Sony Actually Has A Very Different Future In Mind For PlayStation 4

Sony Actually Has A Very Different Future In Mind For PlayStation 4

Sony’s successful if counterintuitive next-gen message for the PlayStation 4 at last week’s E3 is that things won’t change. No disc DRM changes. No new online checks for PS4. You might think Sony doesn’t want gaming to change in the PS4 era. Oh, but it does.

In fact, if you listen closely, they’re veering closer to what Microsoft is envisioning for Xbox One than you may have thought, had you only been focused on the Sony and Microsoft’s duelling press conferences.

The two are not the same.

Only Microsoft is planning to make your games not work if you have lost internet for 24 hours. And, to be fair, only Microsoft is talking about a 10-member “family” game-sharing plan.

Both Microsoft and Sony, however, seem to be ready for console gamers to shift their gaming to digital, to bring console game closer to PC and phone gaming, where the default way to get a game is to download it.

In fact, it was Sony people who seemed most eager, in interviews with me, to enable a more download-heavy gaming future.

“The things we want to see change,” Sony’s head of worldwide studios, Shuhei Yoshida told me at E3, when I asked him about Sony’s hopes for changes in the next gen, “[is to have] more people embrace the digital side and have more people connect.” He wants more people to download Sony’s ever-growing line-up of interesting and often independently-made downloadable games. Frankly, the PlayStation store is where Sony is presenting some of the system’s more innovative stuff.

Yoshida: “The things we want to see change [is to have] more people embrace the digital side and have more people connect.”

It’s not just the artsy games — the Journeys and Unfinished Swans — that Sony is selling online. PlayStation VP of hardware marketing, John Koller, told me that the company is also committed to continuing to release its big games for download on the same day they come out in stores on disc.

Both the PS4 and the Xbox One have the 500GB harddrives to support a gaming future that involves a console user’s radically increased consumption of downloaded games. And one can imagine that the DRM for downloaded games isn’t going to be all that flexible on either system, not as flexible as it was in the age of trading or trading in game discs. In fact, Microsoft is at least the one articulating a family-sharing plan for digital games. Neither has been clear if there is a real used-game digital plan (and, yes, that concept may simply not make sense) nor have either outlined any ability to lend a friend a downloaded game.

Koller: “The difference between an eight hour download and a 15-minute drive to retail — retail is winning that every time…Solving that with PlayGo… is a big win for the digital side of the business.”

Some gamers will always prefer to get their games on disc. They like to hold a game in their hands. They like to feel as if they possess it and aren’t just getting a licence to some bits. As long as games are multiple Gigabytes and online connection speeds aren’t fast enough to pipe those files through quickly, then discs will stick around. Safe assumption. Well, sorta safe.

Sony’s Koller said something to me last week that stuck out. He talked about buying discs at a store as if that was a problem, something that the industry needs to solve.

“We’re very bullish on digital,” Koller told me last week. “One of the things we noticed through the progression of building the PlayStation 4 and now that we’ve announced it, is that immediacy is a big problem in this industry. Digital is really harmed by that. The difference between an eight hour download and a 15-minute drive to retail — retail is winning that every time. Physical gaming will proliferate as long as that continues. Solving that with PlayGo, which gives you a chunk of the [currently downloading] game you can start playing while the rest is buffered in the background, is a big win for the digital side of the business. I think digital will grow a lot more rapidly as a result of that particular point.”

Koller: “We need to make things easier for people on an immediacy basis, as an industry. We need to make games more accessible.”

As a games reporter, I can often just get a disc mailed to me for free; even still, lately, I’ve opted for paying for a download. It’s that much less of a hassle. But I have a choice. I could get the game on disc. More importantly, Sony isn’t really going out of its way on PS3 to make downloading a game the better option than getting it on disc. It sounds, from Koller, like they plan to make digital more attractive on PS4. Except, as is the nature of next-gen talk these days, the question then turns to what the DRM on downloads will be. Sony’s not talking about digital DRM right now.

