A Netflix for gaming is the Holy Grail for the big players
|Toronto Star 24 Oct 2018 at 12:58|
We are right in the middle of blockbuster game release season, while gamers are busy and the industry is working to get your holiday dollars, and all the big players are looking to the future and what comes next.
There are plenty of rumours of new consoles and hardware refreshes, as well as two recent experiments that point to major changes in how gamers may get their entertainment delivered to them.
Ubisoft’s and Google’s Project Stream allowed U.S. users to play the recently released Assassin’s Creed Odyssey through the company’s Chrome Browser. (UBISOFT)
Earlier this month, Microsoft announced Project xCloud, a service that will potentially stream games to phones, tablets and other devices, eliminating the need for a pricey console. In a Wired exclusive, a reporter played Halo and Gears of War on a phone.
“We’re pursuing our expansive opportunity from the way games are created and distributed, to how they’re played and viewed,” in the article. “We’re investing aggressively in content, community and cloud services across every end-point to expand usage and deepen engagement with gamers.”
Separately, Google is working on Project Stream, partnered with Ubisoft, which allowed users to play the recently released Assassin’s Creed Odyssey through the company’s Chrome Browser. It was limited to the U.S. and people who tried it needed a connection rate of at least 25 megabits per second.
Some members of the media were successful and some testers used older PCs and still managed to make it work, which is an impressive technical feat for a big budget triple-A game.
Beyond the technical limitations of various devices, what’s holding any of these services back is latency, or the lag between a gamer hitting a button and seeing the corresponding action on the screen.
This is the problem that these tech giants want to solve, because the Holy Grail is coming up with a Netflix or Spotify for gaming, which would be able to deliver immersive gaming experiences that, up until now, have required a dedicated console or high-end PC. Such a system would allow you to pick up and play a game anywhere, and have it delivered to your device of choice.
It is clear that gaming’s future is getting cloudy, so some of the biggest tech companies are looking for opportunities to get new players into the gaming world — an opportunity that cloud giants like Google and Amazon are also eyeing.
The other piece of the puzzle is creating a subscription service to monetize and deliver services to users.
All three gaming consoles now have some kind of paid service that features online play and free games.
Nintendo was the last company to start offering one, just this past September. It doesn’t offer voice chat for multiplayer, but it does offer a selection of classic games, which the company has been adding to.
Services like PlayStation Now, Xbox Game Pass and EA Access provide a more likely model for a gaming streaming service. These subscription services offer a large catalogue of games, which are usually older, but Xbox and EA often add newer games at launch to entice new users to check them out. But those services all still require the games to be downloaded with a dedicated console or decent enough PC to run them.
Analysts believe there will be a number of competing cloud gaming services in the next decade.
“Nintendo Switch as a core proposition has been powered by the play anywhere with anyone at any time proposition,” says Reggie Fils-Aimé, the COO of Nintendo. “What 5G enables, what cloud computing enables, these are all technologies that companies across the space are looking at, in the end, and this is where I believe Nintendo shines. You need the compelling experiences to bring the tech to life, so that’s what we continue to focus on.”
The prospect of playing games anywhere is a strength for Nintendo, whose portable Switch console has been doing very well for the resurgent company after its Wii U tanked. But Nintendo tends to lag behind its competitors when it comes to cutting edge technology.
That said, looking at Nintendo’s previous successful consoles, particularly the portables it has released, the company has never shied away from refreshing the hardware and incorporating new technology. A recent Wall Street Journal report surfaced the rumour that the company may offer a new version of the Switch next year, possibly with 4K capabilities.
Sony’s executives have also made remarks that the PS4 is on the downward part of its life cycle, with much speculation that a PS5 might be coming sometime in 2020.
Gaming companies will keep selling consoles as long as people will pay for them but, with every console generation that arrives, gamers and those in the industry wonder if it is going to be the last. The games will go on, but the big boxes needed to play them might soon be left behind.