One recurring criticism has noticeably been fired at Sony throughout the entire span of this console generation; that the Japanese manufacturer has forgotten how to lead. The once thoughtful electronics giant responsible for innovations such as the Walkman and PlayStation has arguably spent too long in its competitor’s shadows. Quality aside, game specific products like the PlayStation Move and even PlayStation Network serve to support that particular mindset.

But, alongside hierarchical and philosophical movement within the company, there are signs that things are starting to change. For the gaming division in particular, that begins with Sony's acquisition of cloud gaming service Gaikai for $380 million.

This morning’s announcement was surprising for a handful of reasons. Despite recurring speculation regarding Sony’s involvement with a cloud gaming company leading into E3, the company went through the entire show without ever touching upon the technology. Gaikai founder Dave Perry then contributed to the silence, outright denying that the company was working with Sony in a post-show interview. While the deal probably wasn’t signed at the time, we have to imagine the wheels were in motion, so it's clear that an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) was in place.

But regardless of the specifics, it’s not the acquisition itself that’s so interesting, but the undeniably exciting precedent that it sets. For the first time since the introduction of the EyeToy, arguably, Sony may have its foot firmly in front of its competitors. Cloud gaming might be at least a decade away from replacing on-disc delivery mechanisms, but the buyout assures PlayStation will be at the forefront of that transition.

And what an exciting transition it could become. The industry is currently awash with theories discussing the specifics of the takeover’s intent: it’s no secret that Sony has been piling resources into its digital services for years now, and cloud gaming looks likely to be the glue that pulls it all together. The company has already united its audio and movie businesses under the Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited brands – and now it looks poised to invite PlayStation into the mix.

Considering the sheer wealth of intellectual property that Sony owns, a united entertainment network sounds like a thrilling prospect. Furthermore, the philosophy scales perfectly to company president Kaz Hirai’s recently revealed “One Sony” ambition. This is a conglomerate finally being forced to work in harmony.

But beyond the corporate implications, the acquisition also holds numerous salivating prospects for gamers: in fact, the possibilities are seemingly endless. The idea of fully functioning remote play on Vita and complete catalogue backwards compatibility across multiple devices is no longer a pipe-dream, but instead a very realistic possibility.

That doesn’t, however, mean that it’s right around the corner. Sony has yet to outline its plans for cloud gaming, and we doubt it will be detailing anything specific in the immediate future. The technology has undeniable bottlenecks rooted in the slow evolution of global Internet infrastructure, and the company will have dived into the deal fully aware of the setbacks.

This is a move for the future, then; an announcement that says more about where PlayStation’s headed than where it is today. But for the first time in over half-a-decade, it shows the company at its innovative best. It’s not responding to what Microsoft and Nintendo are doing, but instead dictating its own direction. That’s exciting, and it sets a fascinating precedent for the beginning of Kaz Hirai’s new reign.

What’s your opinion on Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai? Are you excited by the potential of cloud gaming? Let us know in the comments below.