Sony is taking an intriguing step back toward social gaming with PS4 Share Play. The new feature, long-touted and finally delivered in today's 2.0 system update, gives players an internet-enabled mechanism to do what they've done ever since the first kid on the block got an NES: show off cool new games to their friends.
More specifically, Share Play lets one player who owns a game beam that title directly to a friend whether they own it or not. Unlike typical audio/video gameplay streams, Share Play lets the user on the receiving end actually play. This enables fun stuff like ‘local’ multiplayer (let's call it ‘cloudch’ co-op ok fine, you don't have to groan like that), swapping the controller back and forth for good old fashioned play-til-you-die GTA sessions, and letting a more experienced friend clear a particularly tricky segment. You don't need a PS Plus membership to share your screen, though the broadcaster must subscribe to let a friend take control, and both must subscribe for ‘local’ multiplayer.
Of course, it's not quite as good as sitting next to your buddy. Aside from the logistical concerns of remotely chipping in for pizza, the video stream is limited to 720p and suffers from the same latency you'd experience if you tried to use Remote Play over the internet. On top of that, each Share Play session will end after an hour. You're free to immediately start another, but no going to bed while your buddy plays your copy of LittleBigPlanet 3 all night.
Thankfully, these are all minor problems. The really cool part about Share Play is that it uses the internet to revitalize a part of the gaming ecosystem that had fallen by the wayside: the true sharing of video games. Not Tweeting screenshots with quippy little captions, not streaming live video of you playing by yourself, but actually letting other people play your games.
Console gaming has had a serious sharing problem ever since it embraced hard drives and the internet. The inherent stuck-to-your-account-ness of digital games aside, even disc-based titles have been plagued for years with annoyances like online passes (which have subsided in favor of season passes, hooray), long installation times, and huge updates. It takes way too much commitment on the borrower's part to experience something they might not even like. Compare that to lending someone a book, wherein you hand the person a book and they say "thanks" and start reading it.
Sharing is good. It brings people together and makes them say, "Hey, maybe I should buy that so I don't have to keep bugging Connor to let me play". After years of ambivalence from much of the gaming industry, PS4 Share Play is a promising step toward a friendlier time. Maybe we can have our pizza and eat it too.