The Videogame Industry Is Poised for a Massive Disruption
As video game publishers and tech companies hustle to complete streaming projects, the pressure is on to nail minimum viable product features—or risk losing serious ground to competitors. Organizations like Google and Microsoft have launched projects to develop streaming videogames users can play on their phones or tablets, without needing their consoles or PCs. They're hoping streaming projects will help their industry as it has for movies and music.
“Cloud gaming is evolving into a global phenomenon,” Ed Thomas, principal analyst, GlobalData, said in a statement. “Major games companies are racing to become the Netflix of games.”
—Ed Thomas, GlobalData
Sony's PlayStation Now has led the charge for streaming since 2014, but other major players have recently entered the field, including Microsoft's Project xCloud, which launched in beta in October 2019; Google's Stadia, which began streaming in November 2019; and Nvidia's GeForce Now, which is now in beta. Still others have plans to venture into streaming, including game-makers such as Electronic Arts and Valve.
“You can play the games you want to play on multiple screens; you can play the same game across TVs, PCs and mobile devices; and you can play at home or on the go,” says Lewis Ward, research director, gaming and virtual reality/artificial reality, IDC, Framingham, Massachusetts, USA. “It gets rid of the line between a game and a specific device.”
Yet developing a game capable of erasing that line presents real technical challenges, such as players’ varying internet connections and bandwidths. “The main hope of streaming is that it will open up gaming to people who normally have not thought of buying a dedicated gaming device, but it's still an emerging technology that's not yet proven,” says Rami Ismail, co-founder of independent game studio Vlambeer, Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Plug and Play
At this point, Mr. Ismail says, streaming games that work well have an inherent delay, so gamers won't feel the delay in input. Think of a game where the player climbs a building, as opposed to a lot of fast shooting action. But as cloud and 5G technologies mature, they're expected to mitigate latency and bandwidth limitations. In late 2018, PlayStation Now addressed that limitation by launching a downloading service for its games.
Google's Stadia controller. Below, Microsoft's Project xCloud
IMAGES COURTESY OF GOOGLE (TOP) AND MICROSOFT
For its part, Google is claiming its cloud gaming will actually be faster than traditional gaming in the near future. That's a result of technology that will predict what players do before they do it. “Ultimately, we think in a year or two we'll have games that are running faster and feel more responsive in the cloud than they do locally, regardless of how powerful the local machine is,” Majd Baker, Stadia's vice president of engineering, told Edge magazine.
Cloud gaming project teams have the added challenge of developing games not only for their own organizations but in collaboration with many other game developers as well. “As a cloud-gaming service, we have partnerships with more than 160 developers,” says Joseph Knowles, an Espoo, Finland-based communications director for Hatch. A subsidiary of Rovio, the videogame developer behind the mega-popular mobile game Angry Birds, Hatch is a subscription-based cloud service that delivers games to mobile devices and TVs.
Hatch's developer partners usually have to optimize their games to run on Hatch's platform. So, Hatch's developers have to keep the process of integration with Hatch simple, Mr. Knowles says. “We want to make it as easy as possible for a publisher to bring their games onto our platform.”
Developers also have to get creative in addressing the different playing experiences on a phone or tablet compared to a TV. For Arkanoid Rising, released in November 2019, Hatch wanted to turn the original single-player Arkanoid game from 1986 into a multiplayer game. But through internal testing, the team found it could not show both players well enough on small mobile screens. So the team developed a novel solution: multiview support, where different players have different perspectives. “That turned out to be a key ingredient for developing our games for streaming,” Mr. Knowles says.
GLOBAL VIDEOGAME INDUSTRY
Global theatrical and home-movie market in 2018
Global recorded music market in 2018
NUMBER OF GAMERS WORLDWIDE
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