It’s mid-February and we don’t expect Sony to unveil the PlayStation 5 this month, as was initially rumored. The company hasn’t sent out any press invites and the coronavirus scare might further delay the announcement event. But there’s no lack of PS5 news, and a new finding suggests that the impressive PS5 feature we didn’t see coming is real. However, the whole thing might have a huge drawback, as well as the kind of creepy component that many people likely won’t appreciate: User tracking.
Several months ago, we spotted the first signs that Sony was working on a digital assistant like no other. This assistant isn’t just supposed to be a Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant alternative. Sony doesn’t need that. Instead, it would be a new kind of artificial intelligence able to assess your gameplay session and help with real-time information when invoked. Stuck on a quest or having trouble defeating a boss? The assistant would be able to help you in either case. The assistant might also have a smartphone app that could keep track of in-game content and events. That’s what a Sony patent said at the time, at least.
Sony never acknowledged the feature, but reports that followed said the new PS5 controller might feature a microphone to handle voice inputs. A patent later revealed a DualShock design that included a microphone, and it’s quite possibly the new DualShock 5 that Sony will debut alongside the next-gen PlayStation.
This brings us to a brand new Sony patent that was published online in late January (via Inverse). The documentation describes a new type of functionality for the PlayStation assistant. The system wouldn’t just be able to tell you how to defeat the next boss or complete the quest, it would give you statistics about how others dealt with the same challenge, and even provide quick access to microtransactions that might help you along.
As you can see in the image above, the assistant would give you answers along the lines of “80% of players like you defeated the boss using resource X,” as well as a button that would let you buy the resource in question. That can be incredibly useful if you’re the kind of gamer who has no problem with in-app purchases. And the feature can definitely be helpful when it comes to discovering some new DLC that’s available for sale.
That said, this new feature would also be incredibly creepy. That sort of answer means that Sony will track everything you do in games to win, and it’ll use that information to promote microtransactions. If you’re okay with tech companies tracking your actions, you won’t be bothered by this feature. But that doesn’t make it any less annoying for people who aren’t fans of tracking.
Regardless of your stance on the matter, there’s one other thing to consider. This sort of functionality could expose these pay-to-play transactions to children. Sure, they’ll probably be prohibited from making purchases without the consent of an adult, but it doesn’t change the fact they’ll be told you can win a game faster by paying for extra items:
In some embodiments, selection of various resources may require a form of payment, for example, by using virtual currency or real money. In some embodiments, the selection of various resources may be in the form known as a ‘micro-transaction,’ which deals with relatively small sums of real money.
At the end of the day, this is just a patent and Sony might never use the technology in a future PlayStation console. However, it does indicate that Sony is keen on adding a smart assistant to the console and that the PS5 might be the first model to get advanced voice controls. It also makes it pretty clear that you’ll have to agree to let Sony track your gaming in order for this assistant to actually work. Even if microtransactions won’t be part of the deal, the assistant would still have to access information related to your game session if it’s going to provide relevant answers.