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Sony Leak Answers One Of Our Biggest Questions

Sony is like any tech company, in that it's no stranger to registering patents. This latest one is a bit of a head scratcher — especially when you consider how close it comes to a service Sony already provides. But it could answer a very big question about Sony's plans for the future.

This latest patent was first shared by Twitter user @Renka_schedule, who posted images of what appears to be Sony's next-gen approach to supporting legacy titles.

IGN translated the text of the patent, and sure enough, it reportedly applies to technology through which "A large number of game titles across PS1/PS2/PS3 and various generations of game consoles can be stored and used via the cloud gaming library."

If that wasn't interesting enough, IGN also translated another line of text that sounds pretty telling. That text claims, "These games can be run on a virtual machine that mimics the operating system associated with each game console."

When you put these two pieces together — storing games in the cloud and running them on virtual machines — this definitely sounds like emulation for older titles via the internet. And if you think this sounds familiar, you're not crazy. It's not a far cry from what PlayStation Now already does.

So what's the deal with the patent then?

One possibility is that PlayStation Now is in line to get a serious revamp in the future. Back in 2014, Eurogamer reported that the service — at least on the PS3 side of things — was being run off of server racks made up of "eight custom console units." It's not crazy to think that Sony wound up doing something similar when support for PS4 titles was added, which would mean Sony has to maintain whole server farms running hardware from 2006 (the PS3) and 2013 (the PS4).

If Sony's managed to crack the code on PS3 and PS4 emulation, that would eliminate the need for actual console hardware to be used for PlayStation Now. Instead, the appropriate emulation software — or "virtual machine," as the patent mentions — could be called up for a particular title depending on its platform.

There does exist another possibility, though it's far more speculative than Sony simply upgrading PlayStation Now. Suppose Sony does intend to run legacy games via virtual machines. What if those virtual machines weren't confined to the cloud, but could actually be downloaded depending on which game you wanted to play?

Imagine popping in a disc for the original PlayStation, for example. Sony could see the title you want to play, and direct its servers to deliver you a virtual machine that's been tweaked to play that particular game. The approach wouldn't be far off from what Microsoft does now with Xbox 360 emulation on the Xbox One — the company told Eurogamer each 360 title on the One uses "the entire 360 OS stack" in emulated form. But hosting the virtual machine in the cloud would allow Sony to more easily make changes and improvements if need be.

Regardless of which direction Sony goes in — including those that haven't been mentioned at all — there is some other news in this patent at the very least. Original PlayStation emulation is not something Sony does at all right now on the PS4 or on PlayStation Now. So if you're looking to replay some O.G. PlayStation titles, you may get a way to do that in the future.

And looking at the bigger picture, PlayStation fans don't have to worry that Sony is simply leaving its enormous library of past titles in the dust. There's been some concern that, because the PlayStation 5 only supports PS4 backward compatibility, Sony wasn't all that interested in preserving games from the PS3, PS2, and PlayStation generations. Judging by this patent, Sony is very much trying to figure out a way to capitalize on its history. Whether it takes the form of more streaming support via PlayStation Now or some kind of native emulation — that remains to be seen.

In any case, both fans and experts are undoubtedly going to study this patent very closely in the days ahead for signs of what Sony might do next. There's no word at this moment that the PlayStation 5 will do anything more than what Sony's already let on — support for some PS4 titles at launch. But it sure seems like Sony has at least a few ideas waiting in the wings.

Should we hear anything more about potential PS1, PS2, and PS3 backward compatibility on the PS5, we'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, stay tuned.