It’s easy to think that Sony would like to shift gaming toward a download model just to cut out game shops and make more profits selling games directly to gamers. It doesn’t sound to me, however, that it’s close to being that simple. Koller articulated another reason that it’s so important for Sony to offer the combination of downloadable games and a PlayGo service that lets you start playing partially-downloaded games almost as soon as the download starts.

“There’s 220 million Americans who game,” he said. “Many of them game on tablets and mobile. When you play a game on tablet or mobile, you may not be playing the deep, rich immersive games you play on console, but you are immediately accessing that content. There’s not a lot of lag. So we looked at that. And, as we talked to gamers who were starting to say, ‘You know I love console gaming but tablets and mobile are engaging my time,’ we realised that as an industry we need to solve that. PlayGo was born of that. We said, ‘We need to make it easier for people to get into digital content, so that people don’t have to wait around.'”

He bottom lined it, talking about PlayGo and Sony’s 2014-scheduled Gaikai service that will stream PS3 games to PS4: “We need to make things easier for people on an immediacy basis, as an industry. We need to make games more accessible.”

Sony wants gaming to be more sudden: You hear about a game and — finger-snap — you’re playing it. There’s no drive to the store. There’s no shrinkwrap to cut. There’s no waiting for a progress bar to finish. There’s no delay. It happens right away. And, in that scenario, there’s no disc in sight.


  • I’m happy to go digital right now if they price it appropriately. As long as it’s the same price (or, in most cases, significantly more expensive) as physical, then it’s not going to happen. I’m quite happy to give up the trading / selling / lending etc that physical allows me IF (and only if) the price is reduced to compensate for what I’m giving up. I think I read that Vita games are something like 10% less than physical RRP if you buy them off PSN. But really, who gives a sh*t? Go to JB or somewhere and you can get 10% off RRP on the physical copy. And even if you paid full RRP at retail, you can trade it in later and get that 10% back anyway. Make digital at least 25-30% cheaper and then we’ll talk.

    That’s my issue with XBone – it’s trying to artificially impose the inherent limitations of digital distribution onto physical distribution. But I guarantee you it won’t be significantly cheaper despite the limitations they’re putting on it.

    • Agreed. I can wait a few hours, I’m not worried by that. If the price is cheaper than a brick and mortar store, I think most of us would.

      • I’m with you guys the amount of times I’ve looked at game X and thought to myself I can get that cheaper new at JB or Ozgameshop (that’s no 15 minute drive) rather than downloading it caused me to go physical.

        Price not convenience is the key here, I use Steam a lot in talks like this why because the last game I purchased from my wishlist was $1 now a physical copy of an old PC game would be minimum $20 in store and Steam was half that normally.

        I’m an adult, when I go to buy a game I’m usually with friends, we usually have lunch it’s a time to sit back and chill. I owned a C64 with a tape drive I had to wait for games.

        The only thing that bugs me about the XBone to be completely honest is that 24 hour check in. I’m in a Brisbane suburb, the copper network has a half life of 20 years when it was installed 40 years ago. No maintenance, added strain and I’ve got a internet connection that can sometimes die for days at a time if it rains really hard. The line noise is also extremely bad. Get this I don’t own a smart phone, I don’t like them (Yay almost every other piece of technology but).

        The fact that Sony and Microsoft think so similarly isn’t surprising. What makes the choice for me is the lower cost of the PS4 (1 game per $50 to justify it) and the fact that I know one won’t turn into a Brick when I’d most likely stay inside playing video games. Nobodies got backwards compatibility so this generation is a clean slate for everyone.

    • This ^. I would love for a Steam-like store to pop up on Xbone. Or even a Netflix-like service, where you pay a monthly charge for playing all the games you want. This is the only reason I will still opt for the XBone. If you look past the always online and no sharing stuff, there is actually a massive potential to offer great value on titles. I’m not fussed about owning the physical copy vs. licensing it. It makes absolutely no difference to me as long as I still get to play it.

      If MS are smart about their approach, this could completely swing the advantage towards their way.

    • Completely agree. Considering that the excuse for charging Aussies so much more than everywhere else is shipping costs, there really should be no excuse for digital copies being as expensive as physical copies. Digital should be discounted both for what we aren’t getting that we would with physical, as well as the fact that shipping and freight isn’t involved.

