When PS Plus was made mandatory for online play on PS4, we wondered aloud whether or not Sony would rest on their laurels now that there would be a lessened need to attract subscribers with essential content. Instead, PS Plus has remained an absolute must-have on PS3 and Vita thanks to an Instant Game Collection that's seemingly getting better each month, and it's become a way in to many an indie title (and digital discounts) on PS4.
What is now clear, is that Sony hope to supplement that with integrated services. Services such as SharePlay, which was announced at Gamescom last week. Here's how it works:
"How it works is, for example, say, a friend has a game that I don't. I ask them to let me play it, and if they send me an invitation, I can access their PS4 and play while watching the video that is streamed," said Sony Worldwide Studio boss, Shuhei Yoshida, in an interview with Weekly Famitsu (via Kotaku). "You could call it a mini PlayStation Now."
Compatible with any game that uses the DualShock 4, SharePlay is actually fairly reminiscent of some of the digital sharing stuff Microsoft were blundering through in their garbled PR for the Xbox One ahead of the cavalcade of U-turns. It's an extension of try-before-you-buy -- a P2P streaming demo initiative that trades heavily on word of mouth. Sony have always been a bit better than Microsoft at cultivating a sense of community, and this is yet another initiative that reinforces that. SharePlay is Sony handing power over to their consumer communities and empowering gaming circles to facilitate engagement.
I can borrow a friend's game without owning it or getting off of the couch? Where the hell do I sign?!
There are caveats, though, it would seem. GameSpot confirmed with Sony that SharePlay sessions will only last up to an hour in length, although apparently there's no limit on the number of sessions you can chain together. The way we understand it, you'd have to request SharePlay access again after an hour, and it could be a little tedious if you're in the middle of a match in FIFA, for example. One thing we know for sure is that if someone is remoting in to your PS4 via SharePlay, you won't be able to use your machine at the same time. It's pretty much just like Remote Play in that respect.
The time-limit is frown-inducing, but not really much of a surprise, to be honest. After all, Sony still want you to go out and actually buy new games. Originally, it was thought that you'd be able to save your progress to your own account, but it seems that because the "visitor" ends up commandeering the whole PlayStation unit as well, that's not really the case.
"In Share Play, the visitor (the one who doesn't own the game) takes over the host (the one who owns the game)'s account, so the visitor cannot save their play data onto their own account."
We have to mention, too, the PS4's still fairly limited library of games. That means SharePlay could well become an essential feature in a year or two, but right now, will it earn its keep?
Virtual sharing is a great idea, but there are plenty of questions still to be answered on exactly how SharePlay will work. Personally, I'm okay with the 1-hour sessions, though I'm more concerned about account saves. If you're essentially remoting into another person's PlayStation and borrowing the host's account to play the game in question, can you continue with that progress if you the buy the game yourself, or can that save only be continued via SharePlay? If that is the case, then the 1-hour restrictions will start getting old pretty quick.
The co-op side of things adds some more flavour to the mix, and indeed Yoshida described the original pitch as something along the lines of a "virtual couch". But will there be a time limit on that too? How convenient will this all be to set up? And how will the entire experience hold up overall in terms of latency? Will certain games such as twitch shooters be more or less unplayable? Then there are the security concerns, too. How easy will these remote connections be to exploit? How are Sony preparing against network attacks and exploits? The security concerns that everyone had with the original Xbox One remit are no less pertinent here.
Lots of information still to come, then, and Sony have promised more details in the coming weeks up until Update 2.0 drops later this Autumn. But despite being initially over the moon at the SharePlay reveal, reflection over the last few days has left me with mixed feelings and a host of questions, some of which may only be answered when the service eventually goes live.