When Sony acquired the streaming service Gaikai in July 2012 for $380 million, the gaming industry was aflutter at the news. Questions abounded, but answers were few. When the company announced the Playstation 4, it gave a little insight into its intentions with Gaikai, saying the service would be used as a form of backwards compatibility. Even more answers came earlier this month in Las Vegas, at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show. Not only did Sony clear up some of the muddled details about Gaikai, including giving it the official Playstation brand treatment, but it was also the industry’s first real opportunity to see the service in action.
There’s still a lot to parse out, particularly how streaming will work in a real-world environment, but there’s also a lot to be excited about with the newly christened Playstation Now. Here are five reasons why.
In its current incarnation, the Playstation 4 can only play games from previous Playstation consoles if they’ve been officially rereleased for the new system. Playstation Now changes that. The streaming service will be a library of Playstation games from previous generations immediately available to millions of users. And as far as we know, the streaming version of the game will be nearly identical to the disc-based version. Users will still be able to earn trophies and play online, against anyone playing the game, whether streaming or disc-based.
Perhaps the most startling part of the Playstation Now announcement is that it’s not just for consoles. The service will work beyond the PS3 and PS4, to PS Vita and even Sony Bravia TVs as well as smartphones and tablets. You will need a Dualshock 3 to play games on mobile devices or a TV, but the mere ability of the service to work on platforms beyond those used by hardcore gamers, such as the consoles and the Vita, could be a huge boon for the service’s possible success. How is it possible? No part of the game runs on the device locally, instead the device receives compressed video frames of the game from a data center where servers are doing the heavy lifting.
Arguably the biggest upgrade Sony made in the latest generational shift was the controller. Games journalists everywhere have praised the Dualshock 4’s new design, from its larger, more comfortable horns, to its more tactile buttons, to its vastly improved triggers. Sadly, the new and improved controller can’t simply be connected to your PS3, so you can replay your favorite games from the last generation with a vastly superior gamepad. While there are certain games that work with the DS4, the controller has to be on a wired connection and only core controls work, no motion, no PS button, no vibration. With Playstation Now, this won’t be an issue.
Similarly, the new service could be a boon to Sony’s struggling—but darling—mobile system. Yes, PS Now will work with smartphones and tablets, buy you’ll need a Dualshock 3 to play. That could prove cumbersome for users on the go, and a system with a built-in gamepad, like the Vita, could become very attractive to many who overlooked it in the past.
Sony’s subscription service is already one of the best deals in gaming today. For roughly $4 a month, users get access to a host of free games, including recently added Bioshock Infinite and Don’t Starve, exclusive discounts and 3GB of cloud save storage. The Japanese electronics giant has yet to say how PS Now will work fiscally, other than it will be a Netflix like subscription service with the ability to also rent games individually, but if there’s any chance it will be rolled into PS Plus, PS Now will be a steal.
In the same way that Netflix is forcing television producers to rethink the industry, Playstation Now could change gaming. If PS Now works, it could become something much bigger than an online library of old games. New games could eventually be released via the platform. Instead of shelling out $60 for every new game, a user could pay one yearly fee and have access to every game on the market. Hard drive space would no longer be a factor. Games that take up 20-40GB of space, depending on the medium, would now take up a fraction of that. That’s the dream, of course. The reality is much more complicated, and if PS Now is to change the game industry, it may be a while before the revolution takes place. But damn, is it exciting.