Most of the fuss about Sony’s recent acquisition of cloud-based streaming service Gaikai is how Sony will integrate the service into its games and systems. However, I find it unlikely that Sony acquired Gaikai simply to use it. It’s much more likely that it was bought for its patents—either allowing Sony to develop a future cloud-based technology without repercussions or allowing Sony to follow through with a technology that already exists…without getting sued. The latter is probably the reality.
Cloud-based streaming has been a new technology buzz word, with all of the tools in place to implement it, but slow internet preventing it from going viral and becoming a gaming standard. It allows people with limited hard drive space to play games that they don’t physically own—whether that ‘physically’ is a hard copy of the game or a saved copy on their computer. It also allows game companies to seamlessly deliver large game content without extreme loading times. However, this is just cloud-based streaming as a whole—what is different about the Gaikai patents that would have Sony interested in acquiring them?
Looking at the specific patent for cloud-based gaming that Gaikai owns, there are several different things that stand out. Most noticeably, the Gaikai allows for real-world sources—this could support Augmented Reality and video streaming from the cloud. More importantly, it lists several specific methods that don’t appear in other, typical cloud-based streaming patents—decompressing partial images seems like it would be a huge move, cutting down on the latency that prevents other services from flourishing in low-bandwidth scenarios.
This technology could greatly impact the next generation, if Sony intends to use it. Using cloud-based services rather than physical disks or cards removes the developer size limitation and allows companies to fully explore what they can do in terms of graphics and story. They would have a new limitation—the RAM of the next generation console—but that would obviously be something Sony would design around. Another advantage to this would be a decrease in piracy. Since the entire game is not downloaded all at once, it would be difficult to pirate these cloud-based games. It would also be incredibly difficult to sell—since no physical copy of the game would exist.
The disadvantage of this is that Sony might end up charging for maintaining the service, rather than just the console and games. The service would perhaps have a monthly or yearly fee that has to be upkept, rather than a single purchase, and any content sold through the service would simply be a license. The problem with owning licenses rather than titles can be seen with the Amazon Kindle: after a bit of controversy surrounding an illegal copy of 1984 circulating on the site, the book was whisked away from Amazon Kindle users. Any notes they had in the book disappeared, and they were not given a reason for the sudden disappearance of their book—just a refund to their Amazon account. Another huge disadvantage is that the service would only be available in places where internet is provided. Rural areas who only have incredibly expensive and sketchy cable companies supplying internet—or worse, no companies at all—would be excluded.
Of course, Sony still has time to work out their next-generation console, so they have plenty of time to work out the ethical and Orwellian features of the platform and focus on making a fair streaming service. Along with that, Gaikai’s chief executive said in a statement that the streaming service could be used for purposes other than gaming—the system could support advertisements in place of loading screens that would minimize subscription costs. If Sony ends up making a cloud-based streaming console, it would be revolutionary for both gamers and game developers, and remove many of the limitations currently in place with this generation.