I should note that the release of Sony’s PlayStation 4 console is not just exciting because it is pushing us into the next generation of console video games. The PlayStation 4 will usher in a new level of connectivity between home gaming and mobile devices.
At the reveal event in February, Sony discussed a bit how that will happen at the launch of the system at the end of 2013. The PS4 will have a companion app for iOS and Android devices that will operate not unlike the Xbox SmartGlass app; it will enhance games by including, for example, in-game maps of the world you’re exploring. If you want an idea of the kinds of experiences a second screen can give you, check out this write-up on SmartGlass, as Sony wasn’t exactly forthcoming about the features of their app.
Sony’s social and stream gaming evolution
Sony did detail one potentially interesting idea. The PlayStation 4 will allow users a level of social interactivity that we haven’t seen before, allowing your friends to peek in on your games as you’re playing or even, if necessary, take over the game remotely if you need some assistance. The ability to watch your friends play will not be limited to the console itself. You will be able to do that from the companion app. This is not unprecedented, as OnLive has had this function available for years.
What may have been the most compelling point Sony discussed at the event, though, was something they’re “exploring” but will most likely not be available for the console launch. Last year, Sony purchased the Gaikai game streaming platform, which will allow users to stream demos of the games they are thinking of buying from the PlayStation Store. If you’re not familiar with the streaming tech, games process at a remote server, the video feed beams to your TV, and your controller inputs are beamed back.
Beyond streaming demos, integrating Gaikai’s cloud gaming into the PS4 will allow for remote play of games on the PS Vita handheld. Although Sony is currently working toward allowing PlayStation games — and they specifically mentioned PS3 games — to be played on any screen, including mobile devices.
OnLive has explored this idea with its Android app, but most of the games available on that platform cannot be played with touch controls. OnLive is a PC platform at heart, as you instead need the licensed OnLive Bluetooth gamepad to play a lot of the games, and even then you can’t play anything that requires a mouse and keyboard.
Of course, what Sony will likely do to make these games playable on tablet will be to either optimize each game for a touch control individually – as that would be more effective, likely, than to use the same on-screen controls for every game – or make them work with a version of the DualShock controller that will interact with mobile devices. Whatever they do, they have more money than OnLive to put into the tremendous project.
The idea that each game platform doesn’t have to be a traditional walled garden is still very new, but it seems that Sony has realized that if they want more connectivity they have to open up the gates. Make no mistake, though; Sony is not creating any open platforms. They would allow their products to interact with a Samsung tablet because they need to remain at the head of the console pack. The future is no place for insular experiences.
Right now, it looks like Sony is pioneering home-and-mobile-gaming connectivity, but we cannot forget that Microsoft started this off with the SmartGlass app, and we don’t know yet what massive Seattle-based company has in store for the next generation of Xbox. We most likely won’t have to wait long to find out, though, as all signs point to an unveiling in a month or two followed by a launch pre-holidays shopping. One has to assume that they will fire back with some mobile interactivity of their own, seeing as how they actually own a mobile platform.
Sony’s intentions are noble, and if they demonstrate that their mobile features are indispensable, we might get somewhere with console integration. However, we’re just starting down that road.