The sixth generation introduced Internet connectivity to our consoles; the seventh generation made it widespread thanks to Xbox Live and PSN; the newly launched eighth generation makes it an integral part of the gaming experience.
Yes, like it or loathe it, connectivity is a huge part of the new generation of consoles. Even Nintendo, who have historically been resistant to implementing online features in any sort of user-friendly way, have been getting in on the social action thanks to Miiverse on Wii U and, soon, 3DS. But it's arguably Sony who are leading the way with PlayStation 4's integrated social features and streaming functionality.
Speaking on the PlayStation Blogcast recently, Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida admitted that the new console's social features were, in part, inspired by two of his favorite games of the outgoing generation: Demon's Souls and Dark Souls.
"Lots of things Demon's Souls and Dark Souls did, like leaving the message to other people asynchronously -- so if you were connected, but not connected at the same time -- all these things inspired us when we were designing the system features for PS4," he explained. "I enjoy so much watching people playing Dark Souls on YouTube. This game is perfect to learn from other players how to attack the same situations with very different strategies."
PlayStation 4 has three new means of socializing and sharing with others: Twitch streaming, game video recording and image sharing. Each of these is playing an important part in how we look at games in the new generation -- so much so that the Xbox One's lack of Twitch streaming at launch is being seen as a dealbreaker by some.
One of the most innovative uses of Twitch streaming we've seen so far comes in the form of The Spartan Show (above), a call-in talk show hosted on Twitch and streamed via the PS4 using the pre-installed Playroom app. Since Playroom is an augmented reality app that fills the majority of the display with what the PlayStation Camera is seeing, it's an almost-ideal solution for those who want a quick and easy way of broadcasting a live show from their console without having to talk over game footage. Admittedly, you have to contend with various Playroom toys bouncing around the screen while you're broadcasting, but there's a certain '90s kids' show charm about that.
The Spartan Show has been enjoying a regular stream of phone-in guests since it started broadcasting, including PlayStation US publisher and developer relations specialist Adam Boyes, who phoned in to say what the husband-and-wife team behind the show was doing was "pretty rad." Eventually, the plan is for The Spartan Show to be a regular feature with reviews, interviews and giveaways; for now, the stream is more a proof-of-concept than anything else, but it's a pretty convincing example of the potential offered by integrated streaming -- and clearly something that Sony didn't anticipate.
And it's proving successful, too; at the time of writing -- after a heroic 15 hours of continuous broadcasting -- nearly 5,000 viewers are watching, contributing to Twitch chat and phoning the show to speak to the hosts. The channel that houses the show is closing in on 200,000 subscribers, too.
Twitch streaming isn't confined to consoles, of course; PC gamers have been doing it for a while now, but in order to stream many games at the best balance between quality and frame rate you need a reasonable degree of technical knowledge. However, more and more games are starting to integrate Twitch streaming directly into their game clients -- the recent free-to-play Diablolike Path of Exile is one, for example, but a perhaps higher profile example is Mojang's sandbox classic Minecraft, which integrated Twitch connectivity with its most recent snapshot update. In other words, it's still being tested and, in Mojang's words, "may be a little buggy," but should include at least basic functionality. Find out more here.
If you've never got involved with streaming before, it can be a great way to meet new people, discover new games, show off your skills -- and perhaps even enjoy a few minutes of "Internet fame." And, as The Spartan Show is demonstrating, it's a potentially very exciting new means of broadcasting in real-time and interacting with your audience. Why not give it a try for yourself?