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Google announces Stadia
Buying each generation of console is expensive and the of course the same goes for maintaining a PC. My current PC works great for working but it is showing its age when attempting to play the latest titles at high or above levels... and that is only at 1920x1200. It is this expensive barrier that sits at the core of the problem of exclusivity as it forces a choice between one or another platform (I have written previously about the issue with exclusivity here). This is not to mention the hassle of taking care of the hardware and the software in a world were games can be over 50 gigabytes in size and require regular updates.
Mobility is another problem. Cloud saves still are not reliable. Not every friend of yours will have a PC or PS4, let alone the game you want to play preinstalled and ready to go. There are countless times when I have some downtime on a trip and I just want to be playing the game on my PC/PS4 that is collecting dust whilst I am away.
Now imagine starting a Civilization 6 (great game!) session at your desk. You head out and continue the session on your lovely tablet whilst travelling on the bus. You are visiting a friend and show off the might of your empire on their large 4K HDR TV.
This, combined with the promise of 5G networks, which promises a world of ultra-low latency is just one example of where the future of technology is heading. It is rare for me to be excited about promised technology that has not been proven to work yet but it is the potential that excites me.
Google has announced a future cloud gaming service called Stadia without a release date and few technical details. It seems they are drumming up potential studios and publishers to develop for the platform. Interestingly, their staff at GDC 2019 refused to discuss any particulars with journalists, which is worrying to say the least. Seeing Google developing such a technology in the first place is odd, though their contributions are very welcome. With YouTube, they built remarkable scale and developed a strong understanding of streaming to billions of people. Not only does Google have the infrastructure for it but the technical acumen to make it work. That is to say they do not abandon then cancel the product...
They announced that it will be possible to stream to your television via a Chromecast or web browser. A controller will be specifically sold for this service and it will connect directly with the cloud service via wifi to minimise lag, which I find fascinating. It shows that Google is working with internet assumptions. Microsoft and Sony will face a threat as they will also attempt to shield their large existing businesses whilst Google is able to attract anyone that has a television or web browser.
New Genres of Games
I am not the most imaginative person but it is easy to see that new games will be created that cannot exist with current infrastructure. MMOs can turn into super-MMOs with thousands or millions of players playing simultaneously. With all the computing handled in data centres, individual servers will be nanoseconds away from each other.
Games can stream at 4K HDR and look stunning, according to Google, which will mean that the servers are quite capable. Developers will not be hindered by gamers’ hardware and be able to focus on new experiences. Open worlds can be humungous with rendering distances not an issue, lag will be eliminated (between the computers) resulting in fairer online matches, and download sizes become irrelevant,
Another important aspect is that hacking will become incredibly difficult which is great news for PC online games. It is a significant problem in some communities. However, it will also limit people’s ability to mod or cheat single-player games which is a significant part of the experience on PC, which issues of ownership.
I have been thinking a lot about potential business models. With the trend of every service becoming a subscription, it possibly will be a Netflix or Spotify style all-you-can-eat service, which the purely-digital nature suits.
Though an issue with that is gamers who play regularly and those who seldomly play would pay the same fee. It is the norm with most services but those are significantly cheaper to operate as they do not require specialised, highly powerful servers. An avid gamer could cost Google a lot of computing time yet the service will have to be cheap enough to attract casual players.
And how will revenue be distributed between games? How will a publisher like Rockstar, who is said to have spent hundreds of millions to produce GTA V, going to be enticed to publish on that service. It makes sense if it was purely a Netflix model with Google producing and publishing their own games (which they have announced they will be doing).
And if it was a subscription model, that would eliminate any opportunity for developers to charge for micro/in-app transactions — which would actually be a great outcome but then no free-to-play games will be successful. So perhaps it could offer free-to-play titles without a subscription but those will be able to sell micro transactions.
The Future of the Future
Microsoft is working on their own equivalent service and Sony has an offering already available on the market. With internet connections improving, cloud gaming can expect wide adoption. It will certainly become more prevalent and threaten the existence of consoles as they are today.
This is something I am definitely keeping my eye on as it would lend itself really well for some games. Whilst Civilization 6 is available on iPad, it does not support cloud sync between PC and iOS :(
Thank you so much for reading, I really appreciate it.
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