You May Already Own A PlayStation 4: The Sci-Fi Implications Of Gaikai

We can always count on the people at PlayStation for planting crazy ideas about the future of gaming in our heads. These are the people who advertised the PlayStation 3 with a commercial for the PlayStation 9, who told us that its PS2 games would look like Pixar movies and who once tried to convince us that the then-upcoming PS3 would be more powerful if it was on the same home network as a refrigerator that had its own PS3-style computer chip. Or was it a toaster? It doesn't matter. It didn't happen.

With Sony's continued refusal to say anything about the PS4 (psst, Codename Orbis!), the world of PlayStation has become all too much in the present. This is not what we demand from Sony. We demand sci-fi from Sony. Last night, we got that.

It's time to think about the future of PlayStation in crazy ways again, now that they spent about a third of a billion dollars on an outfit called Gaikai.

Gaikai is a cloud gaming service, which is not as boring as it sounds. It's a technology, similar to OnLive, that zaps video game graphics and sound into your home from servers faraway while you zap inputs from your game controller back up to those same servers. This tech is what enables Gaikai to let you play Alan Wake on a web browser or Mass Effect 3 on Facebook. All of the processing that a console would do is happening far, far away, well outside your living room or home. When Gaikai works, you're essentially able to play video games with an extremely long controller cord that might be stretching halfway across your state or country.

Here's the Xbox 360, PS3 game Bulletstorm running in the Google Chrome web browser, for example.

Sony is now in the process of buying Gaikai. Specifically, Sony Computer Entertainment (aka PlayStation) is buying them. That's got people dreaming that the idea of the game console as some sort of physical box that you bring into your home could be going extinct. Who would need to buy a PlayStation 4, the thinking goes, if you could use Gaikai to stream PS4 — level-no, let's just say actual PlayStation 4 — graphics and sound into your living room through your computer while you send commands from a DualShock controller back upstream?

Gaikai and Sony could make your need to buy a new game console irrelevant, right? Why, you could just stream in PS4 games through your… PS3! And do the same for PS5, PS6 and PS7. End of hardware cycles. End of console generations.

Well, no.

That's the kind of sci-fi future you might foresee if you were the kind of person who really expected the PlayStation 3 to ship with the ability to output to two HDTVs at once (they cut that before shipping).

Gaikai won't make console hardware obsolete, because Gaikai doesn't run everywhere. It requires a stable and fast Internet connection. The company's FAQ asks for "5+ megabits [downstream], but many demos will still work around 3 megabits". That's fine, except it doesn't work in my house in Brooklyn, not if I'm using my internet connection for other things.

My speed, via speedtest.net.

Gaikai's response when I tried to run Alan Wake in my browser.

Gaikai works fine on our office internet, where we've got better speeds.

The connection that Gaikai needs isn't ridiculous, but it's also not ubiquitous. Many people won't be able to use it because their internet is either too slow or is burdened with other services and priorities. My internet, for example is also going to be used for Skype calls and App Store downloads, any of which, if running while I'm playing a game through Gaikai, could hurt the frame rate of the game I'm playing. It could add lag. Because of that, it's impossible to see a PS4 or PS5 that is entirely based on streaming. It's impossible to imagine the boxes going away for those of us who want our games to run well all of the time, not just when our internet is awesome.

Gaikai can't kill consoles because it will have to match them. The magic of a Gaikai-like PlayStation service is that the hardware running the games you play could be upgraded without you getting off the couch. If you're connected remotely to what is essentially a PS4, there's little that would technically stop Sony folks from swapping out the PS4s on their end for a PS4.5. But in a world that requires some people to own an actual PS4 box, this just wouldn't happen, not without Sony alienating all the PS4 owners whose hardware wouldn't be able to run PS4.5 games. Game creators would probably appreciate this restraint, lest the PlayStation become its own version of Android or the PC — fertile, interesting gaming platforms, sure, but ones that can give headaches to game creators who would like to make and sell games that run on standardised technology.

Gaikai can't kill consoles because it will have to match them.

What Gaikai can do, is give people the ability to stream PS3 or PS4 games through web-enabled TVs or any other gizmo that can run the Gaikai widget (Gaikai is already going to be in some Samsung TVs). Gaikai could stream PS3 games to you in the browser you're reading this in or, say, a PlayStation Vita. If we want to be silly for a second, Sony could run Gaikai on an Xbox 360 or a Wii U. (Prediction: this will not happen.)

Gaikai would also enable games from older Sony platforms to be streamed to any device. There are no PS4.5-like problems when it comes to the original PlayStation or PS2. In fact, there's a solution here for a company like Sony that removed PS2-compatibility from the PS3 because it wanted to save money by removing the chip that enabled it. Gaikai just needs that streaming connection and its software widget, so it would have no problem restoring all PS3s to a state of PS2-compatibility and could do the same for Sony's back catalogue across more devices.