  • Sounds about right

    IMO, the approach ms is taking can be soothed if they let us use the disc as the override to 24 hour checkups and internet outage. I will install the game. It’s just so much easier to manage a digital library than having to store physical discs. But the option to use the disc should internet not be available would be the best thing MS could do for the gamer

    • A thousand times this. Its pretty much all they would have had to do to make everything alright and they didn’t do it. Boggles the mind.

    • Agreed. Along with family sharing, MS could still technically turn it around. They have time, and they’ve said their policies are open to change depending on consumer response.

  • Sony ( and MS ) need to seriously reconsider their digital pricing. To charge the same amount, or more, than a retail release is an absolute rip-off.

    This is why Steam has been so successful, they provide value, and notice the lack of complaints about their DRM.

    • Read this on the internet (so it must be true) but apparently they’re not allowed to charge less than retail.

      • I believe it’s more to do with IF they charge less, retail won’t stock the game which means a loss in sales. Hopefully as we see a move to digital then retailers will lose that dominance.

        Hell, with PS+ I get a lot of games cheaper than retail (free as long as I remain subscribed).

        • Yeah, they have kind of an informal agreement to not undercut physical retail.

          That doesn’t explain why the games on PSN don’t get discounted to the same price when EB or whoever are having a sale, though. Tomb Raider is $47 at EB at the moment. on PSN it’s $90.

          • The flaw I find in this argument is retailers tell us the publishers charge them $90 for the game and selling it for $100 means they get $10 profit (store upkeep, Staff wages etc.) They’d love to give us cheaper games except for those dark evil publishers who have all the power.

            Publishers tell us they can’t lower the price on Online download version of a game because they are being held to ransom by the dark evil retailers who have all the power and are making sure they have the price jacked up.

            The problem is Retailers would let the Publishers lower the price if the price of the physical copy went down too. So surely the ball is 100% completely in the Publishers court.

            As for Tomb Raider being cheaper on sale, that’s not an all the time thing is it? Discrepancy during sales is to be expected.

    • I agree that Digital Pricing is a rip-off we do get over charged at least $10-50 more in some cases.

      Also the lack of DRM on Steam just means its 10x easier to download any Steam game illegally.

  • It is incredible how the XBOX fans are trying to convince the whole world that the PS4 also has DRM despite the fact they openly denied supporting it at E3.

    It’s like “our platform took a big dump on us, so your platform should do the same” mentality.

    As the article points out it is pretty clear, and even the dumbest person should easily understand why Microsoft is the one held accountable, and the rules and laws are coming from them. Otherwise why do it? unless you are bent on screwing up your own launch.

    • The PS4 has no DRM? So you’ll be able to trade in and lend digital versions of games on the PS4?

      Face it, DRM will exist on the both consoles in various forms, Microsoft will just have more of it built in specifically to the console. And if the market grows to a fully digital market you then every game you buy will have DRM regardless of the console.

      • I meant Online DRM, sorry. Ididn’t think anyone would be hung up on exact vocation, given the popularity of the issue.

    • Every console has DRM: it’s what stops you from playing games that haven’t been signed by the console manufacturer, and the reason people need to find security holes to run homebrew software.

      The difference is that Sony has said they aren’t building daily checkins into ther DRM scheme for their next console like Microsoft has.

    • At the end of the day, Sony’s PS3 remained uncracked while the Xbox was cracked and heavily pirated. You don’t see that Sony would be perfectly happy with the way they were doing things and Microsoft would want to re-tweak them?

    • The thing about the PS4s DRM is it’s something we’re so used to it’s become irrelevant.

      The put the game in, to play it method has been around since the Atari 2600.

      If (as said above by @jamiept) the XBone allowed you to put the game in or online check in people would probably have no problem with it.

