Sony introduces its PS Now rental service

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      Anyone who’s concerned about the price of video games—blockbusters sell for $60 or $70 and special, limited editions can go for $150—will be pleased to hear they don’t have to buy some games anymore. Instead, they can pay a subscription fee to Sony and play as much as they want through the company’s PlayStation Now streaming service.

      PS Now, which streams game software over an Internet connection, was announced by Sony Computer Entertainment president Andrew House at last year’s International Consumer Electronics Show and debuted in open-beta form last summer. For those without subscriptions, games can be rented for four hours, seven days, or 30 days for $2 to $20. (Prices are set by the publisher.) In a keynote address at this year’s CES, held earlier this month in Las Vegas, Sony CEO Kaz Hirai revealed the subscription model, which became available in Canada on January 13.

      On the phone from New York City, Rocco Calabrese told the Georgia Straight that the “all-you-can-play” offering came about, in part, because fans requested it. The director of marketing for Sony Computer Entertainment Canada said that subscriptions cost $19.99 a month or $49.99 for three months.

      For that price, customers can play as much as they want of more than 100 PlayStation 3 titles, including hits such as Batman: Arkham City, Bioshock Infinite, and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. New games will be added monthly, Calabrese noted.

      At this point, PS Now subscriptions are only available to PlayStation 4 owners, but Calabrese said they’ll be introduced to other platforms in the future. Consumers can currently rent games through PS Now on Sony’s three game platforms (PS3, PS4, and PS Vita) as well as PlayStation TV and select Sony televisions. Later this year, PS Now will appear on Sony Blu-ray players and Samsung TVs, too.

      The move to make couch gaming available to people who don’t have a console is gaining ground. At CES earlier this month, Razer, best known for its line of slick gaming laptops, announced Forge TV, a “micro-console” that connects to a TV and lets gamers play Android or DirectX 9–enabled titles from any online game distributor, including Valve’s Steam, Electronic Arts’ Origin, and Ubisoft’s Uplay. Forge TV uses the Turret laptop keyboard and mouse and can pair, via Bluetooth, with up to four Serval game controllers. It will be available this spring for US$99.99.

      If the Razer initiative sounds familiar, that’s because Valve went into last year’s CES trumpeting its Steam Machine initiative. Supported by an open-source Steam operating system and Steam Controller, Valve promoted a range of computers from many manufacturers, all designed for the living room. Expectations were that the first Steam Machines would appear in 2014, but Valve hasn’t yet released the operating system or unveiled the controller.

      Alienware didn’t wait for Valve, though, and released its Steam Machine, Alpha, just in time for the holiday buying season. At E3 last June, the company’s global marketing director told the Straight that they “nailed the hardware” on the computer, which comes in four configurations starting at $629.99 and delivers games at a 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second. Bryan de Zayas explained that the Alpha runs Windows 8.1 but is equipped with an interface that takes users straight to Steam. “It’s plug-and-play right out of the box,” de Zayas said.

      Alphas come with an Xbox 360 controller but can also be used with a mouse and keyboard if that’s what players want. Alienware is working with Roccat on a laptop board incorporating both a keyboard and a mouse. When Steam OS is ready, Alphas that are already in living rooms will be able to install Valve’s software. It’s all intended, de Zayas said, to give PC gamers a console experience.