WSJ: PS4 'may allow users to compete against others using different hardware'


Sony Moves a Step Closer to Game Vision

More than a decade ago, the Sony executive credited as the "Father of the PlayStation" predicted that one day videogames wouldn't require a console, because the hardware would eventually "melt" into a network that linked players together. All they would need, Ken Kutaragi said, is a display and a controller.

As Sony prepares to take the wraps off a new home console, it will take one major step closer to that vision. The Japanese electronics conglomerate's next PlayStation will allow users to play games streamed over the Internet as well as on discs, according to people familiar with Sony's plans.

The new feature is one of many expected on Sony's next game machine, which is slated to be unveiled at an event in New York on Wednesday. But the addition of streaming exemplifies how the videogame industry is searching for new ideas to cope with dramatic shifts in technology and consumer behavior.

So companies have been developing ways to run such software on server systems and stream it over the Internet to customers, an approach sometimes called "cloud gaming." One of them is Gaikai, which was purchased by Sony last July for $380 million. The deal was spearheaded by Sony Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai, a former protégé to Mr. Kutaragi, who no longer plays a day-to-day role at the company.

Since the acquisition, Sony has been investing heavily to prepare Gaikai's technology to enhance its new console, the people familiar with Sony's plans said. Sony has been preparing the technology to be used to allow users to play current PlayStation 3 games on the device, making a broader array of titles available at the outset, these people said. The new device is also expected to play new games stored on optical discs.

But streaming could have implications beyond well-dedicated game machines, potentially allowing Sony's smartphones and televisions to tap into graphics-heavy games they can't play now. Andrew House, head of Sony's videogame unit, said in July that the Gaikai acquisition was a "recognition on Sony's part that the cloud and cloud-streaming technologies are going to have a profound and possibly a very positive impact."

The new PlayStation also will allow players to share achievements on social networks through smoother links to Facebook or Twitter, while also enabling aspects such as sharing footage of game play online through YouTube, people familiar with Sony's plans said. Sony's new console may also allow users to compete against others using different hardware, such as smartphones and other portable devices, those people said.

Microsoft's successor to its current console, the Xbox 360, is expected to arrive before year-end, according to people familiar with the software giant's plans. Like Sony, Microsoft has also used AMD chips in prototypes of its new console, those people said, and it has worked on upgrades for the cameras and other components in its "Kinect" motion controller to better identify, track and hear gamers as they play.

Microsoft, while it has tested cloud gaming, is putting greater emphasis on software that allows the Xbox to interact with mobile devices like Apple's iPad. The company is also planning to create new interactive TV content to be played on its consoles, after opening up a new production studio in Southern California.

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