PlayStation Now has been a long time coming. Sony announced their purchase of Gaikai back in the summer of 2012, something that was regularly rumoured for a long while before that. Since then it was only ever hinted at in vague terms, but now that we know when it will truly arrive for customers and what it will entail, the possibilities that the service could bring are as worrying as they are exciting.
Over the course of the last two months over 4 million people spent £350 or more to buy Sony’s new system, the only system which could play Killzone Shadow Fall, the next generation versions of popular franchises and even Knack if you’re so inclined. The announcement of PlayStation Now opens up the possibility of those games being streamed to TVs and tablet devices, beyond the angular box of the PS4.
Some years from today, PlayStation Now could completely change the way we access exclusive games, regardless of the PlayStation console they first released on. We don’t know anything about the price plans on offer at this time, but it’ll certainly be more cost-effective than buying a console and the games you want to play, when all you’ll really need is a DualShock controller. At the drop of a hat, you’ll be able to play the best of PlayStation from your TV or tablet.
We’ve seen similar propositions before, but PlayStation Now is not the same as the troubled OnLive service. It might be based on a similar core concept, but Sony are a company with much more experience and one which is at the top of its game, with more intriguing titles that would be exclusive to the service and less chance of failing as a whole. There’s still the issue of Sony’s network being able to support online play – we’ve seen them falter in this area before – and streaming games is a big step up from connecting home consoles together, but ultimately it’s a brand with more trust and public awareness than a plucky upstart like OnLive.
While the service will initially launch with a catalogue of older PS3 titles, the prospect of streaming new PS4 games in the future begs the question: what about those who prefer buying retail games?
Digital downloads via the PlayStation Store, with their higher prices which sit £10 or £20 above their retail equivalents, have never really been able to compete with brick-and-mortar stores. Many people would rather pop down the road to a shop or buy a disc online at those prices, while there are still issues with downloading huge titles, which Sony’s PlayGo system has been able to alleviate to a certain degree.
GameStop’s stock prices have fallen since the reveal, either due to the ever-fluctuating market or a strict reaction. You see, PlayStation Now should mean instant games – it says as much in the name of the service. You wouldn’t physically own the games, but there’s no initial download required and less reason to go outside when you could just stream the games right from the internet.
Of course, there’s nothing to suggest that Sony will begin to offer PlayStation 4 exclusives through the service any time soon – the system’s doing very well and they definitely wouldn’t want to compromise that – but the prospect of that happening in 4 or 5 years could potentially take away from the value of owning a dedicated console. Is there really anything major stopping them from offering new games right at launch?
And when you paid £40 for The Last of Us a year ago, and it’s now available on all devices as part of your subscription, it could perhaps devalue your collection of games you still hold, just as PlayStation Plus sees people waiting for games to appear in that service rather than buying at launch. One of the main things PlayStation Now needs to get right is finding a way for you to access your existing PS3 games from the Cloud and at a minimal cost, else many consumers may not be quite as eager to join the service.
However, the main sticking point for the primarily digital and streamed future is so very easily demonstrated by the countless online hiccups we see with gaming services. In the last few years we’ve seen EA, Rockstar and Blizzard all fall over themselves when launching major new games with core online requirements. When it comes to providing a streaming game service, the demands on the infrastructure are exponentially higher, not just hosting servers and ensuring that everyone’s console knows where other players are, but having dedicated hardware for each and every player and streaming more bandwidth intensive video of the gameplay.
Behind the scenes, it’s very much a numbers game. There’s no realistic way for PSN, Steam or XBLA to have the absolute server capacity to have every single unique member signed in at the same time. Steam recently blasted to a personal record of 7.6 million concurrent users at the end of 2013, but this is from an install base of 54 million. GTA V sold 11.21 million copies within 24 hours, and by the time GTA Online launched, so many millions of players wanted to play at the same time that the servers simply could not cope.
When dealing with potential releases on that scale, it’s hard to believe that streaming games could overtake home consoles for major launches, even in 5-10 years time. So PlayStation Now is starting off in the most logical place it can, taking the cheaper hardware of the already ubiquitous PS3, the wide selection of critically acclaimed games and gradually opening them up to an even wider audience than before.
For the time being it will bring a degree of backwards compatibility to the PS4, The Last of Us to your Vita, Journey to your tablet, and let you get a few moments of gaming in with the family at Christmas, without having to lug a console half way across the country. With the realities of the today’s internet, the PS4 will have years at the head of Sony’s console family, but you should be ready for the day that you can stream Uncharted 5 without one.