply of Genesis games right to your console. Surprisingly, this isn’t’ exactly a new idea Sony has. However, by unshackling themselves from the physical media and embracing digital distribution, you’re literally seeing the future of one company (while possibly seeing the end of another). A sad fact, but true.
GameFly has been cautious to comment, but after the reveal, everyone had an “oh snap” reaction and instantly looked in their direction. The best they could muster just yet is a comment from an unnamed rep who said “The PlayStation Now service is too new for us to understand potential impacts and therefore we have no comment.” If you were to listen carefully, you’d hear this quote followed by the sound of a big Scooby-Doo style “GUUULP.” GameStop on the other hand had no problem immediately jumping on the bandwagon (attempting to not seem antiquated), saying it wants to work with the service as much as possible. Of course, I’m sure this had nothing to do with the fact that their stocks dropped like a freakin’ rock upon the market hearing the news.
Some may not remember or even realize that Netflix started out as a by-mail disc company, but after their streaming service took off, they immediately shifted their focus to the future of digital content distribution. Sony possibly just blew the doors off this mother and officially changed the way people look at how we access our games in the future. With Sony’s help, gamers may soon realize the future is now. If video killed the radio star, you could also make the argument that snail mail game rentals helped kill the video store. If done correctly, streaming could off the shipment-based services in kind (almost like a gaming circle of life).
Cue Microsoft’s response via their reactionary streaming service in 3…2…1…