PlayStation Now was always going to happen. Ever since Sony forked over mad money for Gaikai and their streaming prowess, we knew that some manner of all-singing, all-dancing, all-streaming, all-device service was on the cards, and it now has a name and a face. As the first step in a major push towards a new way to enjoy games over a wide variety of connected devices, PlayStation Now is set to be Sony's ace in the hole over the coming decade.
See, though firm details are thin on the ground, PlayStation Now boasts clear potential. Streaming backwards compatibility on PS4 is just the beginning as the service rolls out to other platforms, then hopefully other territories beyond the US, before offering a greater variety and breadth of titles. It's tremendously exciting... but there are going to be a fair few issues to deal with along the way.
The core concept of PlayStation Now is tremendously exciting: freeing games from a single platform and loosing them onto a brand new ecosystem; granting us more control and freedom to choose how we want to pay for it. We can keep our PS3s on standby, buy disc or digital, or rent them to stream when and where we want them. Choice is good, and Sony seems to realise that.
PlayStation Now can also offer something truly unprecedented: future-proofed backwards compatibity. Not only will we be able to play last-gen games on any number of systems for the forseeable future, but there's no reason why the infrastructure can't stay in place throughout the next console generation... or the tablet revolution if the console model goes belly-up. No longer will we scream with rage as our legacy console dies, leaving us with no way of playing our old games without shelling out on eBay.
Plus, playing loads of PS3 games on Vita sounds like such a plan. They've already got The Last Of Us working at CES.
As we've said before, this is just a first step - the vanguard - in what is bound to be a gradual yet firm push towards an enormous streaming games library, hopefully including a huge bounty of PSOne, PS2 and PSN titles that can be enjoyed anywhere, on our terms. Perhaps PS4 games could even arrive on the service mid-way through this generation? Sony bought Gaikai as an investment, not a gimmick, so this summer's US launch will be the very tip of an iceberg that will continually surface throughout the coming years.
Mind you, it's going to be tough getting there... both in terms of technology and winning hearts and minds.
OnLive proved that the concept can work, but arguably the plucky trendsetter has a lot to answer for. Here in the UK it actually did quite the opposite: demonstrating just how embarrassing broadband speeds are for most of us, and how lazy our ISPs are at providing tasty affordable packages. Sony's reticence to even beta the service in Europe shows how worried they are about this technical hurdle - it's not their fault, but the likes of BT, Virgin, PlusNet and Sky need to step it up. Hopefully Sony will apply some pressure.
It's not just the technology that's raising eyebrows, though, since games streaming is also currently viewed as unviable and unreliable by any number of gamers. Though we stream music and movies with merry abandon, the idea of controller lag and video compression - not to mention some negative experiences with OnLive - means that the basic concept gets plenty of us rather worried. This can only be countered by a smooth and competent launch, something that Sony aren't exactly famed for to be perfectly frank. That's why they bought Gaikai, of course.
And then we have the unknown quantities; or more accurately, how much we'll expect to pay for it and what games are actually included.
In a perfect world, PlayStation Plus will include access to a selection of titles as standard, while PSN and digital copies of games you've already downloaded will be available to play for free, complete with your cloud saves waiting for you. We'll then be able to cherry-pick extra games at our discretion, or add some extra money onto the subscription to play the lot. Perhaps we could even choose from tiered PS Plus schemes? To play on our PS Vita TVs! In space!
Gosh, The Perfect World is a lovely place, but it's not the one in which we live. Though Sony has stated that "you will be able to rent by title for specific games you are interested in," and there'll be "a subscription that will enable you to explore a range of titles," the devil is in the details. How much will access cost, given the outrageous prices Sony regularly charges on the PlayStation Network? How long will access last? The selection will also be important - just how many games will be included, and how niche will the selection be? Will third parties support it? We just don't know.
Will we also have to pay to access games that we've already bought? It's highly probable, especially considering that the PSP Go tried something very similar with their upgrade scheme several years ago. With luck, this will be a lesson learned.
But I'm not here to naysay or doomsling. It's easy to rubbish exciting new ideas like a technophobic luddite, shouting "witchcraft!" and shunning things because we're perfectly fine with our graphical calculators and Amiga 600s thankyouverymuch. PlayStation Now shows that Sony is preparing to seize the streaming future with both hands... and frankly, we can't wait to see what comes of it.
At least, if they ever bring PlayStation Now to the UK. Can we have nice things please?
Second Opinion: To be fair, we didn't actually learn any groundbreaking news from today's announcement, but it's good to see that the Gaikai-powered system now has an easier name to say (hearing people mispronounce it was always a good laugh) and that it's definitely on its way this year. For the good old US of A.
Still, the reveal that tablets and Bravia TVs will be getting in on the action is a welcome if expected move, as it will mean those without a Playstation console can join in and, potentially, tempt people to buy a console further down the line. I say this because, as I stated in our "Hopes For Next Gen" article at the end of last year, the quality of the service will boil down to how good an internet connection the user has, and right now I can't see it being more than an elaborate demo for the existing library of PS3 games. I imagine this will be the sales pitch after a few hours of playing a game - "Hey there consumer, so you've liked this game so far? Want to continue it with your save file on a system that doesn't have input lag and sharper resolution because your internet is being throttled during peak times? BUY A PS3 AND FEED US TEH MONIES."
Unfortunately, that's all we can say for now as Sony is keeping mum in regards to pricing or even if PSX & PS2 titles will be included in the future, and besides, we here in Europe probably won't see the service arrive until next year (if word on the interwebs is to be believed.) That said, I thought OnLive was a great little ecosystem, and if anyone can pull off a stable and workable system, I think Dave Perry and his time are the ones to do it. Let's just hope that the pricing is makes sense, because with many Playstation users already using PS+, they'll need to make it a worthwhile price (especially if it's subscription based) to ensure existing users get involved. - Carl