created 10 months ago | Tagged:
It's time to think about the future of PlayStation in crazy ways again, now that they spent about a third of a billion dollars on an outfit called Gaikai. Gaikai is a cloud gaming service, which is not as boring as it sounds. It's a technology, similar to OnLive, that zaps video game graphics and sound into your home from servers faraway while you zap inputs from your game controller back up to those same servers. This tech is what enables Gaikai to let you play Alan Wake on a web browser or Mass Effect 3 on Facebook. All of the processing that a console would do is happening far, far away, well outside your living room or home. When Gaikai works, you're essentially able to play video games with an extremely long controller cord that might be stretching halfway across your state or country.
Sony is now in the process of buying Gaikai. Specifically, Sony Computer Entertainment (aka PlayStation) is buying them. That's got people dreaming that the idea of the game console as some sort of physical box that you bring into your home could be going extinct. Who would need to buy a PlayStation 4, the thinking goes, if you could use Gaikai to stream PS4—level-no, let's just say actual PlayStation 4—graphics and sound into your living room through your computer while you send commands from a DualShock controller back upstream? Gaikai and Sony could make your need to buy a new game console irrelevant, right? Why, you could just stream in PS4 games through your… PS3! And do the same for PS5, PS6 and PS7. End of hardware cycles. End of console generations. Well, no. That's the kind of sci-fi future you might foresee if you were the kind of person who really expected the PlayStation 3 to ship with the ability to output to two HDTVs at once (they cut that before shipping).
Gaikai won't make console hardware obsolete, because Gaikai doesn't run everywhere. It requires a stable and fast Internet connection. The company's FAQ asks for "5+ megabits [downstream], but many demos will still work around 3 megabits". That's fine, except it doesn't work in my house in Brooklyn, not if I'm using my Internet connection for other things.
The connection that Gaikai needs isn't ridiculous, but it's also not ubiquitous. Many people won't be able to use it because their Internet is either too slow or is burdened with other services and priorities. My Internet, for example is also going to be used for Skype calls and App store downloads, any of which, if running while I'm playing a game through Gaikai, could hurt the framerate of the game I'm playing. It could add lag. Because of that, it's impossible to see a PS4 or PS5 that is entirely based on streaming. It's impossible to imagine the boxes going away for those of us who want our games to run well all of the time, not just when our Internet is awesome. Gaikai can't kill consoles, because it will have to match them. The magic of a Gaikai-like PlayStation service is that the hardware running the games you play could be upgraded without you getting off the couch. If you're connected, remotely, to what is essentially a PS4, there's little that would technically stop Sony folks from swapping out the PS4s on their end for a PS4.5. But in a world that requires some people to own an actual PS4 box, this just wouldn't happen, not without Sony alienating all the PS4 owners whose hardware wouldn't be able to run PS4.5 games. Game creators would probably appreciate this restraint, lest the PlayStation become its own version of Android or the PC—fertile, interesting gaming platforms, sure, but ones that can give headaches to game creators who would like to make and sell games that run on standardized technology.
What Gaikai can do, is give people the ability to stream PS3 or PS4 games through web-enabled TVs or any other gizmo that can run the Gaikai widget (Gaikai is already going to be in some Samsung TVs). Gaikai could stream PS3 games to you in the browser you're reading this in or, say, a PlayStation Vita. If we want to be silly for a second, Sony could run Gaikai on an Xbox 360 or a Wii U. (Prediction: this will not happen.)