  • The issue is will they eventually dictate that you must have a net connection to play games off a disc. As long as they keep that ability to play from a disc and not need to activate anything online then that’s fine. Of course digital distribution will take off and eventually overtake physical sales and as it should, but currently the infrastructure in a lot of countries isn’t up to the task of downloading big files quickly and efficiently (just take a look at Australia)

    • It’s not just broadband speed. The bigger issue, I think, is download limits. Not many people I know (and I’m pretty close to Sydney) can even get unlimited download without paying hundreds of dollars a month. The limit I can afford is 100GB/pm. If digital only came in I wouldn’t have a speed problem, it would be a limit issue. Most gamers I know would be in the same boat, and Australia has better net than many places I’ve been.

  • Digital in Australia would suck with our remoteness and crappy intehwebz.

    Since Abbott is going to get in, I don’t expect anything better today.

    • This is definitely not the only reason you shouldn’t be voting Liberal. But it is one of them.

      • I won’t be voting for either since I’m out of the country but I wouldnt vote Liberal because Abbott is a flog.

        • You can vote by mail or at the embassy for whatever country you are in. I’ve voted in two elections from overseas.

          Gonna get political here… It’s both your right and your duty to vote. Don’t throw away your right and don’t shirk your duty. Doesn’t matter if you vote for the Silly Hat Party. Vote.

          • I won’t be near an embassy and I’m leaving in July. I’m out of the country for 12 – 14 months.

          • Apply for an absentee vote. Unless you are in rural PNG or something you can do it. I know I’m being a nag here but man… This shit is important.

          • I won’t be near an embassy and I’m leaving in July. I’m out of the country for 12 – 14 months and most of it is remote.

          • Either way, neither Liberal or Labor are getting my vote. Gillard has been a prime minister for too long with out ever being elected by the public and Abbot is so far from being a leader its not funny. Would vote for a 3 year old kid over both of those kids. At least he won’t do as much name calling.

          • Shame Turnbull doesn’t break away and form his own party. He’s quite reasoned and intelligent when he’s not constricted by the party line.

            I mentioned on Facebook recently that I would vote for a potato, if one decided to run in my electorate.

          • So vote indie. We don’t have the awful American system where a vote for anyone other than one of the majors is throwing away your vote. We have preferential flow. The greens don’t win a seat, so they give their votes to a party they have done a deal with. In return for the extra votes, that party has agreed to listen to the input of the third party when making policy decisions, should they win the seat.

            I cannot stress this enough people: Know your candidates, know their policies, vote like you mean it and tell anyone who reduces their own vote to a chore they’d rather not do is a fool.

          • Who said I wasn’t? I just implied he’s the only person who might be worth a vote this election. Don’t assume just because I think all the candidates are garbage means I’m not going to vote.

          • Pffft….look what happened last time when Indeendents h e the balance of power. Disaster. Voting indie in Australia is good in theory, but our 2 party system ruins it.

          • It won’t let me reply to you @zombiejesus. So I have to reply to myself and hopefully you see it.

            You trivialise the one shot you get in saying how this nation is going to be run for the foreseeable future to the point where “lol potatoes” is how you tell people you feel about it. That’s goddamn scary if you ask me. This country is full of people who don’t give a shit about how their life is controlled, yet still feel they have the right to complain when they don’t like the end result.
            You are voting – Awesome. You sounded like you don’t care how you vote because there are two people who you don’t even vote for who you don’t like. That’s uncool. If you are going to put thought into it, then I’m happy. Vote for whoever, just give a shit about it. This isn\t specifically at you by the way. It’s to everyone. This is so goddamn important and nobody seems to care.

          • Your attitude is contradictory. The notion behind the voting system is to give a voice to all Australians, regardless of what they choose to express with that voice. It’s not your place to criticise others for their choice of how to use that voice, even if it’s to say nothing (eg. informal votes). If you respect the purpose of the system, to give people the right to indicate the candidate that best reflects their interests, then you must by extension respect that people have the right to indicate that there are no candidates that reflect their interests.

            Nobody is obliged to subscribe to your views on politics. You care, that’s great. I don’t, and I also have that right.

          • You lose the right to complain when you waive your right to make a difference. You also do your country a grave wrong.

            I don’t believe we have a right to say nothing. It is our duty. We have no right to shirk that duty.

