Over the past few years, several buzzwords and catchphrases have taken turns being the focal point of the gaming (and tech, as a whole) industry.
(Super/Mega/Ultra) High Definition.
However, there's one concept that hangs around behind the scenes and TRULY governs who this generation's titans of industry are: The Eco-system.
Apple took an innocuous iPod companion program called iTunes and turned it into a worldwide hub for media consumption, across nearly every personal device in the world. Google single-handedly changed the way you discover (Search), manipulate (Documents) and disseminate (Gmail) information, and made it available to--yep--ANY device with internet access. Most recently, Sony has built an ecosystem in its PlayStation Network (PSN) that hopes to be your end-all-be-all for...well, Playstation games. Granted, PSN's scope seems a bit narrow when compared to such ubiquitous commodities as "music" or "information," but Sony has been following the blueprint to a T and is starting to make good on its lofty aspirations in this new and infantile generation of gaming.
Over the past couple of years, Sony has put some pieces in play that may have seemed like half-baked ploys for your money; their "PSN Plus" premium online service had many gamers in an uproar (including myself, initially), feeling like Sony was foolish to now charge for something they had offered for free for years. That is, until they rewarded subscribers with free games on a monthly basis. Then came the new handheld: The PS Vita. Gamers and tech pundits alike wondered how the system, as powerful as it may have been--it was touted as being able to produce graphics on par with the current-gen consoles at the time--would compete in a new mobile gaming landscape dominated by the likes of Pokemon and Nintendo in one corner, and Angry Birds and Words With Friends in the other. Even extending PSN+ benefits to the Vita seemed like it wasn't quite enough to help it pick up steam as a portable gaming system.
And then, Sony announced the PS4. Last June, Sony laid all its cards on the table with the unveiling of one specific thing. And shockingly, the most important item at the PS4 reveal WASN'T the system itself. It was the cloud-driven ecosystem that would drive it.
Sony weaved an interesting web of interconnected devices seemingly right under our noses, and unveiled it alongside their newest console, in the form of an avalanche of new features: with the touch of a button, you can now live broadcast the game you're playing. (Cool.) Your friends can tune in and watch you play, and chat with you in the process. (Also cool.) Sometimes they can even join YOUR game and play with you, or take over the controls if you're in a tough spot. (Whoa.) And if you have a Vita, you can literally play your PS4 games anywhere, via remote play. They stream to your Vita via the mysterious and omnipresent "Cloud." (Mind. Blown.) And if you're away from both your PS4 AND your Vita? You can still log into the Playstation App on your phone or tablet and chat with friends, or even purchase stuff in the PSN Store and your PS4 will automatically turn on and download it. (OK, this part needs a bit more work. But in theory, it's still amazing.)
Those promises were good enough to get me to buy a Vita and pre-order a PS4. And honestly, the Vita has served me pretty well as a gaming machine on the go. But the anticipation still lingered for November 15th. And once Sony flipped the switch and turned the lights on their new features, the game, as they say, was changed.
I immediately put Remote Play to the test in my living room once I got my PS4 up and running. I was able to play Assassin's Creed and Battlefield just fine, using my Vita as the controller (as opposed to the DualShock 4 sitting right next to me. Wasteful). The real magic happened the following Sunday (at church, of all places).
I had some downtime before service started, so I fired up my trusty tethering app on my smartphone, connected my Vita to my LTE hotspot, and clicked the "PS4 Link" app. And within minutes I was looking at NBA 2K14, streaming live and in living color--from my home, which was a solid 25 miles away. Coupled with the fact that every game this generation will be made available digitally as well as in disc format, I literally have the potential to have my PS4 library at my fingertips at all times. Not to mention the future rollout of streaming access to any Playstation BRAND title previously released, dating back to the PS1.
Therein lies the culmination of about 24 months of Sony pleading with its customers to bare with them...and while their implementation certainly hasn't been fool-proof (my PS4 encountered a mysterious system error while I've been sitting here typing this blog post), they are definitely aiming to be future-proof.
The best part of all of this is the fact that Microsoft has the framework in place to ALSO provide this kind of service for its platform, with the Live ecosystem promising connectivity between its tablets, Windows Phones, and even PCs. Imagine being able to plug an Xbox One controller into your Surface Pro 2 and play some Ryse while on a plane. Or play a game while watching someone else do a live walkthrough simultaneously on your iPad.
The future is certainly bright, and right now the sun is shining hard on those of us who bought into Sony's vision early on.