PlayStation’s history is pocked with missed opportunities. Sony was first to the casual game boom with PlayStation 2 party games like SingStar and Buzz, but it allowed Nintendo to waltz in with the Wii and take that audience away. It was doing controller-less gaming long before anyone at Xbox had even uttered the words Project Natal, but the Kinect quickly stole the EyeToy’s thunder. And now history looks set to repeat itself: the industry is aflutter with chatter of Microsoft and Google, as the two tech giants appear poised to lock horns over our new streaming future. Meanwhile, the readily available PlayStation Now just rolled out in several new countries, but no one’s paying attention.
It’s entirely the Japanese giant’s fault, of course. Ever since purchasing Gaikai in mid-2012, it’s been resolute that it’s merely future-proofing, looking ahead to a time when we play all our games in the cloud. As recently as last month, Sony bigwig Hiroki Totoki declared that it will take “longer than five years” for physical hardware to be rendered obsolete. In truth, that’s likely an optimistic timeline, but with Google poised to announce its own gaming service imminently, and Xbox flaunting the potential of Project xCloud, it’s hard to shake the feeling that PlayStation is being left behind.
Which is absolutely mind-boggling because PlayStation Now has been available for several years now in certain territories and works reasonably well. We took another look at the service late last year when PlayStation 4 software downloads were added, and we ended up spending most of our time streaming because it works better than it has any right to. Yes, fluctuations in bandwidth can result in macroblocking and other image artefacting, and controller latency isn’t flawless – but the games are very playable. It’s undoubtedly impressive technology.
So why is Sony a footnote in this new streaming war? Given the scale and capacity of Microsoft and Google’s server farms, there seems to be a general sentiment that PlayStation simply can’t compete. The difference is that PlayStation Now is a functional, consumer product right now, whereas the competition is yet to actually deliver anything. It was possible to temporarily play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in the Google Chrome browser last year, and the feedback was generally good, but this was a limited test for a handful of participants – not a commercial release.
It just feels like PlayStation’s own efforts in this category are being forgotten, but it’s only got itself to blame. While the likes of Microsoft and Google are clearly looking to make streaming key components of their gaming businesses, Sony has pushed PlayStation Now out of the limelight, improving it slowly but allowing others to catch up. It’s possible that cloud-based gaming could become the latest industry fad to fizzle out, in which case the Japanese giant may have made a shrewd move, but should it really start to gain traction, then the platform holder could very quickly find itself playing catch-up – even though it was first to the market by a country mile.
Perhaps the most amusing thing here is that it’s so unsurprising. Sony has good ideas, but for every PlayStation VR there’s an EyeToy or SingStar or PlayStation Now. It rarely has the confidence in its own execution to see things through, and so it currently finds itself a footnote in the cloud-streaming race. A footnote, we’d hasten to add, with a working viable product available right now – but a footnote nonetheless.
Do you think that Sony is falling behind in the cloud gaming conversation? How has it managed to find itself in this position when it’s the only organisation with a working product at this moment in time? Do you think it’s making the right decision as streaming’s future seems uncertain? Test your Internet connection in the comments section below.