The PlayStation 4’s killer app: Sony wants to kill the download as we know it

The PlayStation 4’s killer app: Sony wants to kill the download as we know it

My 360 required an update before I could watch a movie on Netflix this afternoon. The Vita required a software update when I tried to download a game for review yesterday. The PlayStation 3 is notorious for frequent, and seemingly useless, firmware updates. We’re used to waiting for our MMO clients to update before we can log in and play.

The PS4 may ask consumers to give up some things we hold dear, as it won’t play PlayStation 3 games and there is something up with used games, but in exchange we’ll be given something that has been the dream of every time-hungry modern gamer: Freedom from the tyranny of constant updates and downloads.

The power of the background

Sony must have become tired of the complaints about the tiresome update processes that take up so much time on its gaming hardware, as its solution is neither simple nor cheap to implement.

The PlayStation 4 will actually include hardware dedicated to controlling downloads and uploads, and the system will be constantly sending and receiving information, even as you play. Another big feature is the fact that you’re expected to keep the system on at all times; it will simply lie dormant in a low-power mode during much of the day, waiting for you to hit a button and bring it back to life instantly.

These aren’t trivial things, and when added together they’re going to make your life much easier when it comes to gaming. There will be no more surprise updates that keep you from playing games, as the system will be constantly downloading and installing patches and firmware updates for your games and hardware. Let’s say you’re in a beta for an expansive online game, and instead of installing a massive update to the game’s world right before you try to play, the system grabs the information and installs it the moment the content is available, even if you’re at work or asleep at night.

Let’s move everything out of the way for a second, and just bask in how wonderful this feature will be in practice. So much of our time is spent downloading patches, getting updates, waiting for downloads to begin and end. It’s not rare for my daily to-do list to include making sure this game or that game is downloaded and ready for play when my daily writing duties are finished and I begin to work on review games.

The PS4 removes the need to even think about downloads. Imagine expressing interest in the Journey 2 beta (hypothetical situation, I know of no Journey 2), and your system simply grabs it for you the moment it becomes available. When you get home you simply hit a button, your system wakes up, and your content is ready to go. If you’ve subscribed to the second season of The Walking Dead episodic game, which we know is coming but hasn’t been confirmed for the PlayStation 4, your hardware will make sure you have the latest episode the moment it becomes available.

Every game will be ready to play, with the latest version already installed. Games you’ve pre-ordered digitally will begin downloading and updating the moment they become available. We’ve talked about the Minecraft problem in the past, but Sony has given developers a way to push content directly to gamers with no friction.

This is the best part of the PS4 so far

This ability to easily, quickly, and continually patch and update games opens the door for games like Minecraft that evolve as they’re developed, or games like League of Legends where new heroes are added to the game on a regular basis. The content will simply be there, ready to go, the moment you sit down and play. It’s a strategy that’s incredibly respectful of the gamers’ time, which is something Sony has had major problems with in the past.

This service, complete with supporting hardware in the PS4 architecture, is a major competitive advantage, and will even offer a feature that modern PCs can’t match. Right now we’re used to downloading content and updates for a game when we launch that title, but that’s the absolute worst time to do so. What Sony is offering is a way for gamers to get their content, updates, patches, and add-ons before they need them, which is the best-case scenario in a world when our entertainment evolves so quickly.

If you take away the leap in graphics, social aspects of the system, and even that goofy controller, you’re left with a system that handles content in a mature, thoughtful way that will deliver a direct benefit to PS4 gamers. I can’t wait.