          • Just so you know, Labor won at election with Gillard at the helm, so yes, she did ‘win’ an election.
            Tha said, we don’t vote for prime ministers. Neither you, nor any other voter has put down a vote on a federal election ballot for a prime minister.Never have and never will. We vote in a government and they elect a leader from their ranks.

            Labor won with the publicly announced intent that if they won, they would put Gillard as leader. Gillard is the PM by all legal and historical standards.

          • Was totally going to post the exact same thing.

            I know politics is like trying to pick the gentlest method of being screwed, but taking an interest is the only way your going to be able to get the changes you want. Donkey Voting (Writing they are all tools or putting in a page of ?s) is a vote for the status quo, if you don’t like Gillard and you don’t like Abbot (and who can blame you) you need to find somebody who you do like and get them into power as that’s one less seat the Status Quo won’t control and one less vote down party lines.

            I swear Labour would oppose saving their own lives if the Liberals said it was their idea.

            That being said I did infact cast my vote for Rudd when he won, but I’m in his Electorate. So I guess if you want to be a smart arse about it if the Leader of the party who wins is from your electorate you can vote for that person.

            Sums it up the best although a year old

  • PlayGo sounds very similar to Blizzard’s ‘streaming’ launcher which also let you play the game while it installed or applied a patch. They launched this back in 2010 with the Cataclysm release of WoW I believe.

    The Gaikai service looks interesting, but I think Sony will need to have local datacentres to make it work, possibly the NBN as well with the latency reduction on the first hop and no interleaving (if we actually end up getting FTTH).

    • I think Gaikai is much less impressive than they’re selling it to be, and it’s going to be plagued with many of the same problems OnLive has experienced. I’ll be happy if they prove me wrong, of course.

  • Maybe we’d download more games if the prices weren’t ridiculously high on PSN. Over $110 for Battlefield 3… vs $20 at a bricks and mortar.

  • Sure PlayGo may increase digital sales but I don’t think it would make a significant increase. If Sony is serious about increasing the digital sales they will drop their game pricing.

  • Yes but you can just buy discs. It’s more than likely inevitable that future consoles are digital only, but that’s like TV and Video today being at a cross roads.

    The PS4 allows you to buy trade and play your games how you want, the Xbone does not.

    • In that sense the real difference is the XB1 is pushing people towards the future, while the PS4 is just leaving all the doors open. The question is whether people will move in that direction simply because the opportunity exists, or if there needs to be an impetus to get people moving. The praising and complaining right now is largely meaningless as a metric – the state of both consoles in 5 years time might give us some insight.

  • I think the playGo system is a great idea – especially since (in the past 3 days) downloaded Uncharted 2 + 3 through the PS Store. Both were around 19GB each for all the parts you need, so it’s quite a wait to start playing. Then after downloading the games I installed Uncharted 2 last night – Now I use my PS3 as a media centre as well as a gaming console so my PS3 was out of action for just on an hour to install the game, In that time I couldn’t watch a movie or TV show or even play a game a already have.

    Hoping the PlayGo system will work as good as they say knowing the current internet speeds in Aus might have it so you have to keep stopping the game while the right piece downloads to continue on your merry way…

  • I hated using the ps3s store until they updated it end of last year (?), since then I could browse it for hours. Especially with PS+, I’ve gone almost completely digital with my PS3, it’s absolute bliss.

  • They’re not forcing us down that road, which I like. They’re easing users into it, until it becomes more convenient than buying it. Right now, nothing beats the immediacy of taking the 5 minute drive to the local JB, getting the disc, driving back and being able to play the game immediately. When I’ve downloaded full PSN titles it’s taken ages.

  • The only reason I stopped using the download service on psn (for movies) is because it would allow me to download at “only” 2mb/s. My internet is capable of downloading at a rate of 6 to 7 times that amount, I would like for the download speed from the Playstation servers to be somewhat near that.

  • I will be sold on a download only future when the consoles have plug and play support for external USB3 Hard Drives that will not whinge if it is formatted in something other than FAT32 or pitch a fit if if I try to play a 20gb 1080p movie. Give me that and I will believe your future is better for all gamers.

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