RIP Stadia, Long Live Cloud Gaming
Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO, Apple TV+, and whatever else seems to be created every 20 minutes. These are all streaming services trying to earn your dollar and your time. TV streaming has become something every company appears to have a hand in. It’s obvious why: guaranteed recurring revenue for your subscriber base, a captive audience to show only your content too, and the ability for the end-user to consume anything you may surface for them immediately.
Video isn’t the only thing that can take advantage of these modern improvements to the video pipeline. Gaming is next, and it’s already here.
Game Streaming has been advancing in the shadows without much press. Initially pioneered by OnLive in the early age of Fiber Optic internet has since expanded, Boosteroid, xCloud, GeForce NOW, and many others. These streaming services promise to allow you to play nearly any game in your library immediately - assuming you have the internet connection to support it.
Effectively, your game is running on someone else’s server equipped with an insanely powerful graphics card. This server would receive your inputs and controls over the internet, then stream the game's video back to you. As you may imagine - unless you have perfect internet and live close to these servers, it can add a fair bit of latency to your experience.
The appeal is clear: Buy a game and play it immediately. No 2-hour+ download times. No dealing with installers. No hardware compatibility. Just go.
And while game streaming has a future (at least Netflix thinks so, as do many of the other big guys), I don’t believe it’s in the world of 100% streamed gameplay. Rather, a hybrid of the two.
Like Digital Realms? There’s more to come!
100% cloud-based gaming has advantages, but it also has plenty of efficiency flaws. Many engine-based or platform features that could likely be run on modern hardware without a hitch (and wouldn’t require a sizable download) are also cloud-based. This leaves the browser to display the picture and not contribute to any of the heavy lifting. Things like helping control player movement, displaying some UI elements, or basic math could be done locally — no need for server-based management.
Some platforms are already doing this.
Roblox allows you to access millions of experiences in a tap, and you don’t need to re-download anything except for the Roblox client. Everything else streams in and caches in real time as you explore the experience. Why do full games have to be any different?
A fair argument could support Offline Play - games you want to be able to play and enjoy without an internet connection. However, moving to a hybrid model would still allow these to work. Players would choose to “Download” or save a copy of all required game data locally. Quick jump-in-to-play for those who don’t care about offline, but the choice is there for those who want it.
Do you support a cloud gaming future?