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Sony & Gaikai: The Console Degeneration, Part 2
by Armando Marini on 07/02/12 11:02:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


So, Sony has acquired Gaikai. This changes everything.

In my post from a few years ago (you can see it here) I countered the trend at the time on talking about the next round of consoles. So many people were sure that the next consoles we on the horizon, but it made little sense to me.

Now, with the move by Sony, I question it yet again. Microsoft has plans that we’ve seen, but they can change. Nintendo has a lackluster offering that, in the light of current events, will be dead on arrival. For those who might not see what this means, Sony has essentially negated the need for a new console in the manner that we know now.

Feasibly, with this move, they could eventually move away from a dedicated piece of hardware, beyond the Dual Shock controller. Gaikai technology will allow the streaming of games with higher definition than current gen hardware, thereby negating a new console. Any new hardware offering would only carry with it the features that make accessing their network easier.

Those features do not necessarily need to be boxed in a console. They could feasibly be included in their televisions, and through pretty much any device you use to access the internet. Sony can reduce the Playstation down to its most basic element and the one piece of the cloud gaming puzzle than many of us have pondered; the Dual Shock controller.

Properly executed, Sony would only require the user to have a Dual Shock controller to play games through their network. You can play on any device capable of playing the stream and connecting to the controller, even (for all you PC lovers out there) your PC and Mac.

As many of you know, developing for the PS3 has been more challenging for dev teams than for the Xbox. It was the same with the PS2 but with so many in existence it was simply the cost of doing business. Sony has suffered somewhat from this, but now they have the power to turn the tables.

Games can be available on the Playstation Network the moment they are certified for production. While the packaged good is off to the presses, the PSN will have the game ready to play. This is a definite incentive for a community of users with a voracious appetite for the newest experience. It also eliminates the hassle of software updates for the user since that would all happen on the backend.

I mean, really, it’s already in place. Go to a browser of your choosing and type in Behold your next Playstation. I don’t question so much what will Microsoft do, but how will this affect Apple and iTunes? Surely, a move to cloud gaming will mean massive completion for Apple, but without an input device, how will they be able to host core games? Is an Apple controller on the way?

The console war is over. The service war shall begin. The first casualty is Nintendo I’m afraid. Like Sega, they will need to become a software only company or invest heavily in creating their own cloud gaming service.

With Gaikai gone, and Onlive potentially becoming part of Microsoft, Nintendo is left fighting on a deserted battlefield. Their handheld will live on for a little while, but really, why bother? In my opinion, they could be far more profitable striking a strategic alliance with Sony (or Apple?) as the exclusive carrier of their games. No more hardware to house, to have excess of or shortages of. No more packaged software to manufacture and house.

It will be very interesting to see this all unfold over the coming months and see how the big industry players will react. I’m stocking up on popcorn!

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William Johnson
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While I can agree with you on a lot of your conclusions. I don't know if Sony can really leverage Gaikai. Sony has been bleeding money like crazy. And honestly, they're not very good at services. The PSN store is still rather difficult to navigate, and the PS3 and PSVita's interfaces are still pretty clunky. I just don't know if Sony really understands the whole idea of user experience design. And good design is going to be very important to leverage these services.

Also, while I question Nintendo's relevance right now, never underestimate Nintendo. They are smart enough to know when decisive change is required. Nintendo has proven to be a disruptive force in the past, and I think they still may be. But really only time will tell.

Jeremy Reaban
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Indeed, part of Sony's troubles is that they simply cannot work with other divisions inside Sony.

Morgan Ramsay
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@Jeremy: That's every big company ever.

Matthew Mouras
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It will be interesting to see how this develops. Cloud gaming has to take some big steps to take before it can compete with the entrenched status quo.

I will miss the days of "owning" something. I already regret spending the $60 to rent Blizzard's latest Diablo.

Jeremy Reaban
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I actually think this is good for Nintendo in the long term. They will likely stick with consoles (and traditional handhelds) and have no competition.

Yes, I'm sure some consumers are willing to put up with a less than optimal experience and not owning games, but I think there always will be a large amount that won't. And they are being ceded to Nintendo.

Robert Boyd
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I think it's funny you mentioned Sega. I see Sony as being far closer to Sega's old position than Nintendo is right now. The once strong Sony has been on a decline for quite some time - their non-gaming divisions are unprofitable, the PS3 has less sales worldwide than both the Wii & the 360 and the Vita (wonderful system that it is) is getting mediocre sales. Even if they have good ideas, there's no guarantee that they have the resources necessary to pull them off these days. In contrast, Nintendo is in a position of power - the Wii was the most popular system this generation, the 3DS is doing even better than the DS did, and they've got a ton of money saved up from past successes.

Cloud gaming sounds like a good idea but have all the kinks been worked out yet? I've been playing Diablo 3 and the level of lag even in the best case scenarios is very annoying. I put up with it because I love the game otherwise, but there are few games I'd be willing to deal with that level of annoyance.