If Gaikai is this promising, and if you had a fast enough connection, you might wonder if there would be any point to buying a PlayStation 4 box if you could just stream a PS4 experience to your laptop. You'd probably still want the box. Gaikai, is a streaming service. So in addition to any lag concerns you might have, you'd be dealing with the bigger problem of grumpy internet service providers, who are eager to find ways to charge you for all the data you stream through your home connection. If you're being charged for every bit you stream into your house, you're not going to want to stream a 30-hour roleplaying game. Right?

Gaikai's founder Dave Perry told me back in 2007 that he thought consoles would no longer have disc drives by the PlayStation 5. He was thinking far into the future then, it seemed, and yet streaming and downloading make him seem more right than he did back then. At the time, and as Gaikai launched, he promoted the service as a rental model, as one that let gamers try games before they bought them. This is still the concept that makes the most sense. It would keep bandwidth usage down, but it would also give gamers more chances to try games, across more devices — their PlayStations among them — before committing to a download of a game or a drive to a store to pick up a physical copy.

They could say: "Try the PS4 right now, on your PS3."

The try-before-you-buy streaming model also leads to a most wonderful and appropriately futuristic vision of PlayStation gaming to come. Currently, you can use Gaikai to run Mass Effect on Facebook. The processing of the game is happening far away. Your browser is essentially able to pretend to be a PS3. Extend the thought… extend it to E3 2013 and the likely reveal of the PlayStation 4. Imagine that you're home and your PS3 is turned on. Maybe by then there's a Gaikai app that lets you play old PS2 games through its streaming connection. Imagine the Sony executives saunter around on stage at E3, telling people about PS4 and showing a demo of a game. And then imagine that they say that you can load up that Gaikai app on your PS3 and that you'll find something special there: a demo to stream of a PS4 game. "Go ahead," they could say. "Try the PS4 right now, on your PS3."

It could happen. It may sound sci-fi. But it also sounds very Sony PlayStation.


Comments

    Not suited to Australia at all. Plus many people like myself like to own physical objects that they pay money for.

      Hate to say it, but I used to be the same until I realized that losing the physical copy was the future, and it's hard to expect the progression of technology to slow down just to feed nostalgia.
      Though you're absolutely right that it's not suited to Australia. Our internet is leaps, and bounds behind the standards that the modern world expects. We can only hope to catch up. On the same point, however, it's hard to expect the rest of the world to hold themselves back just to satisfy a mere 20 million people in a slowly developing country. Especially a country with no real excuse for this slow development.

        There are places all over the world with poor internet infrastructure. Even in some parts of the US there are people on shitty connections.

        Streaming games to consoles will compliment the current system, not replace it.

        "it’s hard to expect the progression of technology to slow down just to feed nostalgia."

        It's nostalgia to want to own what you pay for? I thought nostalgia was what you get looking back at things that have already passed, nobody can "fight" for nostalgia.

        "Especially a country with no real excuse for this slow development."

        I'm sorry but you do know that our entire country's population can fit in one major city of most technologically comparable nations? We don't have the people and therefore the money to build infrastructure that would bring us to the level. This is why it's such a broohah with the NBN: so many of us want it to advance our technology, while many oppose it because it requires an exorbitant amount of taxpayer cash.

        Digital might be a future. But streaming isn't. Streaming is a shit system for all considered.

        No matter what. You are going to end up downloading more streaming than you are downloading the game outright.

        Skyrim was 7GB. Onlive/gaikai require about 3GB/hour. So after 3 hours of play you have downloaded 2GB more than the game itself. And it get's worse over time.

        Max Payne 3 was the biggest game i can think of recently at 30GB. Even with the 10-12 hours of playtime that SP is meant to have. Your going to be equalling or exceeding the download of the game. And that's not even going to let you play multiplayer.

        Not to mention that all these people suddenly streaming 3GB an hour would most likely cause massive congestion in Australia since the network simply couldn't handle every gamer doing so.

        Streaming is not and won't be the future ever. The only reason streaming appeals to publishers is that if you have a game only available by streaming. There is no copy of the code to the public which means the game itself can't be pirated. It also means that when they release Call of duty 15. And want you to stop playing Call of Duty 13. They simply pull the game from the streaming service and force you to upgrade to one of the more recent incarnations whether you want to or not.

    Well i live in Australia too, if Sony goes down this route, i'm out unless the NBN makes it to my town. Might check out this whole "PC master race" thing instead.

    Jesus christ...the best I get at home is 5.2 MBPS...god I hate Australia's crappy Internet

      Aha mine is only 3.6 ;)

    Hmmmmm.... I want a brand new, fully fledged, piece of hardware on my entertainment unit - titled "PS4". I dont like this streaming idea and its so reliant on my bandwidth and quota at the end of the month. Some people cant afford 10mg down/3mg up connections with 50gb on/off per month. It probably makes sense from a business point of view, as opposed to producing packaging, hardware, shipping, etc.... its dumped on some really good servers. At the end of the day, i still buy CD's from JB because i dont like the fact that iTunes sells me digital copies.....

