The event to announce the next generation PlayStation is finally upon us. Rumors and leaks have been flying for weeks, and we are starting to get a clear picture of some of the features the new PlayStation will offer. One rumor in particular has very interesting implications for the possible future of consoles, and gaming as a whole.
A Wall Street Journal report last week spoke on the possibility of the new PlayStation having the ability to stream games over a network. The assumption is this would be used for previous gen titles that appeared on PS3, PS2 and PS1. In the past companies have offered backwards compatibility on new consoles as a selling point to entice consumers who already had libraries of games built up. PlayStation 3 originally included this, but then removed the feature later as a cost cutting measure.
We have already seen an increased push for digital distribution in console gaming. Sony’s PSN offers discounted and free games as a part of it’s PlayStation Plus program, and we’ve also seen full titles released digitally the same day as their retail counterparts. The rumored streaming feature could take this initiative to an entirely different level.
Imagine paying a monthly fee and having a library of games to choose from. When you're ready to play, just hit start and the games begin streaming to your console. No waiting in line, waiting for downloads or waiting for items to arrive in the mail. The idea is good for consumers because it’s convenient. The idea is good for Sony because it allows them to sell backwards compatibility without actually having to build any PS3 hardware into the system. It also represents an opportunity to cut out a bit of the used game market. Why go to GameStop to buy old games when you can get them instantly on your PS4?
Streaming technology certainly isn't perfect. Graphical fidelity often suffers in comparison to the original versions and some games come with a bit of a delay in registering your input. This isn’t something you’re going to use for Call of Duty or hosting fighting game tournaments online. We saw with the OnLive system that consumers are wary of using such a system as their primary means of gaming. The difference here is the marketing muscle of the Sony empire. Video game consoles tend to be the means by which major technological changes are adopted in the living room. We saw it with the PS2 and DVD, we saw it with Blu-Ray and the PS3, and this could be no different.
Shortcomings aside, streaming games represents a trojan horse that could change the industry forever. There is an ongoing initiative to get gamers used to the idea of not having physical media. While most will approach such a proposition with a bit of trepidation, it’s been proven time and time again that convenience trumps all other things for consumers. Eventually, what was viewed as unthinkable or impossible often becomes the norm. Will Sony change the game once again? With all respect due to fans of Nintendo’s Wii U, next generation starts tomorrow. Will it start with a bang or a fizzle? Will Sony change the game once again? The world will be watching on February 20th.