Gaming, one of the most exciting and engaging forms of entertainment has come a long way – from DOS-based games like Tetris and Pacman, to life-like graphics of modern day games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.
Since graphics have come all the way to look very close to reality, graphical progress is evident. Which leaves us with the question of the future of gaming. What exactly is the future of gaming? Is it Virtual Reality? Is it real-time simulation? Is it better graphics?
Google and Microsoft have recently given us something that we can, in fact, consider to be the future of gaming. Google's Stadia and Microsoft's xCloud are services that will introduce streaming to games.
The aim is to be able to play high quality games on any screen seamlessly without bothering about the device’s capabilities and move from one device to another.
What is Cloud Gaming?
Game streaming services want to do with games, what Netflix did with audio-visual content – consume content anywhere, on any device, without requiring a high-end gaming console or PC.
The games will be run by the servers at these companies' data centres (they have made new specific data centres for game streaming). The high-power servers that these companies are using can effortlessly render high-end graphics. At the Google Developer's Conference, Google said its servers can render better graphics than the Microsoft xBox and Sony PlayStation.
Stadia servers can render 10.7 GPU teraflops, as compared to the Xbox One X’s 6 GPU teraflops and PS4 Pro’s 4.2 GPU teraflops.
While the concept in itself sounds like the future, to be able to make gaming possible on every device, there is a lot of work ahead for these companies. Some immediate concerns that pop up are internet speeds, pricing, user base, the games on the platforms, and the basic hardware needed. Also will the games be equally as good as console/PC games? And lastly, is it too far-fetched?
Since internet speed is what determines the quality of content one consumes online, the internet speeds here are important. Rendering high quality graphics takes far more bandwidth than running high-quality videos. For example, the highest 4G speed ever recorded in India was slightly above 46 mbps. Now, to stream a movie or a TV show, this speed is more than you’ll ever need. However, streaming games can be a different ball game altogether. Rendering graphics over a server is also something that takes a lot of bandwidth. Games are much bigger in size as well – GTA 5 is 50 GB while Red Dead Redemption 2 is 99 GB.
However, with 5G right around the corner, the internet connectivity will largely be taken care of. Verizon, the American network provider has, in fact, already invited people to test out their 5G network. 5G speeds can touch as high as 1 GBPS, reportedly.
Now, this is the most debated topic around these game streaming services. Interestingly, it is also one of the things that are most uncertain. How will companies price these services? Will the games be included in the subscription?
When it comes to authentic console gaming, Sony Playstation and Microsoft xBox charge customers for their online services and people have to pay for purchasing the games as well. On the other hand, in an interview with The Verge, Head of project xCloud, Kareem Choudhry, said that he wants to bring back the concept of xBox Play. An anywhere service, where one could just buy the game and play it on whatever device they want. Apart from that, since the companies aspire to be the Netflix of gaming, they might just go the Netflix way, since Netflix doesn't charge one separately for the content they consume.
It took Sony and Microsoft decades to be able to garner a user base in the millions – Sony's user base surpassed 80 million in May 2018, and about 64 million people play xBox as of early 2019, many of them loyalists. Now, since gaming is all about experience, it’s not fun playing when you can't find people to play with.
However, the level at which these services will gain users will solely depend on what these services offer (getting to play FIFA without having to own a console is what dreams are made of).
Availability of Games
The availability of games can be key to the success of services like the Stadia and xCloud. Microsoft has many of its own labels – Gear of War, Forza, Halo, the list is long. It is also said to be working on specific xCloud labels.
Google, on one hand, has created its own studio for Stadia-exclusive games and on the other, partnered with labels like Unity, Unreal and more.
End of Consoles?
From the face of it, game streaming does sound like the end of gaming consoles. Google's Stadia, in fact, as the tech giant claims, can work with any controller. However, Kareem, in a blog post said:
"“We’re developing Project xCloud not as a replacement for game consoles, but as a way to provide the same choice and versatility that lovers of music and video enjoy today. We’re adding more ways to play Xbox games.”" - Kareem Choudhry, Head of Project, Microsoft xCloud
We have been hearing about the next generation of Xbox and PlayStation for a long time, it is unlikely the companies will bin their projects. This will open more ways to enjoy high-end gaming.
Will the Games Match Console Quality?
Games that we saw in Google's Gamers Developer Conference (GDC) were names like Assassin's Creed and Doom. Microsoft, on the other hand, showed Forza Horizon 4 running smoothly on a smartphone at its keynote. From what was shown at the developer conferences, it seems that the games will not be an issue, if only they can run as smoothly and with as much detail that consoles and PCs allow.
Future of Gaming?
Since one cannot possibly predict the future, we can consider this to be a part of it. If implemented, services like Stadia and xCloud will be the biggest breakthrough in the gaming industry – it will break the barrier of owning a gaming console or a computer.
However, before we heard about these streaming services, we were looking at the next generation of consoles as the future. The shift to digital download of games from physical CD's was considered a progress in technology, being able to play on any device seems like one as well. Getting rid of the console at once, can very well be the future of gaming. As Google said at its GDC this year, “The future of gaming is not a box, it’s a place.”
This place though, is still a bit away from being common. Google and Microsoft have both said that they will launch their services in 2019 itself, but without giving us any further details. Availability wise, Google’s Stadia will initially launch in US, UK, Canada and most of Europe. How long will it take for it to reach other places, and more importantly, how long will it take for it to reach India?
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