Tokyo Jungle was first released on the PlayStation 3 in the summer of 2012. A survival action game with a strong focus on fast thinking and strategizing, the game places players in the role of one of the survivors of a mysterious apocalyptic event that has scrubbed humanity from the face of the planet. The player must survival the harsh conditions of a crumbling Tokyo, fighting for food, shelter, and survival along the way.

The player is also a Pomeranian dog. Or a panda, or a dinosaur, or one of a wealth of other animal breeds ranging from the everyday to the extinct. It’s a charming blend of challenging gameplay and wacky absurdity, and one of the PS3’s most charming and outright strange titles. It also demonstrates the ability of video games to craft vivid and whimsical worlds with a vocabulary that eschews traditional narrative beats.

You can’t play Tokyo Jungle natively on the PlayStation 4, however. In fact, you can’t play any PS3 games on the PS4, nor can you play PS1 and PS2 games.[1] As part of the hubris that led to the PS3’s obscene price and relative failure, Sony utilized an expensive, difficult to emulate microprocessor for the PS3, referred to as the Cell. As part of its wiser, humbler approach with the PS4, Sony jettisoned the Cell in favor of an internal architecture that more closely resembles that of a common PC. Consequently, the PS4’s ability to play earlier generations of PlayStation games went out the window in favor of reaching a mainstream price point. Unfortunately, this means that the only way to play a game like Tokyo Jungle natively is to do it on the PS3, which necessitates either owning the device or tracking down one of the increasingly aged systems that are out there in the wild.[2]

There is another way, though: PlayStation Now, a subscription-based streaming service that Sony offers for its PS4, PS3, and PS Vita systems, as well as select other devices such as certain brands of smart TVs. PlayStation Now behaves like a hyper-advanced version of Netflix and utilizes dedicated hardware at remote locations to stream games to devices that could not play those games natively. Provided you have a stable enough internet connection,[3] it is possible to play Tokyo Jungle and approximately 350 other PS3 games without owning the hardware for which the games were originally released. While it’s not quite as good as playing natively, just as Netflix streaming isn’t Blu-ray quality for the most part, PS Now still provides a remarkably crisp and lag-free experience.

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I’ve been subscribed to PS Now for about three months now and have found it to be a fantastic technical experience, one that has allowed me to replay old games like Shadow of the Colossus and Siren: Blood Curse[4] without digging out the PS3, in addition to catching up on games that I either missed when they first released or never thought to check out, like Saints Row: The Third[5] and Farming Simulator.[6] Beyond simple convenience, PS Now offers tremendous potential to expand the reach of interactive media, eliminating cost and technical barriers that have limited gaming to the realm of the enthusiast while simultaneously maintaining a proper canon of titles from throughout the years.

It also might be the first horseman of the gaming apocalypse, one that threatens to dismantle the artistic achievements of the medium in favor of appealing to its darkest, most capitalistic aspects. But let’s start with Option A first:

 

Option A: PS Now is the Future of Gaming

If you want to play the latest video games, you’ll need to buy either a dedicated console or build a reasonably beefy PC. The first of these options still runs $349 at minimum, the current retail price of the PS4 and Xbox One consoles.[7] A good PC will probably run you much higher, not to mention the fact that current big-budget retail games sell for $60 a piece.

In essence, video games cater to those with expensive tastes. To keep up with the medium is to devote hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to it a year. In comparison, PS Now’s subscription service is fairly affordable, with a monthly rate of $15 for access to its library of games.[8] More crucially, PS Now does not require players to own a powerful machine – a fully functional PS Now setup can be had for about $100 with the purchase of a starter kit and compatible device, or less if you already have a compatible TV. While $100 isn’t peanuts, it’s still a far cry from the price of a new console and game, allowing an audience that might otherwise be priced out of the medium to experience it. If games are to expand beyond their notable but elitist user base, minimal cost of entry to the medium can be a key component in that expansion.

PS Now also solves the backward compatibility issue in a clean manner by streamlining potential hardware headaches for users. Through remote dedicated hardware, providers like Sony can keep old games alive even as their original platforms fade into obscurity. This is particularly useful for unusual circumstances like with the PS3’s hardware, where the system itself is too old to stay in favor but not old enough to be easily emulated on a PC. If games are to flourish as an art form, it is important to emphasize preservation of past games, and PS Now might just have an answer.

But there’s always Option B…

 

Option B: PS Now is the Death of Gaming

A medium that is reliant on streaming as its primary method of content delivery is fraught with peril. Though convenient, it also takes the power of preservation away from enthusiasts of the medium and into the hands of lawyers and corporatists. Anyone who subscribes to Netflix is all too familiar with its digital circle of life: new titles come, but many titles also leave due to expiring licenses. Many of these eventually return, but some never do. For movies, this is frustrating but not an immediate threat; nearly all films still release on physical media in some format.

But what about games, where even major titles sometimes release digitally only? What happens if licensing prevents, say, Kingdom Hearts III from being distributed due to its complicated mix of Square Enix and Disney properties? What about a game like Too Human, where legal issues prevent future copies of it from being printed and sold? Would games such as these cease to exist if they were only available through streaming?

It’s not an unheard of idea. P.T., a psychological puzzle game and one of the great works of horror in any medium, was a digital release that was pulled by its distributor, Konami, and is no longer available for download by any legal means. Were it not for the fact that P.T. could be stored natively on players’ hard drives,[9] it would have simply disappeared altogether, a digital phantom to slowly be forgotten. In a future powered by PS Now, games would potentially become victims of a legal system that values business before art.

Removing or limiting the possibility of physical ownership also further promotes the idea that games are a service rather than standalone works of art, which feeds into the mentality that fuels the microtransactions and similar business practices that I railed against in last week’s blog post. Such a mentality would not be healthy for the survival of the medium as an art form, and the widespread of PS Now might have terrible consequences on this front.

PSNow3

The Verdict

My positive experience with the service and desire to eliminate the barriers to entry for games makes me want to side with PS Now, and I certainly intend to continue using it for the foreseeable future. However, my misgivings about the nature of publishers and rights holders makes me hesitant to suggest that streaming becoming the future of the medium would be a positive thing. Even though streaming offers an easy way to provide an extensive catalog from throughout gaming history, the fact that that catalog will be curated by businessmen and not artists ultimately makes it a threat to the long term preservation of the medium.

Perhaps a method of content delivery can emerge that makes games more accessible than they currently are without predicating it upon an uneasy future, but until that emerges, PS Now should be appreciated for the feats that it accomplishes whilst remaining weary of what it could become.

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[1] A select few PS2 games are playable natively in a downloadable, emulated format on the PS4. However, this currently amounts to approximately twenty titles from a library of thousands.

[2] My PS3 from 2008 sounds like a nuclear reactor undergoing a meltdown and is probably not long for this world.

[3] Most likely a wired connection. Netflix on your smartphone this is not

[4] Man, that one has not held up well.

[5] Surprisingly, pretty good!

[6] Unsurprisingly, pretty bad.

[7] Yes, the Wii U is cheaper at $249, but let’s be realistic: the Wii U has not, nor will it ever be, at the forefront of the gaming industry, let alone the more narratively intriguing side of it.

[8] If you buy in three-month chunks; otherwise it’s $20 a month. Sony also briefly offered a $100 yearly subscription, which was by far the best value for the service.

[9] My copy of P.T. is currently backed up on three separate hard drives. You can never be too sure.

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