The next generation of consoles is on the verge of release and soon millions of gamers will be be able to enjoy the gorgeous graphics made possible by the new hardware. The Playstation 4 for instance will be 10 times more powerful than its predecessor the Playstation 3. However, while right now there is much talk about next gen, there are many gamers who are concerned about being able to play their current (often sizeable) game collections on the new systems. Microsoft’s Xbox One has received a ton of backlash online for plenty of reasons, one of them being its lack of backwards compatibility. To be fair the Playstation 4 will not be able to play legacy games natively either. The reason for this is that the next gen consoles are making the switch to x86 processors.
However, Sony has announced that backwards compatibility for the Playstation 4 WILL be possible through Gaikai, a cloud gaming company that has developed cutting-edge streaming technology. Gamers will be able to play not only PS3, but PS2 and PSOne games as well.
Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony Worldwide Studios, said that the Gaikai cloud gaming service will be launched in North America in 2014 with a library of PS3 games. A timeframe has not been set for the European launch. It’s unclear exactly how large this library will be, but Gaikai claims they have been adding 200+ titles every month, so the collection should be impressive. Their game library will be available for play on the PS4, PS Vita and Vita TV.
One of the major hurdles faced by cloud gaming is bandwidth. We have yet to see how effective Gaikai’s service will be, but there are indications that they are still figuring out how to overcome latency issues.
It hasn’t been outlined how game purchases will work, but my guess is that when you buy a new game on the PSN Store, Gaikai will automatically link their server copy of the game to your PSN account. If you buy a disc game there will probably be some kind of registration process, or there may be a key in the cover of each PS4 game which can be submitted to PSN. It’s unclear whether already-purchased PS3 disc and downloaded games will need to be repurchased or not, but chances are that will be the case.
So as the release date, effectiveness, and scope of the Gaikai cloud service are uncertain, keeping your PS3 is probably the most practical solution for backwards compatibility at this point. Check out What to do with your old PS3.
Besides backwards compatibility, Sony has indicated other applications for the Gaikai service.
One of the big ones is Remote Play, which will allow gamers to pause their PS4 game, then resume it seamlessly on their PS Vita. Sony indicated this feature will work best on your home WiFi network, suggesting there could be issues with connectivity over the internet. But if you’re at home, why would you play on your PS Vita and not your PS4? I personally don’t see why you would, but I HAVE read gamer posts by fathers who claim having Remote Play is really handy when your 4-year old needs to catch that 3:30 airing of Dora the Explorer (I’d just teach my kid to use YouTube on my Nexus 4, but I’d probably also be a really bad father so can’t comment). If or when Remote Play works well over the internet, I could certainly see the appeal. How awesome would it be to play Assassin’s Creed IV over 4G on the subway or at the airport while waiting for your flight.
Other applications include being able to play your own games on your friend’s PS4. This is useful if you only have a downloaded copy of the game and don’t want to lug your PS4 around. Conversely, if your friend has a game he’s having trouble with, he could stream it to your own system so you can help him through that particularly difficult section. Theoretically you would also be able to play multiplayer with a friend from just one game copy. However, I imagine Sony would keep a tight reign on these features as they may be concerned about gamers streaming long-term to multiple friends, allowing them to enjoy entire playthroughs without purchasing. Particularly opportunistic individuals may even rent out game streaming time. As a result Sony may implement a time cap on streaming time or limit the number of devices you can connect.
In any case the fact that Sony bought Gaikai for USD$380 million and has made cloud gaming a big part of their PS4 messaging is just one more indication that cloud gaming is the future.