For a while now, many circumstances have pointed towards this console generation possibly being the last of its kind. Streaming will be the future of gaming. At least, this is what different industry bigwigs such as Microsoft boss Phil Spencer or Ubisoft-CEO Yves Guillemot are saying. There’s huge potential in this. Gamers wouldn’t have to buy expensive consoles or PCs anymore, instead directly streaming to their output device. This doesn’t just attract new customers. Gamers of all walks of life could potentially benefit from more flexibility and financial security.
No wonder, then, that countless combatants are throwing their hat in the ring. Google gave the first blow with Stadia. Microsoft announced their own product to be released this year. These two tech giants aren’t the only ones battling it out.
Google wants to roll out Stadia this year. The service will be available on any Chrome-enabled device and offers several interesting features. Google proudly touted their 4K, 60 fps and Surround Sound support. Stadia will still have to prove itself like all the rest, however. There hasn’t been any news on the pricing or the playable games yet. When it comes to technology though, Google is clearly the frontrunner, with their massive server capabilities. On the other hand, Google has almost no experience when it comes to gaming. Gamers are notoriously untrusting, historically at least.
Microsoft has already demonstrated how an Xbox game such as «Forza Horizon 4» looks on an Android smartphone with an attached controller. All made possible by xCloud streaming. Microsoft has already lessened their workload thanks to Game Pass, their subscription-based game library that works similarly to Netflix. Most Microsoft titles are already playable on both Xbox One and PC – Crosssave function included. Additionally, Microsoft already possesses a sizeable back-catalogue of games reaching back to the Xbox-360 era, which Google lacks. All these games streaming on smartphone, TVs, PCs etc. for an admittedly pricier Game Pass would be a very enticing offer.
There are rumours about Microsoft’s plans to expand Xbox Live to Android, iOS and Switch. Integrating achievements, friend lists etc. would be an important step in integrating new platforms. As all your games will stay available on your consoles and PC, there’s almost nothing barring you from trying this service. Microsoft can hereby expand on both fronts while moving the industry forward.
Sony is being remarkably quiet when it comes to cloud gaming. This is the corporation that had already snatched up the Gaikai company back in 2012. Cloud gaming was their specialty. Playstation Now does allow you to stream games to your PS4 or PC using the cloud. The available games aren’t the most up to date, but titles such as «Prey», «Bloodborne» or «The Last of Us» still offer some decent variety. Currently, around 600 games are integrated. Sony’s in a comfortable place right now. Scaling up their servers’ infrastructure to match Google will be a challenge, however. I’m expecting to hear more about this topic from Sony this year.
Geforce Now has been in Beta for what feels like eons. The service is free to try out on PC, Mac or Android TV and give players access to all their Steam, Uplay, Battle.net and Origin games. For PC players, this is the most exciting option. It’s unknown, however, what Nvidia is planning to do with this service. The project could be shut down at any time. The company is building up their datacentres, but they’re still more than comfortable with selling you graphics card for over 1000 francs. Make up your own mind on Geforce Now, it’s free to try out (with Beta access). It’s still too early in the process for me to completely throw out my PC, however.
Without too much press attention, Nintendo also enacted their grand streaming plan. «Resident Evil 7» and «Assassin’s Creed Odyssey» are also available on Switch in Japan. As the console doesn’t have enough juice to run these games, they’re instead streamed over the cloud. It’s unknown if or when this possibility will become possible outside of Japan. In recent history, Nintendo hasn’t been the most innovative of companies when it comes to new technologies, so I don’t expect an announcement this year. I’m sure they’ll keep a watchful eye on their competitors, however, and are working on streaming solutions.
Last autumn, EA announced they were working on a cloud service. According to CTO Ken Moss, around 1000 employees are assigned to Project Atlas. They seem to be serious. As with Microsoft, EA also has a small head start. Origin Access on PC and EA Access on Xbox One give you access to a range of games for a monthly subscription. The offer isn’t very enticing aside from EA’s own titles such as «Battlefield 5», but a framework is there. It’s hardly imaginable, however, that developers such as Ubisoft or Activision would ever add their games to this collection. So aside from their own games, EA will probably only have a handful of third party games on hand. This could still work, depending on the pricing. If you’re looking for the Spotify of gaming, however, you won’t find it here.
When it comes to game libraries, Steam wins hands down. Valve would be a force to be reckoned with in the Cloud landscape (cloudscape?). Using the Steam Link box or Steam Link app for Android and iOS, you can already stream PC games to an output device of your choice.
Steam Link recently added the ability to stream outside of your home network. Your PC still has to be on, but you can only stream using your mobile data. This means no increased cost for you and access to all your owned games. You’ll still need a powerful PC, however. A real streaming solution would therefore still be interesting – especially if Valve decides to adopt a Netflix-type model. As the «Half-Life» creators enjoy staying mysterious, not even rumours are floating around.
As one of the world’s biggest cloud computing brands, it’s not surprising that Amazon is also looking for options to stream games. There are constantly rumours emerging about them. Amazon’s intentions are clear, what with their billion-dollar purchase of Twitch, creation of an in-house game studio and their free game engine Lumberyard. Twitch is the ideal platform for this. Games can already be purchased on it. Combining shop, video streaming and game streaming options is logical. Amazon has a good hand. An announcement probably isn’t far off.
We’ve gone through the obvious contenders. But there are still many more potential candidates. US shopping chain Walmart is reportedly also planning a streaming service. They appeal mainly to mid- and low-income customers. This points to a Netflix-type model. Walmart is one of the world’s most popular companies. Aside from the USA, however, their brand probably won’t have enough staying power. Still, it isn’t improbable for them to launch a service.
Another party interested the game streaming market is the US telecom giant Verizon. Verizon gaming is already being tested on Nvidia Shield and Google Play implementation apparently finished around the end of January. Around 135 games are reportedly available. With the dawn of 5G, combining phone and streaming subscriptions has the potential to be extremely lucrative for telecom companies.
All signs point towards streaming being the future of gaming. It’s impossible to say when these possibilities will rival the experience of playing directly on PC or consoles. We’ll see the first attempts this year. Many competitors are fighting for your attention. I believe there will be several providers in the streaming field, as there is with TV and movie streaming.
As it looks now, Microsoft seems to have the high ground. They offer an all-you-can-eat model, possess a large enough range of games and are already experimenting heavily with crossplay. Current users can try out new technologies risk-free and return to their comfort zone when put off. The next few months and especially E3 will be fascinating.
What do you think? Which provider has the best fortune? Or do you think streaming is doomed from the start?
Google, Microsoft or Sony?
Which streaming service will stand tall?
EA Project Atlas
No one. The future is cloudless
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