Last night, during the big PS4 conference, Sony brought Gaikai's David Perry on stage to deliver some lofty promises for the new gaming console.
Perry, whose cloud-gaming company was purchased by Sony last year, said some very futuristic-sounding things about the next PlayStation. Things that sound interesting. Things that sound wild.
But video game press conferences are always full of sizzle and smoke. How realistic are Sony's promises? Let's go through everything Perry said and try to figure out what's likely and what isn't.
The PlayStation Network will get to know you by understanding your personal preferences and the preferences of your community, and turns this knowledge into useful information that will help to enhance future gameplay. So like when your friends purchase a new game you'll know immediately, so you can join into the action.
Your PS4 will know you. Creepy! It sounds like Sony is building a social network of some sort, but how much faith can we really have in a social network's ability to "enhance future gameplay" with our personal information? While it's certainly reasonable to expect that we'll be able to see what our friends are buying and playing, I don't expect the gameplay of PS4 titles like Killzone or Watch Dogs to change based on my "personal preferences." This seems like marketing talk to me.
Imagine you're in the store, checking out the latest titles and you see something that catches your eye. No problem! You can simply press the X button to hop in and start playing the game.
OK. So you hop in and start playing. How much do you have to pay? For how long can you play before the console asks you to pay full price?
Note that Perry said absolutely nothing about pricing here—and in fact, costs weren't mentioned at all last night. While we didn't expect specifics on the PS4's pricing, we did report earlier this week that most of the PS4's online features will require a premium subscription.
My question is: will you be able to pay for access to a wide library of streaming games, or are we just talking about glorified demos? When Perry says you can just press X and start playing, just what does that mean? Let's stay a bit skeptical about this one.
So we've asked ourselves, "how can we improve the spectating experience?" First, what we're using is that Share button on the PlayStation 4 controller. With that one button, you can broadcast, from your game, live, 100% real-time to your friends. (...) Your friends can actually look over your shoulder virtually and interact with you while you're playing; and if you allow them, your friends can also post comments to your screen; you can solicit support from them, or you can just trash-talk with them. (...) You can ask your friend on the internet who's finished that game, to take over your controller and assist. We're building this capability into the PS4 and the PlayStation Network.
This all sounds pretty reasonable—and really great, although you'll likely have to pay a monthly subscription fee for these features. I love the idea of hanging out online, chatting with friends and passing a virtual controller back and forth as you all watch the same game. While this plan seems like it's going to be an important part of the PS4—and therefore, likely very real—there are still some unanswered questions. How many people can hang out on one stream? What sort of online hub can we use to interact with our PlayStation Network friends? And how much is all of this going to cost?
We're helping fuel the imagination of our developers by giving them new spectating tools. Now, to imagine a developer using these tools: if they identify a gaming expert, they can give them director-level status, so they can manipulate levels to assist you during your gameplay; developers can insert command buttons for certain levels, where friends can drop in special items for you, such as giving you a healing potion when you're in critical condition.
This certainly sounds realistic, but the possibilities here will be limited to what game developers decide to implement. If the people behind Dark Souls, for example, don't want anyone giving out any help in their next game, this "director-level status" thing may not apply.
The PlayStation Network brings you your favorite content, wherever you are; across the PS4, the PS3, the PS Vita, smartphones and tablets. We're gonna give developers a simple, elegant solution for enhancing their PS4 games on second screens; a key feature enabled by second screens is Remote Play.
PS Vita is the ultimate companion device for the PS4, enabling gamers to put their games from their beautiful HDTVs right on to their PS Vita's beautiful 5-inch OLED display.
Our long-term goal is to make every PlayStation 4 title playable on the PS Vita.
This could be a game-changer. I've written before about how the Wii U is perfect for multi-taskers and people who share their living room televisions with friends and family—remote play between the PS4 and Vita could be similarly enticing. A few words of caution, though:
1) They didn't promise that every PS4 title will be playable on Vita: they said it was a "long-term goal." That means it could very well be a pipe dream. Perry did not specify which titles will be playable on Vita, how many of them will be playable on Vita, or even what it takes to get a PS4 game running on Vita via the cloud.
2) If Sony now views the Vita as an extension of the PS4, what does that mean for the Vita's future library of games? This year's lineup of Vita games is already scarily barren: will Sony stop bothering with handheld games if the Vita can play what's on the PS4?
The flip side of this news is that if Sony does start bolstering the Vita's library with interesting games, it could turn into one hell of a machine.
So to make Remote Play between the PS4 and the PS Vita feel good, we've dramatically reduced transmission times so the gameplay is snappy and immediate. We've accomplished this by integrating some of the Gaikai technology into the PS4 system architecture; that essentially turns it into a game server and the PS Vita becomes a client, with remarkably fast connection speeds.
A lofty promise, but yet again, there are a lot of unanswered questions here. What's the range on this thing? Can I play PS4 games on my Vita from anywhere? Just in my house? Just a few feet away from my television? Will it really be as smooth an experience as promised? What if my WiFi signal isn't all that great? Right now this seems too good to be true.
The PlayStation Network and the cloud can present an additional value to PlayStation gamers. (...) Although PS3 titles aren't natively supported on the PS4, we're exploring some very unique opportunities enabled by cloud technology, with the long-term vision of making PS3 games ubiquitous on any device; the technology is so advanced that someday we could easily put PS1/PS2/PS3 and the PS Mobile games on any device, including the PS4.
This would fundamentally change the concept of game longevity. Imagine having access to all the old games you love and the ability to get them up and running in seconds wherever you are, on whatever device you have near you. "Everything, everywhere" is the challenge that PlayStation has put before our teams, that's the vision of the PlayStation Cloud service, and it's going to require us to build the fastest global network ever made.
PS3 games on my phone? I'll believe it when I see it.
I mean, come on. The PS4 won't be backwards compatible, and Sony's solution is to say that they're "exploring" the possibility and that "someday" we'll be able to play—or re-buy—the PlayStation games we've been buying for years?
Let's put this one in the "we'll believe it when we see it" category—at least until Sony has more to say than "here's our vision! PS3 games for everyone!"