by Dave Smith

Amid all the exciting announcements coming out of last week’s Gamescom trade show in Cologne, Germany, Sony announced a handful of new features coming in its 2.0 firmware for PlayStation 4.

And while firmware is rarely anything to get excited about, this particular update is different — because it will effectively help Sony put distance between itself and Microsoft’s Xbox One.

Sony’s PlayStation 4 has outsold the console competition for seven straight months now, with PS4 sales roughly double that of Xbox One sales worldwide, according to Metro. But with this new update, the PS4 is about to become a much more powerful and user-friendly gaming platform.

The big reason? “Share Play,” which was promised when Sony announced the PS4 at E3, is a feature that allows you to play with any of your PlayStation Network friends over the internet — even if you don’t own the game. (It’s free to register a PSN account.)

This particular feature uses just a single copy of your game that is run locally on one system, and then you or others can invite your friends to play that game with you by streaming it to their consoles. So if you own a racing game that your friends don’t have, you can still play your game with them online (think an HBO Go password, but more social).

But there’s more:

“For example, if there is part of a game that you can’t quite finish, you can invite a friend to take over your controls,” Sony says on its blog. “Like handing over the controller to a friend on your couch, your screen will be shared as your friend gets through the part of the game that has been giving you trouble.”

Share Play sounds extremely promising as a potential game changer for this generation of consoles. Still, Sony says it will limit “Share Play” sessions to one hour each, and lag may unfortunately affect how enjoyable this user feature is. We’ll have to see how well the functionality works in practice.

Why would Sony allow people to play games without paying for them? It’s a way to get people hooked on the system, which should boost hardware and software sales overall.

Other useful additions are inside that 2.0 firmware, including — finally — YouTube support. Before this update, PS4 users could only record and share their gameplay clips to Facebook or an external hard drive. But for all of those gamers looking to make money off their video-gaming achievements or follies, Sony is baking YouTube right into the PS4’s OS to make recording and sharing drop-dead simple.

The Xbox One has one particular advantage over the PlayStation 4, which is its ability to instantly return to where you left off in your game when you wake the console from sleep mode. Sony has actually promised this capability for the PS4, but it is not here yet — still, Sony says it “will have more to announce in the coming months” with regards to this fall’s big 2.0 firmware rollout, so there is still hope for this game suspension feature reaching the PS4.

Though both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have plenty of first- and third-party games coming to their respective systems this fall, this year’s console wars might come down to how well these consoles can play with other platforms and ecosystems. A game-sharing online multiplayer mode and added support for YouTube will certainly help Sony’s next-gen console, which is getting ready to celebrate its one-year anniversary in just a few short months.

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