Some time ago I was asked what do I think will be the next big thing in gaming. Usually I tend to argue that digital will not replace physical release for some time now (digital distribution has been said to obsolete physical media for some fifteen years for now) but I do recognize that cross pollination between the media is common. The future of gaming can once more found in the past, and that probably will be streamed games.
Streaming games isn’t anything new and few companies have already tried it few times over. Nintendo’s Satellaview service is perhaps the most prominent example next to OnLive’s cloud gaming. These two functioned rather differently, with Satellaview requiring a specific cartridge that would download and save the game on the cartridge itself, whereas OnLive’s MicroConsole TV Adapter (that’s what their console was called) would access a title on OnLive’s servers and stream it directly to the console.
Netflix’s and other streaming services’ success is something modern game industry is probably highly envious of. Games and movies don’t only affect each other visually speaking, but also how the industries sort of work. Modern mainstream game industry is just as corrupt and full of itself as Hollywood is, and both are envious of each other of their successes and products they put out. The consumer really loses in this little battle with each other.
It could be argued that modern technology isn’t up to perfect game streaming yet. Satellaview was more or less a similar service to Steam in how the game required a specific setup in order to be played, and OnLive’s service stated that the user needed to live thousand miles of within their server in order to get quality service. The Internet speeds are the bottle cap of the system overall, and as games require more and more oomph from the machine, the machines need to reflect this in their hardware. However, hardware still doesn’t reflect the quality of the games, as that’s still up to the developers how their games are designed and optimised, two things that seem to be missing from current mainstream industry.
One of the main reasons why companies would want to aim for game streaming is that they can claim it to be fighting against piracy through that. Claim is the choice of word here, because game companies don’t like people trading their games with each other. It’s better for them if everyone bought their games new from the stores. A streaming service would keep their the control of the market in their hands. Purchasing of games wouldn’t be a thing as the consumer would subscribe to a service. Except for the DLC, that would always be a separate thing. Of course, the user wouldn’t need to use any of his HDD space for the games due to cloud based service. In regards of history archiving, stream-only games would be hard to archive for future generations. Satellaview games suffer from this, especially with the radio broadcasts that went with them. Even now, a game that has its license expiring will be removed from stores and online services whenever applicable, and the same will apply to any streaming service.
Of course, the ownership question always pops up. With a streaming service, you would only own the console you would use for streaming, and for computers you wouldn’t probably own the software. You’d need to subscribe to the service itself and would have no control over anything in the end. Without a doubt, regional variants would continue to exists, just like with Netflix and other streaming services that limit what can be streamed in which country. This sort of regional locking is something that isn’t an issue with modern consoles any more, but with stream-only services a user wouldn’t be able to access games from another region without a VPN.
Which if the Big Three would launch their own modern game streaming service first? Sony certainly should have the basics for it, as they bought out OnLive. They should have all the documentation and basic framework how to set up a similar cloud gaming service. Perhaps this could be their ace in the hole to compete against Nintendo’s hybrid console. Microsoft on the other probably won’t do anything of the sort for a while now before they see how Project Scorpio turns out, and probably will mimic whatever Nintendo and Sony put out while trying to trump them with something over the top (see; Kinect and WiiMote.) Nintendo on the other hand seems to be already testing some waters with Switch’s paid online, as the current word on the street is that Nintendo’s paid online service has been delayed until 2018 and rather than offering a game for the subscribers to play, they will be able to access a plethora of classic games. Of course Nintendo would only offer classic games and nothing newer, as they don’t give a damn about their classic lineup of games. On the surface it does seem nice, with the cheaper price and all, but this most likely also means Nintendo won’t give two shits about Virtual Console, which was one of the reasons people bought Wii. Perhaps in their eyes a streaming service of these classic games could increase console sales, especially if the service was cheap enough.
I admit that companies hoping to take control over the consumers’ consumption of goods into their hands does sound like conspiracy theory to an extent, but no company would pass such an opportunity, because ultimately it is all about the money. By having all the string in your fingertips, a company could log in all the preferences of a consumer, supplement them, hit the right spots and sell the information forwards while still selling their own product (i.e. subscription service and DLC in this case) to the consumer. The current consumer trend is to give control of products over the companies, and Steam probably exemplifies this the best alongside with Netflix. Certainly it is cheaper and you don’t amass large amounts of discs on your shelf. Perhaps there is too much trust put into these companies with all the information we give them.