Bob Johnson
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Great. Have you played these online services? It is great tech, but there is noticeable lag. OnLive, to my knowledge, hasn't taken off.

And why would Nintendo go away? They have the one strength that everyone else covets - games. Well known franchises. Best selling franchises. Many of them. They are a very large highly regarded game developer. It has always been about the games and new ways to play.

William Johnson
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@Lex Luthor
I don't know if you've tried OnLive, but they've never had a monthly charge. Yes, they were originally going to launch with a $15 monthly charge, but once it was clear no one would pay that, they dropped it.

They do actually have a monthly charge now, but that is their game pass, which gives you access to a few hundred games for $10. Which is an insanely good deal.

Armando Marini
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Not that I want to make this an online debate, but playing games developed for current mediums to their performance on a non-native medium gives a misleading impression. It's akin to playing an early development version of a game prior to optimization. Cloud gaming solves revenue loss issues for publishers like pirating, resale, and logistics of physical media. It also mitigates the issues with hardware failure that we've seen in the past few years. EA has already declared it will be purely digital in the future, and others will follow. Keep in mind that pure streaming is not the only solution. Cloud allows for a hybrid solution so rather than waiting for all 15 gig, 20 gig, or more of future games to download to your hard drive, the game can fire up and begin on demand.

As technology evolves, and games are created specifically for Cloud technology, all the issues experienced now will be dealt with.

Hakim Boukellif
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A hybrid solution wouldn't solve the piracy problem, so that would make the whole thing pointless for a lot of proponents.

And it's very unlikely all the issues that exist now will be dealt with as the technology matures, unless some kind of FTL communication technology becomes possible and widely adopted. There are physical limits. Maybe if they manage to compress all the data of a single frame down to 1 MTU and send that over a connection that always has guaranteed single-digit latency and 0% packet loss, then it might be possible that the delay created is low enough to not negatively affect the experience, except for the fastest of games (fighters and such). That probably involves planting a data centre in every neighbourhood and breaking some information entropy law in the process, though.

Technical issues aside, the bigger problem may be that it means having to trust publishers and service providers to keep games available indefinitely. Historically, they have proven themselves to not deserve that trust.

GameViewPoint Developer
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I totally agree with what the article author said regarding Nintendo. The Wii succeeded because of it's novel controller appealed to "casual" gamers, a market that Nintendo have usually appealed to anyway. But take that away and you had a machine that graphics capabilities wise looked not much more advanced than it's predecessor, and they got away with that because of the innovation and brand loyalty. Unfortunately for Nintendo the new console does not seem to offer anywhere near the innovation that the Wii did (regardless of how useful it might turn out to be) and the graphics still seem dated, and don't forget this is all before we have even seen what the visuals will be like on the next xbox/ps. By not having Nintendo games on mobile platforms, Nintendo is fighting with one hand tied behind their backs, so as has been said, there's a strong argument for becoming a software only company and leaving that restraint behind.

I think the pressures at work here will push everything in the direction of cloud gaming, regardless of some current issues with it. Everything digital will eventually be delivered in the most frictionless way possible, the main reason for this being it saves manufacturers/developers money. Infrastructure will definitely need to be upgraded but wouldn't this happen anyway because of the ever growing demands on the internet? There are just too many upsides for the industry for cloud gaming not to happen. Mobile has/is having a huge effect on the gaming industry and it looks like cloud gaming will add to the revolution which is currently happening.

I do think though there will be one more generation of consoles, precisely because of the latency/infrastructure issues, but they will be the last and might well eventually just become portals for the services.

Jeff Kessleman
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The definition of a cloud is a mass of vapor created primarily by hot air. Thin client didn't work for the far less demanding space of business apps, it can't work for most game content.

Those of us who actually architect in online games know that there are real limits to bandwidth and latency that majorly restrict what you can do. But don't take my word for it. Try playing any FPS over Onlive from anywhere in the country other then the SF bay area and see for yourself. Its laggy and has terrible visual quality. What the Gaikai purchase *really* means I think was best analyzed here:

Jeff Kessleman
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in the end, it is MOST likely they bought Gaikai for the thing Gaikai themselves positioned their technology to do-- limited web-based trials of content to encourage digital download.

Lagginess and reduced visual quality are not an issue in this case as actual gameplay after-purchase is local.

Armando Marini
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IMHO, the most likely immediate implementation is to make it the next step in remote play, turning each Playstation into it's own dedicated hub for each user. Most users would be fairly close to their home most days making it fairly feasible to play your games on any device you own. That's what I would do if it were my $380 million dollars. ;)

Christopher Plummer
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If Apple and Nintendo have taught me anything over the last 5 years, it's that you can't separate the hardware from the software and come out on top.

Also, if Gaikai could eliminate all consoles than it would be worth a hell of a lot more than $380 million dollars.

Glen M
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Perhaps Sony just wanted to acquire the network skills of Gaikai to get the Playstation Network to fullfill its potential.

Congrats to the Gaikai team, it just goes to prove if you build it they will come with checkbooks in hand!