Sony might introduce a new form of microtransaction with the PlayStation 5 that’s unlike anything gamers have experienced in Fortnite, League of Legends, or even the heinous early days of Star Wars: Battlefront II. Could gamers wind up spending a lot of money on a new artificial intelligence software that targets hapless gamers who get stuck when playing video games?
On Monday, Sony was granted a patent by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for an in-console artificial intelligence assistant that would theoretically provide personalized help to PS5 gamers at a small cost. In other words, Sony seemingly wants PlayStation 5 users to ask the console for help when they get stuck on a boss battle. Think of it like asking Siri about the weather, except every time you do, it costs you a little bit of money.
Sony isn’t the first company to begin brainstorming an A.I. assistant giving players guides and walkthroughs. Google Stadia incorporates Google Assistant functionality into the cloud gaming platform, but Sony’s concept is the first to suggest it might charge users a fee for using the feature.
“In some embodiments, selection of various resources may require a form of payment, for example by using virtual currency or real money,” reads the patent description. “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.”
The granted application also mentions that the PS5’s potential A.I. feature could offer gamers more than just tips. Let's imagine that a user is playing Destiny 2 and wants to travel to an in-game area that is only accessible if they were to buy a DLC bundle, then the assistant would notify them of this and give them an option to purchase it.
“There may be an in-game resource of the game environment that could aid the user in accomplishing the objective with the character," the patent says. "The in-game resource may be downloadable content (DLC), add-ons, upgrades, items, tips, strategy, communal data, etc. However, the user is not necessarily aware that such a resource exists.”
This granted patent application doesn’t mean the PS5 will even come with this microtransaction gaming assistant. Big tech companies often use this kind of documentation to simply lock down ideas they’re interested in exploring in the future, but this also isn’t the first time Sony has hinted that it wants to bring an A.I. assistant to the PS5.
Back in September 2019, the company was granted another patent for an A.I.-powered voice assistant. A month later, the Japanese Patent Office also published blueprints for what appeared to be the DualShock 5 controller that will come with the PS5. The upgraded controller seemingly included a built-in microphone, which could theoretically let players communicate with a potential digital assistant even without their headphones plugged in.
The few PS5 teasers out there so far haven’t indicated that the new console will ship with anything that resembles this Siri-like A.I. assistant that charges you money, but there is plenty of evidence that the company has been toying with the idea. Even if it's not available at launch, this voice-activated assistant could be part of a software update that rolls out later in the console’s lifetime, making this less a question if "if" and more a question of "when."
The Sony PlayStation 5 is expected to release in late 2020.