When someone I know buys a video game console, sooner or later I ask if they’ve tried PlayOn. The Windows software essentially tricks the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 or Wii into thinking that Web video content is stored on your local network, letting you watch Hulu, ABC.com and more on the big screen while your computer quietly handles the streaming.
One of the main reasons I’ve advocated PlayOn to fellow Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 owners is that you only pay $40 for the software once, and then you can use it forever. That’s about to change on May 20, when PlayOn moves to a subscription model: $40 for year one, and $20 per year after that.
PlayOn swears that the money will be put to good use by funding “continued development and support.” The subscription product will be dubbed “PlayOn Premium,” and will include a couple more sources for online video, a “Gold” version of Wii support and a promise that PlayOn will add more features over time. But do you feel comfortable paying for a promise?
The problem is that PlayOn subscribers aren’t paying for the delivery of content, or even the content itself. They’re only paying for the continued right to use software, which would technically still function even if PlayOn’s owner, MediaMall, folded tomorrow. This would be like Microsoft demanding yearly payments from Windows users to fund updates and future versions. It just doesn’t work that way when software isn’t tied to a tangible, recurring service.
I’m glad PlayOn will let existing owners continue to get basic functionality for free, including Hulu. PlayOn’s even offering one year of premium service to existing users for $5 instead of $40. But it would make a lot more sense for PlayOn to build the new features first, then charge users a la carte to add each one — kind of like an app store. It beats paying PlayOn a yearly allowance and hoping it’s spent wisely.