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We can always count on the people at PlayStation for planting crazy ideas about the future of gaming in our heads. These are the people who advertised the PlayStation 2 with a commercial for the PlayStation 9, who told us that their PS2 games would look like Pixar movies and who, at one time, were trying to convince us that the then-upcoming PS3 would be more powerful if it was on the same home network as a refrigerator that had its own PS3-style computer chip. Or was it a toaster? It doesn't matter. It didn't happen.
With Sony's continued refusal to say anything about the PS4 (psst. Codename Orbis!), the world of PlayStation has become all too much in the present. This is not what we demand from Sony. We demand sci-fi from Sony. Last night, we got that.
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 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.)
The try-before-you-buy streaming model also leads to a most wonderful and appropriately-futuristic vision of PlayStation gaming to come. Currently, you can use Gaikai to run Mass Effect on Facebook. The processing of the game is happening far away. Your browser is, essentially, able to pretend to be a PS3. Extend the thought…extend it to E3 2013 and the likely reveal of the PlayStation 4. Imagine that you're home and your PS3 is turned on. Maybe, by then, there's a Gaikai app that lets you play old PS2 games through its streaming connection. Imagine the Sony executives saunter around on stage at E3, telling people about PS4 and showing a demo of a game. And then imagine that they say that you can load up that Gaikai app on your PS3 and that you'll find something special there: a demo to stream of a PS4 game. "Go ahead," they could say. "Try the PS4 right now, on your PS3."