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The projects announced by Google and Microsoft have a chance to revolutionize the gaming industry, similar to Netflix and Spotify in case of movies and music.
What is cloud gaming and why is it popular?
The rising popularity of online streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal for music or Netflix and HBO GO for movies has significantly altered consumer habits and the industry in general. The main advantages are related to accessibility – the content can be viewed on any device with Internet access at any time.
At the same time, the video games industry generated $137.9 billion in 2018, which is more than the movie and music industries combined. However, the dream of being able to play any game on any device without investing in expensive hardware is far from new. So what actually has stopped developers from creating a “Netflix for games” so far?
Over the past decade, the developers have been racing to create such a service with mixed success, mainly due to technological constraints, which are related to insufficient server power and development of Internet infrastructure in general. The most significant projects were OnLive in 2010, PlayStation Now in 2014, GeForce Now in 2015 along with the mobile, multimedia devices from the Nvidia Shield family and Origin Access by Electronic Arts in 2016.
With cloud gaming, players run games remotely in data centres full of servers and powerful hardware, streaming the gaming data to their device. This eliminates the need to download and install games, as the whole gaming experience is cloud-based, and, what is more, players don’t need to invest money into purchasing or upgrading expensive hardware.
Streaming works fine for music and video content as the services manage to pre-load content before it is required, which in turn protects the smooth playback from the problematic internet connection. Video games, however, don’t have that luxury, as the connection must be rock solid to provide near-uninterrupted gaming experience.
The service, which has come the closest to the “Netflix for games” idea so far is GeForce Now. However, it hasn’t gained much popularity, since it’s been stuck in the testing mode for several years now. Access to GeForce Now will be free until the release of the final version. In order to try the application, players have to purchase a portable, multimedia device from the Nvidia Shield family, which will provide immediate access to the service, or apply for the closed testing procedure, however in this case, the number of testers is limited.
Google’s Stadia and Microsoft’s Project xCloud – the next big step forward on the path to “Netflix for gamers”
Google Stadia is scheduled to premiere in November this year and will be initially available only in the United States, Canada, and selected European countries. Unfortunately, Poland is not listed among them. What is more, in the beginning only the owners of Chromecast Ultra (a device that allows streaming 4K images and other content to TVs) and the latest Pixel smartphone models will be able to launch the service. The application will offer 31 starter titles at launch.
The service will come in two tiers – Stadia Pro and Stadia Base. The Pro edition will cost $9,99 per month providing up to 4K/60fps with 5.1 surround sound with the base of free games and discounts on games to purchase. For a limited time there will be access to the full Destiny 2 experience including all add-ons, extensions and the annual pass. Stadia Base will launch in 2020 offering free, up to 1080p/60fps experience, however, all the games will have to be purchased separately.
The company also announced Stadia Founder’s Edition which will cost $129, and include a limited edition controller, a Chromecast Ultra, a 3-month Stadia Pro subscription, and a 3-month Buddy Pass, which allows sharing Stadia Pro to a friend. The edition will also ensure first dibs on Stadia name.
When it comes to Microsoft xCloud, we don’t know as many details about it as we do about Google Stadia. The service will have its premiere this autumn a month before the Google’s competitive product and allow to play all the titles available on Xbox One – a library of more than 3,500 games, which can be a big advantage over Google Stadia.
The xCloud also allows to play Xbox games on various devices such as TVs, phones, tablets and computers. What is more, Microsoft has announced that players will be able to stream games directly from their own console instead of an external server, by using the Xbox One, which evokes associations with PlayStation Now.
With these two major industry players taking the stage, cloud gaming has yet another chance to bring revolution to the gaming world. Google and Microsoft have extensive experience in cloud-based services and breakthrough solutions, as well as credible resources to develop such products. What is more, these companies are also able to negotiate favourable agreements with other game developers thanks to their market position, which can help them to create a broad, competitive gaming base.
Overall, these factors improve the prospects for effective implementation of the service and taking the cloud streaming to a qualitatively new level, while one of the main arguments in favor of the emergence of this technology is the economy of the user’s time and money.