Sitting pretty on strong PlayStation 4 sales, Sony's latest plan to stay ahead of Microsoft involves a "virtual couch."
This fall, Sony will release a feature called "Share Play" that lets players remotely join in their friends' games, even if they don't own a copy of the game.
For single-player games, that means a friend could virtually take control of the action from across the country. "Like handing over the controller to a friend on your couch, your screen will be shared as your friend gets through the part of the game that has been giving you trouble," Sony explained in a blog post.
Share Play will also allow two friends to play local cooperative or competitive multiplayer together when only one player owns the game. Both players will need Playstation Plus accounts, but the feature won't cost any extra otherwise.
In a way, the feature is an extension of the game streaming phenomenon made popular by services like Twitch. Instead of just watching someone else play, the viewer may actually be able to participate in the game. (It's not hard to imagine tighter integration of streaming and Share Play, with multiple broadcasters taking turns on a single game.)
Still, Sony has left out a couple of finer details on the feature for now. It's unclear, for instance, how the screen sharing will actually work. If Sony is relying on the same streaming technology that powers its PlayStation Now service, players could be in for some reliability problems. Sony also hasn't explicitly said whether the feature will work with all games. We'll find out more this fall, when Sony adds the feature as part of the PS4's version 2.0 software update.
The announcement comes just as Sony has crossed the 10 million sales mark for the PlayStation 4, and recently claimed that its PS3 and PS4 are outsold Microsoft consoles three-to-one last quarter. (Microsoft hasn't provided any lifetime Xbox One sales figures lately.) The sales disparity has prompted Microsoft to make numerouspolicychanges to its flagship console, all of which make it more like the PS4.
Although neither console is suffering for content--both used this week's Gamescom conference to announce a barrage of exclusive games--Share Play is an example of how Sony is building a feature gap that will only make it harder for Microsoft to get an edge.