Sony’s made a handful of very questionable choices in recent years. It launched PS Vita without PlayStation and PlayStation 2 support, dropped the ball with the PlayStation 3′s launch with its multiple confusing SKU’s and high prices, and then removed said console’s backward compatibility. Yet with the Gaikai acquisition, Sony might have just made one of the best decisions in the company’s history.
When the news broke, many gaming outlets proclaimed the purchase as the end of console gaming. Let’s nip that in the bud early: it’s not. Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) made the purchase, so there’s small chance that Sony plans to eliminate consoles. This purchase serves more as an amalgamation for Sony. The company can now offer PlayStation across a number of Sony products ranging from cell phones to TVs to Android tablets. There’s the possibility that Sony made this buy to keep the technology away from competitors, but not putting it to good use would be highly wasteful.
Gaikai is a cloud gaming provider similar to OnLive, but what makes the service special is that its browser-based. Cloud gaming removes the need of physical assets, so there’s less reliance on beefy machines; all you’ll need to play PC and console ports is a stable and fast internet connection.
Before you begin to think I’m rebutting my previous statement, where I claim console gaming isn’t dead, you have to ruminate on this: Gaikai is capable of delivering high-end PC graphics to a gamer’s Web browser if s/he has a strong internet connection . Yet most people barely meet the minimum 3MB download speed requirement, let alone the 5+ MB Gaikai asks for (the bandwidth requirements are found here: http://www.gaikai.com/faq/#technical_q60). I met the requirements using a wired connection with only a few of my internet capable electronics actively on my network. However, if you don’t meet the internet speed requirements the graphics are horrible and the latency issue makes certain games unplayable. With increasing broadband speeds I can see cloud gaming over taking consoles, or at least competing with home consoles. This will be verifiable in the next five to eight years as technology advances, but that’s an entirely different topic for another time. Instead, I want to discuss what this might mean for Sony in the near future.
This acquisition has many implications, some of which are more obvious than others. Gaikai appearing on Sony devices seems like an obvious prediction, but it’s not so simple. Earlier in the year, Gaikai partnered with Samsung and LG to offer streaming gaming and a custom TV streaming services applications out of the box. One would assume that the deal would stay in place to avoid a breach of contract. That said, Sony will likely include Gaikai on its television sets, but with extra features to differentiate its experience from the competition’s. Will it still offer its wide variety of games, or will we see PlayStation emulation? I speculate that we will see both. In an official Press release Andrew House President of Sony Computer Entertainment had this to say:
“SCE will deliver a world-class cloud-streaming service that allows users to instantly enjoy a broad array of content ranging from immersive core games with rich graphics to casual content anytime, anywhere on a variety of internet-connected devices”
Sony can also augment content by providing Gaikai as a premium service for PlayStation Plus members. Sony could allow members to stream PlayStation and PlayStation 2 titles to the PS Vita and PlayStation 3. This would obviously be of greater benefit to the PS Vita, a portable that hasn’t seen a steady stream of games since its launch window. Streaming PlayStation 3 games to the Vita becomes another possibility, but in order for Sony to create some type of solvency, it would have to apply restrictions. This could come in the form of only allowing gamers to only stream games which they own and register with Sony. This would provide the appropriate restrictions that allows competitive, continued game sales. Sony, by acquiring Gaikai, has the infrastructure in place to enhance its customers gaming experience without a severe overhaul.
Digital entertainment is on the rise, and it will become the staple medium in the future. As such, Sony’s Gaikai buy is smart, forward-looking move. When other companies decide to invest in the technology and decide to go digital, Sony has the resources to supply digital content. But are consumers ready to adopt streaming gaming in lieu of physical and digital copies?