While I’m still waiting for the long-promised Standby/Resume functionality of the PS4, Share Play is coming tomorrow, and I think this could be way bigger deal than people are giving it credit for.

What exactly is Share Play? In Sony’s own words:

As we’ve said before, the best way to think about Share Play is like a “virtual couch.” PlayStation 4 will create an online local co-op experience by allowing you to invite a friend to join your game for up to one hour at a time — even when they don’t own a copy of it.

Those last nine words are where the magic happens.  PS Now, Sony’s game streaming service, has been praised for the technology, but rightfully panned for the pricing.  This takes what is, presumably, that same core functionality, and leverages it in a much more consumer friendly way.

Does your friend own a game that you want to try?  Ask them if you can try it.  Do you own the (incredibly entertaining) indie fencing game Nidhogg, but your friend across the country doesn’t?  Now they can play it with you, without having to download a thing. Thanks in large parts to indie games like Nidhogg, TowerFall, and Sportsfriends, the PS4 is already on the way to becoming a local co-op powerhouse – and now Share Play will take that understated strength and bring a next-gen twist to it.

It’s also an important platform differentiator in a way that I don’t think we’ve yet seen this generation.  Sure, Sony and Microsoft fans can argue back and forth over the relatively minor differences between their consoles – even more minor now that Kinect is basically out of the picture – but thus far, there have been very few, if any, console-defining, gaming-centric features.  Suddenly, we have a piece of functionality with no cross-platform equivalent.  If your most of your friends own PS4s instead of Xbox One’s – and let’s face it, the way sales are going, that’s probably the case – this is just another way you’ll be able to play games with them.  I’ve always said that perhaps the most important factor in choosing a console is to figure out what console your friends are using, and Share Play is Sony doubling down on that aspect of social gaming.

Hell, I just downloaded Nidhogg this weekend, and come tomorrow, I’ll download an update, and suddenly anyone I know with a PS4 and PS Plus will be able to play it with me. That’s pretty damn cool – and, I would argue, the first truly “next gen” feature I’ve seen from either platform.   At the very least, it’s certainly the most gaming-centric one.

Of course, a lot of this hinges on Sony getting the tech right – from my limited experience with PS Now, I’m pretty optimistic, but there’s still certainly a chance for this to fail in a spectacular manner.  Of course, we’re early in this console generation, so there’s plenty of time to get it right, even if they stumble out of the gate.

Perhaps even better, having a differentiating feature like this means Microsoft has to respond in some form, sooner or later – and when they do, it’ll make that platform better, and the cycle of improvements will continue.  I haven’t been this excited about gaming in a long time, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.