Cloud gaming, game streaming, whatever you want to call it, is now top of mind when discussing how people will be gaming in the future. With Google’s recent announcement of its Stadia game streaming service, and subsequent death of its rumored gaming console, cloud gaming has officially taken the spotlight as the (now validated) future of gaming. Like most trends, however, there are plenty of competitors looking for a piece of the action.
Two years ago, I was a ranting mad man who was preaching the end of gaming hardware as we knew it, brought on by the looming takeover of game streaming. Today, I am just as crazy, but the game streaming trend has now undoubtedly exploded into the mainstream, with tech giants like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, all throwing their hats into the ring. While I have eased up on my doom-and-gloom predictions around gaming hardware, the focus on cloud gaming from major corporations has proven that there is a new era of game consumption on the horizon.
Each company in the war for game streaming dominance has its own advantages that if executed properly, can potentially offer unique benefits for their competing cloud gaming services
Google originally announced its Project Stream platform late last year, utilizing its Chrome browser to stream AAA titles like Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Fast forward to its recent GDC conference where Google officially launched its Stadia cloud gaming service, complete with a newly branded gaming controller (though Google notes third party peripherals will work as well). The service promises to deliver high-end gaming through the Chrome browser or directly through YouTube across nearly every display-equipped device (PCs, smartphones, tablets, TVs). The tech giant has the advantage of utilizing its widely-used Chrome browser, creating the opportunity to essentially game on a Chromebook – a feat that could bring the service to every single Chromebook user. Google also has the potential to incorporate and market the service with YouTube, one of the top destinations for the live streaming of video games.
Microsoft’s Project xCloud is taking a somewhat unique approach by incorporating a touch-overlay to games being played on a tablet to closely simulate the functions of a traditional analogue controller. This concept ties into the over-arching message that the service is meant to allow gamers to choose multiple devices to play their favorite games on, and may give Microsoft an advantage in game streaming. The company could also benefit from its obvious connection to the Xbox platform, tying any cloud gaming service to its existing Xbox gaming ecosystem. Microsoft notes that it will begin public trials of its Project xCloud service this year.
Amazon is reportedly developing its own cloud gaming/game streaming platform for a 2020 release, similar to those in development by rivals Google and Microsoft. The ecommerce giant has already made huge investments in gaming with the 2014 acquisition of the live video streaming platform Twitch, which has since been woven into its Amazon Prime subscription offerings. Amazon will enter the race with a huge advantage of an existing 95 million+ paying members, who can be sold any upcoming gaming service as part of an Amazon Prime package. Not to mention, there is the potential exposure of the service through its Twitch platform and possible bundle offerings.
Nvidia was essentially the first to market with game streaming/cloud gaming, originally offering its GeForce Now service exclusively for its set-top box Shield devices. The company has since moved the concept to PCs and Macs, opening up the service (which remains in beta testing) to anyone with a 15Mbps internet connection. The company benefits from being first-to-market with the concept, gaining insight from years of beta testing, while also being at the epicenter of what drives all competing cloud gaming services: GPUs. While Google is partnering with AMD to supply the GPUs that will run its Stadia service, it is assumed the remaining competitors will be relying on Nvidia GPUs to power external servers.
Verizon has emerged as a competitor in game streaming, with reports surfacing that it has been testing its own platform, dubbed Verizon Gaming. The service, which Verizon has not been marketing, is currently available on Nvidia’s aforementioned Shield, with plans to expand to Android smartphones. The expansion into cloud gaming/game streaming would represent a huge move for the carrier, with some speculating that its game streaming initiative could be tied into its future plans for 5G, an important component to the future of cloud gaming. While Verizon will be entering the fray with top contenders like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Nvidia, it may benefit from the eventual roll-out of 5G and accompanying plans, with possible bundle packages for existing Verizon customers.
The Future is Now
Currently, the idea of cloud gaming is still inhibited by the restrictions of internet speed and accessibility. However, as I ranted two years ago, internet speeds are only increasing and becoming available in more regions. The performance benefits from any given competitor in the space are likely to even out over time, leaving future competition in the emerging market to revolve around two main points: exclusive gaming titles and bundled incentives. It will be interesting to see how these tech giants battle it out for supremacy and what services gamers decide to adopt, and you can bet that I will be among them.
See you in another two years.
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