      This^
      People are still buying CD's, don't see any reason why games can't still come in physical packages 20 years from now.

      That sounds so insane to me. I can't imagine ever buying a CD instead of owning a digital copy. Why do you want to own one copy of a physical disc with that media on it instead of owning the rights to that media to download/play anywhere anytime to any device?

        @markd i like to own a physical copy of music on cd, because the fidelity is much higher than most download services. I have a decent sound setup and can tell the difference in audio fidelity. games are somewhat different though

    Cloud gaming? Count me out, this constant connection trend is one of the most frustrating developments I have witnessed in the evolution of gaming. I want to put my game in/on and not think about anything other than the game after that. No lag, no watching frame rates to see if its slowing down, no drop outs and having to sign back in. Tech companies of the world, is this really too much to ask?

    Im in Aus and currently my I'm with Optus on their "supersonic" net gear router with 500gb plan, my average speed is 100mb down and no less than 20mb up.
    It's not hard to get a good plan you just need shop around, I can't wait for the NBN it's going to be sweet.

      Apart from plans, which are easy to find, you've also got the problem of the physical line connections. A lot of people in Australia have horrible ancient copper cabling to their houses. Then there's the connections between the nodes, which the NBN is supposed to be upgrading, and luck me, I don't get to see work until the end of 2013 I think?

      As an example, the max speed I've ever gotten on my property is about the 4MBps mark

        +1 to this guy. The problem with the Internet in Australia is only partly because of ridiculous prices of plans.

        Our Internet infrastructure is a joke and without an enhancement to the infrastructure we are stuck where we are.

          Exactly, when it is you've shopped around trying to see the best connection you could get, only to be told you live to far from the exchange, plus you can't even get cable broadband, then it sucks because of the current ancient infrastructure.

            Or something I discovered in my so-called "new" suburb (less than 10 years old) RIM/Pair Gain infrastructure which is where adjacent houses share the same copper line, curtailing internet speeds for all. Thankyou Telstra privatisation and therefore cut price infrastructure since.

    When i was with optus on DocSys3, i was at 100mb down and 3 up. Neither GO LIVE or Gaikai were able to run. you nrrf to have an insane upload speed to get it going. In all honesty though, i hate the idea of streaming my games. If this were to ever become the norm, i will be crawling back into my cave and playing through my unplayed collection of about 100 or so games, and buying a lot of oldies.

    I have a pretty sizeable steam collection. Valve have stated that if the service is discontinued, they will distribute a patch to remove the DRM from the games and give users a decent timeframe to download their steam library.

    The question with these streaming services, is as follows; if im forking out $80 or so a game that i can only stream online (if you thought always online drm was bad, think again), if go live, or gaikai shut i lose it all. you never actually own the digital content.

    I recently suffered from the YLOD and had to get a new PS3, but spending $400 on a new console wouldn't even be enough to encourage me to switch to streaming service. +1 living in AUS is awful for internet connections. I'm averaging 5MB/s down and I don't want to shell out $$$ for high speed connections the rest of the world would consider standard. Hell, I'm pretty sure we're still using copper wires in my area and only have a handful of ISPs to choose from.
    End of the day, I have two major collections: PS3 games on my shelf (as well as 360 and PC), and my equally large Steam virtual library. I feel like I own and can be proud of my boxed games, whereas my digital games are just 0's and 1's that would be gone forever if Steam went AWOL.

    Wow, I'm not sure what part of Australia you all live in but down here in Adelaide my max speed is just a little over 400Kb/S!

    Well I thought I had a pretty good internet connection... 12 MBPS with unlimited downloads. I guess it still needs a good upgrade before I catch up with the rest of the world.

    Just tried playing Crysis 2 on Gaikai and I got the "insufficient bandwidth" message. I have 8mbps (800kb/s) download speeds.

    I think everyone is missing the point. Sony is now a media company. Their Playstation 3 prooved that. They pumped alot of money into that platform hoping it would be the most secure and advanced ever and it wasn't. They still could not beat Microsoft who are a software company, made faulty hardware yet still sold just as many xboxes as sony did PS3s.

    The hardware sony used to be so proud of is now commonplace that their media arm is now the dominant part of their bussiness. The reason they want you to stream your games is so that you never own a copy and it can't be cracked and stolen. If they were smart and wern't beaten to the punch by Apple they would have also gone down this route for Music and Movies.

    I wonder what powers the server farm that runs these streamed games ? I'm guessing a cluster of 'Jailbroken' PS3's :)

    I have a 9-10Mbps connection according to speedtest within Australia and about 7Mbps to LA with 200ms latency but all I get is the insufficient bandwidth message. Maybe the way Gaikai determines bandwidth is a bit off or they think 200ms is too much.

    I'm in Australia and i'm getting 114Mbps. Sydney, on Telstra.

    *waiting*

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