Sony just literally blew my mind, reassembled the pieces and then backed over it in a truck with the words “…how you like ‘dem apples” painted on the side.
OK. Granted that didn’t LITERALLY happen, but it was close. Sony pumped up its sneaker, said it’s prayers, took its vitamins and then kicked the door down at CES screamin’ “YEAH! PLAYSTATION BITCHES!” The inter-webs are abuzz with the fallout of the crazy-awesome announcements that Sony made, ones we will touch on in just a few moments. However, I’d like to take this opportunity to just thank Sony. I truly thought the real excitement surrounding the next-gen consoles had already peaked with the initial launch festivities. I looked at 2014 as the calm after the storm. Sure we’d get new killer apps and possibly see where some of the hardware innovations would take us, but nothing on my radar would match that level of hype experienced during November of 2013’s launch cycle.
Damn, was I wrong!
The new PlayStation Now service might seem like another arm of Sony’s ever expanding game empire, but it is oh so much more my friends. For those who haven’t followed the news coming out of CES this year, let me bring you up to speed. Sony is your daddy right now. Its new service will allow you to stream PlayStation games (both current and from the older PS2/3 consoles) right to your home, on-demand. No driving to the video store, no late fees, no waiting for games to be delivered in the mail just to find the discs are too scratched to play (provided they even come at all). Sony is flipping the script and letting you access what you want, when you want it. I’ll go ahead and just say what I know you’re thinking right now: it’s Netflix for games (and yes, that’s awesome).
However, there are two huge unintended consequences that will come out of this move by Sony, ones that may very well change things forever (try going back and reading that last line using The Joker’s voice from Dark Knight).
The first is by far the most mind-blowing (see opening point above), off the wall, bat-shit crazy news I’ve heard in a long time. Sony has stated that its streaming service will not just limit you to your PlayStation 4. Yes, you can play both PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 games on your next-gen console (making backwards compatibly issues a thing of the past), but it goes SO much further than that. They’ve stated that the service will stream PlayStation games to your tablets and select “smart” HDTVs. Some might read that news and think, “Oh how cool. I can now play PlayStation on the go.” While that’s true, you should be more impressed with the fact that you can soon play PlayStation games WITHOUT A FREAKIN’ PLAYSTATION! I mean, that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Outside of emulation or things like Bleem for you PC, Sony has basically stepped outside its own console and said “F*ck the rules, we’re makin’ our own now.” Could we be seeing the future of consoles? A singularity among gaming systems where the content is no longer based on the proprietary hardware, but rather making it available on universal platforms (IE: everyone owns a TV, cell phone or computer these days). Where will this take us? Will it work? Am I just stuck asking random questions because I’m too excited to think straight right now?!
Secondly, Sony’s announcement is a huge step in the direction that many have anticipated for a while; digital distribution. Services like iTunes and Netflix have allowed us to enjoy our content piece meal without having to either purchase entire albums or drive to the video store to pick up a physical disc. Steam, Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network have made similar strides as of late, by providing digital downloads of full retail games as an alternative to purchasing a disc from places like GameStop, Walmart or others. What this means is, as we continue to move away from physical media, you should see an overall decrease in the cost of production (and thus the savings passed on to the gamers) We can already see this illustrated in the PC games market. Some industry reps disagree on that point, as they claim the value of the game is not tied to the cost of making the disc. While there is some truth to this, you can mark my words: when developers see that dropping costs a few dollars per title (in order to push more downloads) actually works, they’ll adopt the philosophy. The tradeoff would be the increased costs for things like servers and IT support, but it’s an inevitable change they will have to embrace. With consumers demanding more direct access to their content 24/7 (via things like “the cloud” for example), continuing to push out physical media just seems archaic in comparison. It’s the definite direction the wind is blowing us, and by offering its huge catalog digitally across multiple platforms, Sony has just rubber stamped it as the way of the future. Don’t be surprised if the PlayStation 5 has a huge hard drive and no disc drive at all. I can see that as a very real possibility.
A valuable lesson to come out of CES this year is one that both Microsoft and Nintendo should take to heart. Don’t get me wrong, they still had decent showings, with Microsoft touting its huge Windows phone sales, the Xbox One and Nintendo still having the most successful handheld device on the market. Unfortunately, this illustrates what can happen when someone else brings their A game and how easy it is to be overshadowed. Sony will no doubt be the name that people remember from this year’s event for months to come.
On the chessboard of life, I’d call Sony’s move “check.” That is of course, providing this all works.