In 2014, there is little doubt over which media format is going to be the way of the future for thing such as music, movies and games. Digital downloads have either superseded or are on their way to beating their physical counterparts in the same way that CDs defeated cassettes and cartridges. Even downloads aren’t safe in their dominance, though, as streaming has become more than viable for music and movies – with services like Spotify and Netflix becoming even more popular than downloading individual products. As of yesterday, via Sony’s CES conference, that functionality is on the horizon for video game consoles, with PlayStation Now.
It was a function that was announced along with the reveal of the PS4 in New York last February. Sony had purchased Gaikai, a company offering limited streaming of video games, in 2012. Sony titles like God of War, InFamous and LittleBigPlanet were all made available for demos via the Gaikai service, but it wasn’t integrated in any way with the PS3 or the PSP/Vita. Gaikai’s technology powered one of the PS4’s first announced features, streaming PS4 games via the Vita. It’s a feature that has worked remarkably well according to reviews of the console. But the wow-factor of streaming games via a Wi-Fi paired system pales in comparison to streaming a game via the internet. It’s not a completely new concept, with OnLive trying to capture a share in the market for many years now, with mixed results; but with the backing of one of gaming’s giants – game streaming can now really take off.
PlayStation Now offers gamers the chance to stream games via their PS4, PS3, PS Vita and other devices (tablets, smartphones, smart TVs) with a Wi-Fi internet connection. It’s going into a beta phase this summer, at first – but Sony are pulling no punches with the titles available, with Naughty Dog’s magnum opus The Last of Us among the games available to play. Having such great titles available to play on a whim is an amazing opportunity for gamers. Add to that the savings on hard drive space, which has proven a pressing issue on the new consoles, and streaming games could be the default in years to come. For those that play a lot of games, a £10-£20 a month subscription (hypothetically) to play as many games as you want would be far cheaper than buying games at up to £50 a time. It will make gaming far more accessible to many people who can only afford to buy the biggest of titles each year. There are many benefits to the PlayStation Now model if Sony can implement it well.
This announcement nails two birds with one stone for Sony. It announced a fantastic new feature to gaming, as well as offering a form of backwards compatibility for the PS4 with games promised for all three iterations of PlayStations, a feature that many gamers have clamoured for from the new generation of consoles. These two magnificent selling points will surely help to bolster the PS4’s impressive launch so far, with the last count boasting 4.2 million sales by the end of 2013 compared to the Xbox One’s 3 million. Remember that both consoles have still yet to make their debut in Japan, where Sony holds a large advantage.
How well PlayStation Now works in practice is still to be seen; with a lot of questions still to be answered as to how good an experience can be had with a streamed game compared to a normal downloaded or, now old-fashioned, disc game. Issues with multiplayer gaming, people with slow internet connections and other, more trivial, issues (like trophies) are still to be cleared up – but could be explained and developed upon during this summer’s beta. A small disappointment also comes from the fact that you won’t be able to stream previously owned games from the PS3 for free, with PS Now requiring a completely new subscription (which may or may not tie in with PS Plus). However, if Sony can get the system in order and working well when they launch it officially to everyone, then this could be one of the biggest advances in gaming since high definition.
Sony has dealt another blow in the latest console fight with this announcement, and the future of gaming could well be PlayStation Now.