PlayStation Now And The Future Of Streaming Games

PlayStation soon.

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.

psnowbanner

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.

21 Comments

  1. Interesting. As far as disc games v download games is concerned I’ve always sided for discs.
    However, that is until recently as i’m beginning to wish I upgraded my BF4 to the download version as I’m playing that 90% of the time and getting annoyed with having to swap discs every time I want a quick game on Fifa. In fact I haven’t played FIFA for about 2 weeks due to this very reason.
    Anyone in the same boat as me or am I that much of a lazy b*stard? :)

    • Yes I’m the same. I don’t laziness that could be the problem for me though I think it’s annoyance of finding the box. It takes me 10 mins at least. It is partly down to I can’t find the box of previous game so I put it in previous game box and that goes in 5 fold. Also I keep going straight to massive Ps3 disks.
      I’m winding myself up here lol.

      • My games don’t even go back in the box, I rest them on top as I have the fear of the disc snapping for some reason if I’m constantly putting them in and out of cases. Luckily I’m reasonably tidy and have no kids or pets running around so they’re safe just in whatever resting place I leave them. I just have to be careful of alcohol spillages from drunken chicks who are fortunate enough to find themselves in my house at early hours in the morning now and then ;)

      • Even way back in my single days games had to be in a box. I can’t think of anything worse than a game with scratches disk. Think of the pain towards end of game it crashes because of a scratch.
        I’m not as careful as you obviously. I hope it never happens to you as its really upset me in past.

      • the reason im going all digital this gen.. so easy an fast to change games no hassle of any disks at all..i have kids an they really dnt know how to look after there ps3 games.. always different games in different cases… also when i manage to get a ps vita my kids will probably remote play alot also.. so i really cant wait for this service..great start to2014.

      • After having 2 cracked (at centre) disks, I bought a CD wallet (holds 100.) Much easier to chop & change your disks around. I do like the quickness & tidyness of digital, along with no cracks, scratches & the need for an occasional cleaning.

    • It is very lazy, but I suffer from this affliction too…..It a a rare quandry, I prefer disc games but hate swapping dem discs!!!

  2. Finishing up some ps3 games on vita would be good. I wonder with new releases how the payment would work – would they charge the same as the download version?

    • They couldn’t charge the same otherwise you’d just buy the download version. I guess there would a delay in a games release so those that owned a console benefitted first. Playing new games on PS now would probably be a premium service too.

      I imagine a rental would be tied to one psn account too and with out the ability to trade it or other psn users play it they could get the price lower

  3. Where sony could really do well with playstation now is with games like buzz and singstar. If they could allow phones to replace the buzzers and microphones it could be a big money spinner for parties like new years eve.

    • That’s a good idea, though they’ll probably stick a fixed singstar icon on the homescreen of Sony phones!

  4. The idea of removing the old backward compatibility thorn would be stunning. There’d never be a problem again. Also, think about the people who are gamers on other platforms and never got around to trying out The Last of Us (for example). PS Now offers access to titles like this on a variety of platforms.

    I’m not sure it’ll devalue anything this generation as the internet (read: PS Now’s entire infrastructure for delivery) is still in desperate need of becoming more robust with decent speeds for all. However, it’s a good mention as it really could be something that gathers so much momentum that it starts to change the very business model of launch titles (if they make it onto a service like this).

    I tried Gaikai and it wasn’t for me. However, the idea is sound and a good way for me to try titles from other platforms. However, Sony’s bought them out so I’m fine as I’ll have a PS4 this year and my PS3 will be sold when I feel “done” with the old generation of titles. :-)

    The really interesting point is the concept of selling such a system. For me, it’s twofold. 1) Want to see what all of the fuss is about with our PlayStation family? Try PlayStation Now!, 2) want backward compatibility for the last few generations of games? Try PlayStation Now!

    Let alone anything else they conjure in the marketing department.

  5. Im interested. Sony have said that you won;t automatically have access to physical games you have bought. However will you have access to digital games you have bought through PS Store?

  6. Personally, I can’t see it replacing physical consoles, the image quality was reported to be noticeably not as good as playing on a native PS3. Scale that up with PS4 quality games, and it’s going to be even harder to keep competitive with graphical quality. Yes, broadband will get faster, but 4K is coming and that will require a huge bandwidth to stream. Not to mention, input lag. Racing, sports, shooters and any non-turn based multiplayer game will be worse streamed.

    It DEFINITELY can be useful in SOME situation though, and obviously opens up new avenues for playing.

  7. Felt this article sounded a bit worried however I don’t see the same problem as you do Blair.

    When you say that all new Bravias will be able to offer this service then no need for a console, however the console costs £350 a new TV is at least double for a smart one possibly the new ones will be £1000+ so not really a competitive option against the console.

    The other worry that eventually everyone with a tablet or phone will be able to stream without console – just think what the install base will be for publishers. From currently 4million ps4 + 70 million (am i correct) ps3s to everyone with a tablet and phone.

    What an incentive to develop for Sony perhaps? Also would this possibly bring in a shed load more money into the industry with hopefully more spent on new games?

  8. It seems likely that Sony is laying the bedrock for a PlayStation system completely reliant on streaming/download. If successful PS5 or more likely PS6 could basically function as an ouya with mainstream games. Not sure how I feel about that as I prefer discs to downloads. If they provide a fair pricing model, like steam, then I have no problems.

  9. I think it’s best to wait and see how Sony are planning to charge for this, first. It won’t be part of Plus, so unless it’s prohibitively expensive I think it’ll be well worth a shot.

    As to whether you’ll be able to ‘connect’ any of your current purchases – again, I’m assuming you’ll be starting from scratch because, regardless, it’s likely to be a flat fee for everything.

  10. there are a few issue i see with any streaming service.

    1, no real ownership of the games.
    that’s not such an issue with a flat rate service where you pay a set fee to access all the game, or a selection of them.
    there’s no way to get any kind of money back for them, no trade ins, no selling, and if they decide the game isn’t being played by enough players, they can pull it from the service and you’re shit out of luck.

    2nd, you’re constantly reliant on the network.
    if there’s a problem somewhere and you’re cut off, or even if there’s net congestion, then your games are gone, or at least rendered unplayable.

    whether it’s at their end or the users, the end result is the same, no games.

    3, lag.
    lag, latency, whatever you want to call it, it’s the slight delay between your actions on the controls and the games performing those actions.
    now when i tried Onlive, it was a lot more responsive than i ever expected it to be.

    but it’s still an issue.
    for some games it’s fine, i played LOTR War in The North and Tomb Raider, and they seemed fine, the gameplay didn’t seem to be affected at all by the lag/latency.

    but then i tried Deus Ex, an FPS, a genre that requires fast reactions and precision, that miniscule lag between the controller and the game, well, i wouldn’t say it ruined the game, but it made playing the game on a streaming service a distant second to playing a local copy.

    given the choice i will always go for a local copy, preferably on disc, but if it’s the only option, i will download the game.

    so even if it costs more, i’d rather buy the hardware so i can own the software, or at least the copy i paid for.

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