The consumption of entertainment is changing. Movies, TV series and Music have already transformed into subscription services. We stream movies, songs and to some extent we are starting to stream games. New services are appearing but traditional consoles are still going strong. Is now time for a change?
PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X launched a month ago and they were immediately sold out everywhere. PC gaming is more popular than ever and highest-end graphics cards are sold out as well. People simply love to play games and there is huge demand for it. But the way we play doesn’t change much for years. We are still mostly playing on dedicated gaming consoles and PCs. But is it going to change? Will we soon be streaming games just like music and movies? Why cloud gaming isn’t already mainstream?
The beginning of cloud gaming era
What actually cloud gaming means? It is a way to play games, where the game is running on remote servers and streams directly to your device. Imagine Netflix for games. That’s it. And it’s nothing new. Crytek tried to stream games fifteen years ago, but they were way ahead of their time. After 2010 we’ve got the glimpse of the future with game streaming services Onlive and Gaikai. But again, it was still too soon and both services ended up being bought by Sony, which used their technologies for its current streaming service PlayStation Now.
So why cloud gaming isn’t already as mainstream as streaming movies and music? The answer is easy, because streaming games is much more technically challenging than streaming video. The movie represents one content that is streamed to everyone and it can even buffer to overcome lag. With videogames it’s different. They are happening in real time and are interactive. Players are responding to the content so the game must update the view everytime action is taken. And it must happen without noticeable latency. That means users need to have very good internet infrastructure and gaming service providers need to be equipped with strong servers and capable hardware.
But this time the world and technology may be ready. More game streaming services are starting to appear and big players like Google and Amazon are joining the game. Not to forget that current console manufacturers Sony and Microsoft also have their own streaming services. PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are hugely popular now, but the next generation of gaming may look differently and there is a chance we won’t need dedicated hardware for that.
Ups and downs of game streaming
The other question is, do we need cloud gaming? Aren’t we happy with the current solutions? And it may not be easy to answer that, but let’s look into benefits cloud gaming has to offer. The first one would be convenience. With cloud gaming you don’t need dedicated hardware. You can play the latest games on your old PC or a Mac without need for a powerful GPU or CPU. You can also play on a tablet, on a smartphone, in a browser or possibly on smart TV. You’re not restricted to one device, you can play anywhere.
Another issue with today’s games is size. Latest titles are often 100 GBs or more. So you need plenty of space to store them. With cloud gaming this is no issue at all. Games are streamed, so they are not locally stored on your disc. Thanks to streaming services, gaming could be accessible to even more people. Today you need to buy a $500 dollar console or at least a $1000 dollar PC. With streaming services there is no need to pay for hardware, except for maybe a controller or some kind of streaming stick. Of course you will be required to pay a monthly subscription, as you are paying for Netflix or Spotify, but it still will probably be cheaper than buying a high-end PC every 4-5 years.
Concept of exclusive games would be also different. If you own a Sony console and want to play, let’s say Forza or Halo, you need to buy an Xbox. With streaming it would be much easier. You would simply subscribe to a different service and play different games.
With all these benefits, what are the downsides? There is at least one – internet speed and reliability. For game streaming you need at least 15 Mbps to stream 720p games and 35 Mbps to stream games in 4K resolution. These speeds may be easy to achieve or a dream for you, depends where you live. And your connection needs to be stable, because as I said, there is no way to buffer content like in case with video or music.
Competition is growing
But today internet speed isn’t as big an issue as it was 10 years ago. That’s the reason why I think cloud gaming is going to become more serious in coming years. And there is also huge interest from the biggest tech companies. Sony and Microsoft have been in the gaming business for a long time, but now also Amazon and Google have their own streaming services. Nvidia is another competitor in this field and we will probably see other companies to start offering cloud gaming services. I will write more about current cloud gaming providers in a separate article.
I think that in the end, games will be distributed mainly through streaming – as it is with movies and music. Benefits will overshadow the downsides and cloud gaming will be beneficial for both gamers and providers. But for cloud gaming to become mainstream, it will take time. For the next more than five years PS5 and Xbox Series X will be on the spotlight. And then will see.