Sony dropped a major announcement at CES yesterday that may change the way you play games on your mobile. During his keynote address, Sony CEO Kaz Hirai introduced PlayStation Now, a cloud gaming service that can stream PlayStation games to not only Sony’s gaming consoles, but tablets, smartphones, and TVs as well. The service will launch as an open beta for US residents in January, with a full US roll-out later in the summer.
PlayStation Now is made possible through Sony’s acquisition of cloud tech Gaikai in 2012. Similar to a streaming music service or YouTube video, games aren’t run locally on a device, but instead on Gaikai’s remote servers, allowing practically any Internet-connected device to play advanced titles well beyond the power of its hardware normally.
Sony is focusing the launch of PlayStation Now on its gaming platforms (PS3, PS4, Vita) and Bravia TV line before rolling it out across what it calls a “broad range of Internet-connected devices”, so this might not be something you see on your smartphone or tablet in 2014. But assuming that Sony’s broad range includes more than its Xperia line or other PlayStation Mobile-enabled Android devices, mobile gaming will change with its arrival.
Having worked in the mobile space since what seems like the late ‘80s, I can remember mobile gaming prior to the iPhone. Game developers at the time, burdened by an insane degree of device fragmentation (if you think there’s a lot of Android devices now, take that number and multiply by infinity) and locked behind the payola-based walled garden of carrier app stores, had little hope of producing a compelling game, let alone one that users could actually find. With the iPhone and the App Store, Apple standardized device specifications and provided a centralized repository for quality games, leading us to the Candy Crushing utopia we now enjoy. It also crippled the handheld gaming market, as consumers quickly decided that playing addictive time-wasters on their smartphone was preferable to lugging around a second device for a more ‘traditional’ gaming experience.
If executed properly, PlayStation Now unifies those two experiences on every device, meaning consumers will no longer have to choose. Traveling on the road and want to keep playing the latest Call of Duty (now with soldier cats!)? Grab your tablet and a bluetooth controller and you’re all set. Still into casual games? No worries, they’ll all be available via PlayStation Now, because every mobile game developer interested in making money will also be interested in publishing their game on the platform that supports every device. In fact, why would anyone not buy a game through PlayStation Now, when it guarantees that they can play the game on all their devices while only having to pay once? There are a myriad ramifications to a PlayStation Now that delivers on its promise, but the biggest mobile implication is that Sony could drink Apple’s milkshake, draining the App Store’s tidy sum of mobile game revenue.
Media guys have it all wrong. It's not digital pennies for analog dollars. Bits are big bucks, just not their bits. pic.twitter.com/ZbNfBRqPgL
— Horace Dediu (@asymco) January 7, 2014
If PlayStation Now delivers on its promise, that is. Kaz Hirai said during Sony’s keynote that “the tethers that have constrained consumption for decades… soon dissolve.” We’ll see.