Sony Computer Entertainment has purchased cloud gaming outfit Gaikai for $380 million.

This large investment in cloud computing suggests that game streaming will be a very large part of Sony’s gaming strategy going forward. What form this will take is as-yet unclear, though President/Group CEO of SCE Andrew House has seemingly indicated that the company’s streaming service could end up being platform-agnostic: “SCE will deliver a world-class cloud-streaming service that allows users to instantly enjoy a broad array of content ranging from immersive core games with rich graphics to casual content anytime, anywhere on a variety of internet-connected devices,” he said.

Internet connected devices, huh? So tablets, smartphones, PCs and consoles are all a possibility, though I would expect the service to remain exclusive to Sony hardware (their Android-powered tablets and phones, their Vaio laptop range and the Playstation brand itself), at least initially – from a business perspective, Sony would rather entice customers of hardware rivals to buy Sony devices, rather than spread their software around (which is the route Microsoft usually take, being primarily a software company).

What this means for Sony’s console business is unclear. Allowing streaming of first- and second-party games to potentially hundreds of millions of internet-connected devices will exponentially increase their reach, though likely at the expense of the console hardware business. If I could stream Uncharted 4 to my current PC, what incentive is there for me to buy a PlayStation 4? Of course, Sony could choose to limit streaming on non-PlayStation devices to PS1/2/3 games, and offer streaming as an option for games on the PS4, but then people will question why Sony would choose to unnecessarily limit its’ own service (the answer may be obvious, but it won’t stop people asking).

Streaming of games is probably going to become a big part of the industry in the not-to-distant future, but I can’t help feeling a little down on the whole thing. For one, I like to own my games. Yes, I’m a collector (you should see my shelves, they’re ridiculous), but I just don’t like the idea of paying physical game prices for a limited usage license. ‘Your’ games are stored on a company’s server. If they switch that off you’ve got zero games, and those servers will go offline eventually. I still have Master System games that I can play! Another issue is the obvious need for a constant internet connection. I often play completely offline and unconnected – that isn’t an option with Gaikai and its rival OnLive.

Putting my concerns aside, I am certainly interested to see where Sony are going with this; their $380m deal includes all of Gaikai’s infrastructure and data centres, so we presumably won’t have to wait too long to see what the future holds. It will also be interesting to see if Microsoft feel the need to fire back with their own solution – there have been rumours circulating for a while that Windows 8 PCs will be able to play Xbox 360 games, so perhaps where there’s smoke there is indeed fire, and Redmond’s engineers are already hard at work on a cloud gaming solution? I daresay we’ll know before the year is out.

Advertisements