Sony made a lot of ambitious statements when the PlayStation 4 was first announced in February of 2013. For example, Gaikai’s David Perry spoke of being able to instantly start playing a game on the PlayStation Store that looked interesting. While some of these initially proposed features are still not a part of the PS4, other promises are finally starting to come true.
A Late Start
One of the most promising and unique uses of Gaikai’s streaming technology was called Share Play. The pitch was that players could join their friends’ games in-progress without having to own them. This meant that friends could watch each other play a fun game, share tips on how to beat a difficult section or even pass the virtual controller over and let one of their friends play the game. It all sounded too good to be true at the time, so it was no surprise that Share Play was one of the many features missing when the PS4 launched in November of 2013.
After almost a full year after the PS4 went on sale, Share Play was finally made available with the launch of PS4 Firmware version 2.00 in late 2014. While I was skeptical of the feature at first, it only took a few minutes of trying it out for the first time to be completely sold on how this can change gaming forever. While the feature is understandably not included within every game (as publishers can choose to opt-out of it), most games do allow it and are better for it.
Much to my surprise, Share Play has not been pushed by Sony as much as it deserves. It’s a truly innovative feature and one that has led me to make the PlayStation my platform of choice for multi-platform games. It’s a feature that can be a huge selling point on a back of the box as long as it is properly promoted. I think that Share Play is the PS4’s best feature and I can’t believe that it isn’t talked about more.
Local Multiplayer is Now Global
One of the great things about Share Play is how it has made local-only multiplayer games playable online. This means that party hits such as TowerFall Ascension, Starwhal and SportsFriends that did not include online play can now be experienced more frequently and by new players that may not have friends over on a constant basis. As someone who plays local multiplayer games with less frequency than I used to, this is a huge selling point. I recently spoke with Pringo Dingo Games’ Cofounder Joel Clark on how Share Play was impacting the development of indie games on the PS4 and how it impacted their recent PS4 release, Paparazzi.
“I think the big benefit of Share Play is for developers like us that don’t have the resources to do online multiplayer,” said Joel. “There’s a lot of players who don’t have someone to play with consistently, or same-space gaming just isn’t in their lifestyle. Share Play lets us keep focusing on what we value as designers, like style and polish, while still reaching part of that audience. Networking our game…would have taken away most of our development time, and we would have missed out on a ton of what makes Paparazzi great.”
Joel makes some great points, especially on how Share Play can let smaller indie developers focus on the core game and not have to spend a considerable amount of time developing network code and an online infrastructure. While actual online play is always a better solution, it just isn’t one that is viable in all cases and that is what makes Share Play so great.
Another one of the great functionalities is being able to demo a game (or even play through one in its entirety) that a friend has purchased. While fear of this being abused is probably why some publishers have opted out of the feature, using this feature properly can lead to more sales. Personally, I have used the feature to try out plenty of games to see if they were right for me and in the cases I was impressed I immediately bought the game from the PlayStation Store. This allows games without proper demos to be played by others (as long as a willing owner is compliant) which is a great thing.
The big selling point when the feature was first announced was allowing players to take over control and beat a difficult section of a game. This is completely possible and works like a charm. Several times I have had friends try to beat a difficult section in a game or vice-versa. Having someone, who may be on the other side of the world, take control and play your game is such a novel experience and one that is impressive. It has managed to turn single-player experiences into a cooperative one even if that isn’t what the developer intended.
The Future of Share Play
Not everything about Share Play is perfect though. Fits of lag and graphical glitches will sometimes occur while streaming and it is never quite as smooth as playing the game natively. These are all problems that are expected from a stream service, but it is still something that is worth mentioning. It’s entirely possible that the streaming technology can get ironed out even more in the future and that Share Play may become a completely seamless experience.
Has Share Play’s full potential been used? Probably not. When the feature was first revealed it was said that developers would be given tools to where players watching could help out the streamer in the game. For example, if a player was lower on health than another could drop a med-kit onto the map to raise their chance of survival. This is an idea that hasn’t really been used in any available games and one that proves that Share Play may have more surprises to show us in the future.
Have you used Share Play? What are your thoughts on the innovative use of streaming? Let us know in the comments!