Instant Killer Feature: Monthly Flat-Rate Back Catalogue Access.
I distinctly remember the most entertaining part of buying my Xbox 360 at launch. Despite having picked up Perfect Dark Zero and Quake 4 with my new console, I easily had the most fun experimenting with the dashboard. It wasn't due to the fact that the dashboard was all that entertaining, it was just that the games just weren't the exciting “Next-generation” experience that I’d expected. That was the day I swore off buying consoles at launch. History has simply shown that the hype often eclipsed the quality of the games early in a console’s lifespan. However, despite the promise to myself that I would hold off on buying any Next-Gen consoles at launch, Sony is now in the position to ensure that I will buy their console on day one. It isn't based on processing power, graphical capabilities or “share buttons,” but on another forward-thinking feature that ironically benefits most from Sony’s stellar past: The cloud.
Cloud them all. Every PSX, every PS2 and PSP game. Slap a monthly fee on it with unlimited streaming access and I suddenly find myself willing to buy a console, and caring very little about what games are actually released for it.
The news that the PS4 will have no native backwards compatibility raises an obvious question: Will there be any backwards compatibility? Being able to play PS3 games on your PS4 would be an obvious value-add, but why stop there? Instead, Sony could leverage the Gaikai cloud technology to create a virtual streaming museum, of not just the best games that have graced their consoles, but also the worst, and all the ones in between.
Instead of charging per game or requiring the original disk, a flat-fee will allow them to monetize the entire catalog. What are the chances of Sony making anymore money from sales of hard-copies of, say, Thrasher Skate & Destroy? None. Are people clamoring to buy a digital version of it? I’m certainly not, but I definitely might take it for a spin if it I knew I had access to it anyway. Rakugaki Showtime, if you can even find it, usually sells for about $150, not a dime of which would go back to the developers. Ease of access to rare and expensive titles would be a victory for everyone involved – consumers could experience the titles while still affording rent and developers could still receive royalties that they would not otherwise due to the to that dastardly used games market. Money would be lost on some games that would sell well individually in digital formats, but that money would certainly be made back by the recurring nature of a monthly fee; nothing is stopping them from also offering individual games for sale separately.
Nothing beats physical copies, but digital access to a collection like this would sell me on buying a PS4.
This would be a massive undertaking and not one without potential issues. Certain games would certainly be harder to digitize than others. Some are made by publishers and developers that no longer exist, and others, by publishers that would be hard-headed enough to try to provide their own solution, regardless of how much it is disliked. Other games, like those requiring Eyetoys or other proprietary controllers, simply wouldn't translate well without being accompanied by supporting emulation. Worst of all, figuring out how to handle licensed music and characters would likely be an absolute nightmare. There would definitely be some gaps in the library, but that doesn't mean Sony shouldn't jump at the opportunity to put their cloud to use.
More importantly though, this could be more than simply a profit-generating tool for Sony. Digitizing their back catalog would result in creating the world’s most essential collection of video games. In a climate where consumers should realistically be concerned about if the games they purchase will continue functioning in the future, a major attempt at archival would go a long way towards the preservation that these games deserve. Second to Nintendo, Sony has the greatest legacy in all of video gaming, and this would be an opportunity to showcase just how extensive that legacy is – and provide them a valuable leg-up in the oncoming next-gen console war.
Sony is uniquely positioned to take advantage of these possibilities. Nintendo lacks the online infrastructure to deliver their obviously worthwhile back catalogue and Microsoft’s back-catalog, consisting only of titles for the original Xbox, simply isn’t robust enough to warrant charging a sizable monthly fee for (Unless they were also include their sizable collection of PC games, an interesting idea in itself. ) Sony has a clear-cut technological advantage and should strike while the iron is hot – the success of their next console could very well exist in the past.
So what do you think? What are some features that would tilt you in one direction or the other in the impending battle between Sony and Microsoft?