Summary:

Gaming companies are really getting into the cloud, but execution of privacy, security and ownership will be important to its success.

PlayStation4
photo: Sony

Everyone is talking about cloud computing these days — even the gaming industry. IGN reports that today at the Tokyo Game Show 2013, Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida said that the company will make use of its Gaikai acquisition and offer a library of PS3 games available in the cloud in 2014. The maker of the PlayStation 4 certainly has an edge, but it’s not long before more cloud becomes an integral part in how gamers interact with content.

The exact timeline and details of Sony’s cloud library are a bit thin, but Yoshida did confirm that the games will be available for the PS4, PS Vita and the newly announced (and still disappointingly Japan-only) PS Vita TV. It’s likely that the games will be tied to a username on the PlayStation Network — allowing users to play their own games on friends’ consoles — but there’s still NO word about library sharing. That said, it’s likely that Sony will reveal more details as we near the release date of the PS4.

Sony’s decision to capitalize on Gaikai’s technology may be the first implementation of the cloud for a console, but the idea was similarly pitched at E3, when Microsoft spoke more about the Xbox One. However, that feature was scrapped after the company received pushback from gamers. Valve has also announced a similar program with Steam Family Sharing, which allows friends to access owned games in the Steam cloud.

Embracing the cloud has a lot of benefits for gaming consoles, and has the possibility to open a new sales model. Both Sony and Microsoft have been jockeying to with the favor of indie developers — a sentiment solidified by indie games’ strong presence at both E3 and Gamescom. A console could conceivably offer a seamless free-to-play demo cloud that allows users to try many indie games without risking space on a hard drive. Sharing is also valuable, as users can open their cloud up to friends and family fairly easily.

But it’s ultimately going to come down to execution of privacy, security and ownership. A large part of why Microsoft blundered with its Xbox One policies is because it was so strict: once in the cloud, users couldn’t revoke or retrieve their games, and the disk was permanently registered to that username. While this concept works well on Steam, where great games are often less than $15, Microsoft’s games often cost quadruple that.

The cloud has also had a difficult relationship with “always-on” DRM — the idea of using the internet to consistently verify ownership of games (and protect piracy). It’s still unclear whether Sony’s cloud will allow for local downloads to play games offline, but cutting that option out has the potential to ruin the program. Microsoft made that mistake once by requiring the Xbox One to be always connected, so it’s obvious that it won’t fly for Sony. Gamers will embrace the cloud, but only if it also allows for flexibility — they won’t jump hurdles to play games.

Either way, the cloud won’t stay out of gaming for much longer, and Sony’s first steps will be crucial to whether it will thrive.

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