Back in 2006, Sony made a mistake. They decided to launch the third iteration of their Playstation brand with a custom Cell microprocessor that was hard to develop for, which resulted in less-than-perfect ports and only their first-party studios having the determination to create games that made full use of the hardware.
Now Sony is having to play catch-up. The PS4 is being released with an x86 CPU, the most common architecture that software is developed for. That's good! But that also means it cannot run PS3 games natively. That's bad.
No doubt you have already heard that Sony plans to tap its newly acquired Gaikai card (4C, Artifact, Rare) to get around this little hurtle by allowing us to play our PS3 (and PS2 and PS1) games via streaming. And we, being astute consumers, collectively lost our shit. Buy back our entire gaming library to play it on a new latency-rich format? That was painful enough for most PSP owners when the Vita launched without UMD support, and even that allowed the cross-over of digital content, something the PS4 wont allow in the least. We're talking about full, 100% non-transfer. And it's not just PS3 games; many of us have purchased new, ported digital copies of PS1 and PS2 games, even when we had old physical copies. A lot of us even believed that, being digital, we would never have to buy another copy of the same game ever again!
In a word, this sucks.
But I believe there just might still be a glimmer of hope. A chance that Sony just might--maybe, possibly, hopefully--not screw up BC on the PS4. There is still a lot uncertainty about this new service, by far not the least of which is 'how much will it cost?'.
A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned
The Number One question I have for the future of the Sony brand is: What will become of PSN? Looking at the Vita, I feel pretty safe in assuming that PSN will continue to exist exactly as it does now, just with a different storefront unique to the PS4 (much like how the Vita's storefront is vastly different from the PS3's). The important thing is the retainment of the same account, which means the retainment of purchase history.
So imagine the following scenario: you have a host of purchases on PSN for the PS3. Those games are then made available for the PS4 to stream. PSN, recognizing that you already have purchased a digital license, lets you stream the game at no extra charge from the Playstation Cloud. Okay, now that sounds like a little less suckage.
Of course, that's assuming Playstation Cloud doesn't come with its own surcharge. It does not take much of a stretch of imagination to expect Playstation Cloud to require a PS Plus membership. So now we are in a situation where we can play our old purchases for free, provided we spend $50 a year first--okay, the suckage meter went up just a tad bit more. However, that's ignoring the other benefits a PS Plus membership can bring. As you might have noted in my above example, those free streamings only include games that you have purchased on PSN--what about all those PS3 discs you've accumulated? Well PS Plus has this nice little thing called the Instant Game Collection that lets you play select games for free so long as you have a PS Plus membership. I'd expect streamed PS3 games (particularly ones that were formerly retail-only) to make easy picks as additions to this Instant Game Collection, which opens up the possibility of getting your retail games in addition to games you never got around to buying. I might be alone in this, but that makes the $50 a year a lot easier to swallow for me.
Of course, this is all assuming a timely roll-out of games on this new service. I certainly have my doubts on that, especially when you look at how slow Sony has been on rolling out the PS1 games for the Vita. That's something that only time will tell, however, along with whether or not streaming over the internet will even be acceptable performance-wise (will my internet even be able to handle something like this? I honestly have no idea). So in the meantime, we can all relax and wait, knowing that Sony just might not screw this up.
Now let's all sit back and watch Sony manage to screw this up.