By now, most of you will have heard about Sony’s announcement of their upcoming “PlayStation Now” service. For the unenlightened, it’s ostensibly the new name for the lauded Gaikai game streaming that was teased around the same time as the PS4 was announced. While many had speculated from the moment Sony bought Gaikai, it’s only now that we’re getting something approaching concrete details. So what do we know?
Well, it’s been confirmed as coming to PS4, PS3 and Vita, as well as selected tablets, smartphones and 2014-model Bravia televisions. It’s arriving in the USA first at the end of this month (as a beta), with a full release expected in the States this Summer. For now, we know it will manifest in the form of a combination rental and/or subscription service. To begin with, it’ll only offer selected PS3 titles… but that’s where things start getting hazier.
First of all, the official word from Sony states “you will be able to stream popular hits and classic games from the PS3 library”. Now one could be forgiven for reading this in several ways. Does this mean that we’re going to be limited to games specifically for the PS3, or will it include those PSOne and PS2 classics that I love so much? More to the point, how will it deal with pre-existing ownership? If I’ve already got a copy of The Last of Us, will I be able to stream it via Now for no extra cost? Lots of questions.
Sony’s not done with CES, of course, so there’s every chance that a lot of these questions will have been answered before this article is even published. Once things are cleared up, you can expect a follow-up article on this same topic. For now, there’s a lot of speculation and plenty of wiggle room for Sony. They’ve not made the Microsoft Mistake of forcing a particular design on their consumers that they’ll eventually need to backpedal on. Will we see PlayStation Plus subscribers getting PlayStation Now as an extra subscriber perk? Will this pave the way for AAA gaming on everyday mobile devices becoming a reality?
Well let’s take a look at that last one for a second. At the moment, there’s no word on when Europe is getting PlayStation Now. Sony have said this is because the broadband situation across its many countries varies greatly from place to place. Compare the UK with the likes of Sweden, for example: while the situation for us Brits is certainly improving, there are lots of us that still have to deal with sub-standard broadband. My town sat for ages on an 8Mbps limit (which was recently upped to a more tolerable 20Mbps). All going well, we’re due to get Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) by the end of May, which represents another jump to around 76Mbps.
Personally, I don’t think the situation in the USA is any different. Broadband disparity is an issue over there just as much as it is here, but good luck getting Sony or anyone else to admit that. The reality remains that lots of people aren’t going to reap the benefits of PlayStation Now. Sony say that you only need a 5Mbps connection or better to enjoy Now, but I remain highly sceptical. Any gamer who spends any time playing games online will be aware of the monster that is lag: the curse of a piss-poor ping. How do Sony plan on tackling the very real issue of latency? How can you replicate the 1-to-1 experience of playing a game locally when your every action is delayed by upwards of half a second in most scenarios?
This is to say nothing of the dilemma facing anyone who wants to use their smartphone or tablet as their preferred Now device. Chances are that they’re going to want to play those games on the go. That means using mobile / cellular data. 4G connection it is, then. Hell, my town still doesn’t even have 3G. If I’m lucky, I might get EDGE speeds if I’m off-piste from my home or work wifi. And what about stupidly expensive data charges and limits? This applies to home broadband as well, since some companies still impose “fair usage” limitations and excess charges. I don’t know about you folks across the pond, but here in the UK, I can’t see this service taking off outdoors, except perhaps in the big cities. Maybe that’s enough for Sony.
Criticism aside, I’m still excited to hear more about PlayStation Now. There’s a good deal of potential here, as long as Sony keep their track record of being awesome to their customers. I dislike having to pay for something twice, or not get the full benefit of that which I’m paying for. The challenge is to strike the right balance; to prove that a streaming games service can be both excellent and decent value for money. Otherwise, we might have another Sega Channel on our hands.
A twenty-something gamer from the North-East of Scotland. By day, I’m a Computer Technician at a local IT recycling charity, where I fix and build PCs. Outside of that, most of my time is spent either sleeping or gaming, which I try accomplish in equal amounts.