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COMMENT: Sony, Gaikai And A Cloudy Horizon

Matt Gardner
Cloud 9, Cloud gaming, Dave Perry, Gaikai, Head in the clouds, I wandered lonely as a cloud, Playstation, PS Vita, PS3, PS4, Sony, Sony Computer Entertainment

COMMENT: Sony, Gaikai And A Cloudy Horizon

We waited for it with baited breath. The signs had been coming for months - hints from Gaikai execs at GDC, the endless churning of the rumour mill in the weeks leading up to the LA-bound exodus in early June - we began the Sony press conference eagerly anticipating a grand announcement that would see the electronics giant shack up with one of the two frontrunners in the cloud gaming sector.

Only it didn't happen.

Still, Sony have appeared to follow in Nintendo's footsteps - bizarrely saving their biggest bombshells for after everyone's left E3 - and earlier this week they lifted the lid on a $380 million takeover of David Perry's Gaikai service.

Cloud gaming as a concept is fascinating. Curiously wandering off the beaten track to investigate both OnLive and Gaikai a couple of years ago, it seemed the stuff of dreams. Here were services that could beam games to pretty much anything that had a screen and could support a tiny software client. It was enough to make anyone a little dizzy. The future, it would seem, had arrived.

But cloud gaming has hardly set the world alight, not that this seeming failure should necessarily be laid at the feet of companies such as Gaikai and OnLive. They've done all that they can to this point, one might suggest. We're just not ready for cloud gaming yet. The difference in user experience from one person to the next is too unpredictable, too unreliable, and our internet infrastructures overly complex and thoroughly inadequate in many cases. Cloud gaming is service that has extended beyond conceptual design into hard possibility, we're just not allowed nice things quite yet.

COMMENT: Sony, Gaikai And A Cloudy Horizon

But there is a general consensus that there'll come a time when we are. When bandwidth choking will become a thing of the past; when stable connections and accurate speeds prevail; when we are met with reliable ISPs that serve their consumers rather than squeezing them. When that day comes, cloud gaming will likely be unstoppable.

It is no doubt with that mentality that Sony have undertaken this acquisition.

"By combining Gaikai's resources including its technological strength and engineering talent with SCE's extensive game platform knowledge and experience, SCE will provide users with unparalleled cloud entertainment experiences," outlined SCE bigwig Andrew House.

"SCE will deliver a world-class cloud-streaming service that allows users to instantly enjoy a broad array of content ranging from immersive core games with rich graphics to casual content anytime, anywhere on a variety of internet-connected devices."

Timed demos are something that Gaikai already offer to a wide range of third parties. But now these services are Sony's to do with what they will. It means developers don't have to take huge amounts of time to develop a game demo, and that demos can now be streamed across PS3, Vita, any Sony phone or tablet, or participating Smart TV. Moreover, a marriage between Gaikai and SCE opens up some fantastic possibilities for pricing overhauls. The opportunity for flexible subscriptions alongside with pay-to-play pricing is tantalising.

COMMENT: Sony, Gaikai And A Cloudy Horizon

That said, I think we're far more likely to see Sony deliver older content via the service than more modern games. Sony still want people buying the hardware-based PS3, and its successor will almost certainly follow in the same mould (though we probably won't be seeing the PS4 until late next year at the earliest). Why would you buy a Vita if you can stream PS3 games to your tablet or phone and hook up a controller via USB or Bluetooth? This isn't a replacement service at all that Sony have bought in Gaikai, it's a supplementary investment, and they'll have to be careful when it comes to implementation simply because Sony themselves are very heavily invested in the hardware market already. Sony want you buying one of their TVs, a PS3/4, a Vita, a Sony tablet, and an Xperia - when viewed with that mentality, it's unlikely that we'll see a fully open deployment for Gaikai across Sony's systems.

There are also practical concerns when it comes to modern PS3-era games. Although companies offering multiplatform games may well be able to use their PC version to stream content across Sony's new network, what of first and second party titles? Original code could be streamed, but that would almost certainly lead to horrible latency issues. PC ports could be developed, but that would be expensive and time-consuming. Of course, this might be less of an issue with the PS4, depending upon the ease with which developers can go about their business on the future platform.

With that in mind, it's highly likely that we'll see Sony take the expertise that Gaikai can bring to the table, and use that know-how to easily deliver a vast back catalogue of games. Unlike Microsoft, Sony have an enormous pile of quality games simply sitting there, waiting to be turned back into a retro-flavoured USP. Imagine buying a PS3/4 and included is a year's subscription to a service that delivers hundreds of PS1, PS2, and PSP games waiting to be beamed to your console. Sony have already heavily invested in software emulation, the pieces are already falling into place.

COMMENT: Sony, Gaikai And A Cloudy Horizon

But there will be significant hurdles to overcome. The PlayStation Network - not least in the way new features, updates, patches, and mandatory installations are conducted - is still a clunky beast, and integrating Gaikai into Sony's hardware will take time. Sony have nearly always in the past used their own hardware, and quite how Perry and co.'s Intel-and-nVIDIA-based server farms will fit into Sony's plans remains to be seen.

But make no mistake, it's a smart purchase for Sony. It removes a future competitor from the playing field and turns Gaikai into yet another unique asset in SCE's arsenal. It's not really an acquisition for this generation, Sony are prepping for war with Microsoft in a year or two's time, and a move such as this could deliver a huge number of unique selling points, not least when it comes to gaming legacy. Finally, with Sony's abundant stable of in-house and contracted talent, with the studios they have at their disposal, coupled with a track record of open-mindedness when it comes to risky, forward-thinking development, we might just see bespoke games specifically geared towards a cloud-based experience.

And that's very new and exciting indeed.

Add a comment 1 comment
JonLester  Jul. 4, 2012 at 13:37

As much as anything, Gaikai integration could potentially allow Sony to up their television sales, which have been massively tanking recently.

But yeah, it will be interesting to see how this ties into the next console generation... and if someone will try to snaffle up OnLive!

Last edited by JonLester, Jul. 4, 2012 at 13:44

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