Genuine shocks in the games industry tend to be few and far between, but who could have predicted last week’s announcement that Sony would be partnering with Microsoft to build the next generation of its cloud gaming operation? The possibilities here are remarkable – a potential consolidation of console titles hosted on one streaming platform, opening the door to a common standard in multiplayer gaming, with cross-play available on all games. The existence of the partnership proves how seriousy both platform holders are considering cloud gaming, raising many questions: will this herald the end of console hardware? Will PlayStation and Xbox eventually consolidate into one experience? And by extension – will the console war be over?
There’s plenty of scope for interpretation from last week’s announcement, which was rather vague to say the least. Not much more was given away in an investor conference Sony hosted in Japan a few days later either, but there is some interesting detail. We found out that the current PlayStation Now system occupies 15 datecentres and 37 network points of presence. We learned that remarkably, the system has 700,000 subscribers (downloadable PS4 games over 200 in number presumably helps) and that the existing infrastructure is specced to accommodate five million subs. We also discovered that PS Now’s lacklustre 720p streaming is set for an upgrade to full 1080p – but we also found out that it’s a system for the here and now. Next generation needs a partner who can supply mass scalability, and Microsoft is Sony’s preferred partner.
Realistically, there are two further cloud services who could have accommodated Sony’s requirements – Google and Amazon. Yet curiously, it was Microsoft that got the nod, raising the question of why the two rivals would collaborate. We can take it as read that the deal is advantageous to both partners, otherwise it would not exist at all. The Xbox vs PlayStation rivalry means little stacked up against the macro-strategies of Microsoft and Sony, so what’s in it for both parties?