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Opinion: Sony Must Ensure External Gameplay Capture Compatibility For PS4

by Mike Futter on Sep 13, 2013 at 04:17 AM

For many gamers, the inclusion of Twitch and Ustream sharing on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One opens up a new world of sharing content. For others, the features raise serious questions about branding, monetization, and the other elements that keep the YouTube and Twitch communities so vibrant.

The concerns deal with the way content is output from the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. For reference, the Xbox 360 allows gameplay capture through HDMI and the AV port. The PlayStation 3 also allows video capture via the AV port, but the HDMI output includes high-bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP). 

This prevents the use of devices made by Hauppauge, Elgato, and others from working via HDMI. (Yes, HDCP can be "stripped," but this is considered copyright infringement and could have severe legal repercussions.)

The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 both only include HDMI ports. The difference (right now) is that Microsoft's console will not use HDCP, ensuring that content capture for editing, monetizing, and branding is possible. Up until yesterday, Sony hasn't been willing to comment.

Yesterday afternoon, president of worldwide studios Shuhei Yoshida shared this equivocating statement.

It's safe to assume that if external capture were possible right now, Yoshida (or another Sony representative) would have told us. There is no benefit in letting this issue fester.

For the average gamer, this might not seem like a big deal. For those that make their living off of video, from big outlets down through the individual LPer that has thousands of subscribers, an HDCP-enabled PS4 will have severe repercussions. 

For major outlets, this might not be as significant an issue. Debug kits will most likely allow the kind of capture we need (though that still limits flexibility). But then the narrative becomes about Sony making a decision about which users are "worthy" of this privilege. That's not a conversation the company should ever want to become embroiled in.

Even if Sony decides that gamer satisfaction is worth sacrificing to protect content, there are other considerations. There is an undeniable power in word of mouth advertising, and the volume of YouTube personalities streaming games (and the even larger quantity of viewers) are impossible to ignore (as evidenced by a recent YouTube white paper).

A pro-HDCP decision sways the Let's Play community toward the competition and, in turn, thousands of viewers see titles demonstrated on the Xbox One. Even if there are no specific callouts to the platform, button prompts and user interface cues will let those watching know that these immensely popular casters prefer Xbox One.

And what of first-party titles? Sony is already at an advertising disadvantage, and even with a larger slate of properties, Microsoft manages to push Halo, Gears of War, and Forza hard enough to make up for the deficit (and more). 

A healthy YouTube community also offers a psychological boon. If there are a lot of people streaming a game, it's easy to assume that it has a healthy community. More importantly, a dearth of content will lead gamers to think the multiplayer environments are barren. For titles like Killzone: Shadow Fall, a series that has typically had enjoyable and diverse multiplayer experiences, the perception that no one is playing could have devastating effects for the title and the PlayStation 4.  

For third-party, multiplatform titles, the effect will be similar. People will assume that they are seeing more Xbox One streamers and YouTubers because the community is bigger on that platform.

Sony is running out of time to get in front of this issue. The company must make a decision quickly. What's more important: protecting game content or building a community of loyal YouTubers that can carry the platform to thousands of viewers?