Get ready to say goodbye to owning a physical copy of a game. It's looking more and more like the next generation of home consoles will go the same route that PC gaming has via services such as Steam, Origin, OnLive and Gaikai and be 100% digital. Meaning you'll either be downloading a digital copy of your games, or possibly streaming the game off a server somewhere without even having your own copy of it. That could certainly put an end to several problems for console makers, namely hardware costs and the real big one, software piracy. If you never actually have to have to code for the game you are playing on your console, then there's no way to make a copy of it. This could also open up all kinds of new subscription models that you might be able to compare to cable TV.
So lets back up a second, I'm getting ahead of myself. Why am I saying this is in the works? Well for one thing, Sony announced over the weekend that it has acquired Gaikai for a whopping 380 million dollars. What's Gaikai? It's a game streaming service that allows you to play high end console or PC games through your web browser, without any graphics card or special hardware required. Think of it like remote desktop. You're controlling your computer from a web browser, but you're not actually running the software on your own machine, you're just controlling it remotely and viewing the monitor.
So what does this all mean for the PlayStation 4? Well, assuming the technology works well enough, it could me there wont ever be a PlayStation 4. Sony could simply enable their streaming service on your existing PlayStation 3 or Vita and give you instant access to the next generation of games without the need for any new hardware.
Further backing this up is a quote from EA boss Frank Gilbeau who says
"It's in the near future. It's coming. We have a clear line of sight on it and we're excited about it. Retail is a great channel for us. We have great relationships with our partners there. At the same time, the ultimate relationship is the connection that we have with the gamer. If the gamer wants to get the game through a digital download and that's the best way for them to get it, that's what we're going to do. It has a lot of enhancements for our business. It allows us to keep more that we make. It allows us to do some really interesting things from a service level standpoint; we can be a lot more personalized with what we're doing. At some point in the future we're going to be a 100% digital company, period. It's going to be there someday. It's inevitable.”
Sounds like someone who has a good idea of where things are headed.
What you do make of all this? Is Sony going to ditch retail all together, and maybe even ditch digital downloads in favor of streaming? I'd bet it's probably their goal, but a mighty big one that might take another console cycle to actually come to fruition.