Sony today announced that Share Play will arrive this fall as part of the PlayStation 4's 2.00 software update. First announced during the PS4's unveiling, Share Play will let any PSN friend hop into and play your games so long as he or she is a PlayStation Plus subscriber. Here's the kicker: only one person will actually need to own the game in question. Sony is selling the new feature as a convenient way to have friends help you through the toughest spots of a game's campaign or earn elusive trophies. It's basically the virtual equivalent of handing off your controller to the person sitting next to you. Sure enough, Sony likens it to a "virtual couch." Sound familiar? It should. This level of flexibility is something Microsoft wanted for the Xbox One — before the company's botched introduction of the console changed everything.
It's not as radical as what Microsoft wanted, but the underlying concept is the same
Microsoft suffered a vicious response from the gaming community — owing to poor communication above all else — and that meant the end (or delay, if you're an optimist) of many features that could have radically loosened DRM's grip on console gaming. Need a refresher? The original plan would've allowed owners to buy a physical game, install it, and throw the disc on a shelf somewhere to be instantly forgotten. And yes, you would've been able to let friends and family play titles from your own library. Again, that's even better than Sony's approach, since you need to be present and actively playing for friends to take control of a game. But none of it happened. It didn't happen because gamers were angry about mandatory internet checks where the console would phone home every day to make sure users were still connected. The concept was foreign and weird for console gamers, but it was also likely mandatory for Microsoft to loosen its stance on who truly "owned" what while keeping publishers happy.
Sony just picked up the ball, and now it's running with it. We'll need to hear a ton more about Share Play to know whether this is truly a case of Sony trying to execute on Microsoft's original vision. It certainly sounds like it, but there are plenty of unknowns. Is there a time limit dictating how long you can play a game you don't own? Are only digital purchases eligible, or are disc-based titles also included? What's Sony doing to assuage publishers? How can the $9.99 monthly subscription cost of PlayStation Plus allow for this flexibility? What Sony has planned here sounds almost too good to be true. In the weeks ahead, we expect to get a better idea of whether or not it is.
Update 3:10PM: The article has been updated to clearly note that Share Play was announced during Sony's PlayStation 4 unveiling.