PlayStation Now is Gaming’s Next Disruptive Technology
When Nintendo announced the Wii, many cynics wrote off the console’s motion controls as a gimmick that wouldn’t add much anything to gameplay. After the console’s massive popularity and sales upon launch, both Microsoft and Sony followed Nintendo into the world of motion controls to gain back market share.
The Wii and its motion controls are a perfect example of a disruptive technology. The games industry was completely overtaken by the motion control fad as millions of dollars were spent to keep pace with Nintendo. They set a new direction for gaming and the other two console manufacturers followed.
PlayStation Now may not be out yet but Sony’s cloud gaming service is, if implemented correctly by Sony Computer Entertainment, destined to be one of the biggest and most disruptive technologies that the gaming industry has ever seen.
Right now, Sony plans to use PlayStation Now as a way to work around the lack of backwards compatibility on the PlayStation 4 (and, to a lesser extent, the PlayStation 3) in order to increase the console’s library. By emulating legacy console hardware in the cloud, Sony immediately gets a cost savings compared the PlayStation 2 and 3 which had backwards compatibility through hardware and software emulation of older consoles.
What really shows the potential of PS Now isn’t how it’s doing backwards compatibility (though I will get back to that in a moment), it’s that PS Now is bringing PlayStation games everywhere. If Now works as advertised, triple-A games are no longer the domain of home consoles and gaming PCs but tablets, phones and even TVs.
PlayStation Now isn’t just a means for Sony to enable backwards compatibility of its newer consoles but borders on being the democratization of gaming in a way that free-to-play games is on smartphones. However, rather than simple games designed to make money through microtransactions, PS Now could bring legitimately great games to everyone regardless of where they are and what device they’re using. There is a big difference between playing Candy Crush and playing The Last of Us on your phone while sitting on the bus.
While we don’t know exactly how well PS Now is going to work out of the box, early impressions from CES demos are favourable and Sony says that gamers need 5 Mbps connection speeds in order to get a smooth gaming experience. If that’s the case, it should be useable by a good number of internet connected gamers and even mobile gamers on 4G and faster mobile networks.
While the Wii brought gaming to the masses with the easy and fun to use motion controls, PlayStation Now is going to bring premiere gaming experiences to the masses by allowing them to play some of the best games ever made anytime, anywhere.
The ability to play legacy games without a legacy console and the permanent inclusion of backward compatibility on all PlayStation consoles to give them massive libraries isn’t what is shaping up PlayStation Now to be one of the most disruptive technologies in gaming history and the biggest technological shift in gaming since the move from the SNES/Genesis to the N64/PS1 generation. It’s the potential future applications of PlayStation Now that makes it so interesting.
Given that the PlayStation 4 is built on x86 PC architecture, one would assume that it wouldn’t take too much work to emulate the PS4 in the cloud. If Sony can do that in such a way that it can be streamed without needing an obscenely fast connection, this completely changes the game. We’re not just talking about making the whole PlayStation library available for the launch of the PlayStation 5, which would in itself be a massive advantage over the Xbox Two (or whatever it’s called), we’re talking about the ability modern triple-A games on any compatible device.
But I don’t think that using it as simply a backwards compatibility work around and way to play anywhere allows PlayStation Now to live up to its potential. Sony could very well turn the PlayStation 4 into the last home console that you ever have to buy.
If the PlayStation Now service is capable of gradually improving the hardware used to run games so that the latest and most modern games are able to be added to the service, PlayStation Now could replace the next generation of Sony consoles.
While most gamers would scoff at the idea that PlayStation Now could replace a next generation console (and most gamers don’t quickly jump aboard big changes in the industry), it could work from a business perspective. Consoles are loss leaders. A simple streaming box could be sold for $100 and only really need a wi-fi antenna, a little bit of hardware for basic setup purposes, USB ports for controllers and HDMI out. If the Ouya can do that for $99, Sony Computer Entertainment can too.
The biggest challenge, besides selling it to gamers, would be selling it to third-party developers and publishers. Presumably, Sony has already started that for PS1, 2 and 3 games they’re trying to bring to PS Now for this summer’s launch. We’ll soon see who buys into the current state of PS Now when it launches. It’ll be a big sell to convince publishers that selling their games through the cloud could be just as financially viable as selling hard copies through retail supplemented by digital sales.
The move from hard copies of games to largely digital releases is coming soon. I think it’s only a matter of time before digital downloads are replaces by games in the cloud. Maybe my timetable for the PlayStation 5 being replaced with a small PlayStation streaming box is a bit too fast. However, PlayStation Now could be an early glimpse into the future of gaming. If they play their cards right, Sony could completely disrupt gaming as we know it.