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Where will new streaming capabilities take the gaming industry?

Posted by Tom Ghirardi on 30th July 2019

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Now TV — film and television streaming services have now become a staple part of our homes, with figures from Statista showing the number of individual subscribers to Netflix services alone in the UK was around 27.1 million last year. However, the trend seems to be spreading to other sectors — in particular the video games industry. Not long ago, Google announced that they will be releasing their new streaming platform, Google Stadia, and at the same time rival tech giant Apple also announced their entry into the video gaming services market, with the Apple Arcade.

Google showcased its new service through the seamless streaming of Ubisoft’s title, Assassins Creed Odyssey, using only the internet to play the breathtakingly beautiful yet notoriously graphically demanding game. By contrast, Apple have stated that its new Arcade will take a slightly different approach, offering instead access to a selection of titles from its own App Store for a monthly subscription, meaning that games will also be available offline and not rely solely on streaming technology. Both Microsoft and Sony have their own subscription services, PlayStation Now and Xbox Game Pass, each granting users access to a catalogue of titles for a monthly subscription, similar to the Netflix service model, for each of their respective console formats.

Looking at the broader picture around these larger companies, there have actually been many similar options in the industry for a while. Valve’s revolutionary Steam platform has for many years, been PC gamers go-to method of purchasing software digitally — alongside competitors such as GOG — storing players’ purchases in a library that can be downloaded at any time. A less well-known platform called Humble has in fact offered a similar subscription service for many months now. Customers will receive a package of games for free every month, whilst also having access to a selection of consistent titles available to download and play as a subscriber. However, there the similarities end insofar as none of these companies offer a streaming service.

But Google may well have announced the future of gaming — and their own platform seems to have whipped up a storm in the industry. Allowing players to bypass the need for pricey hardware, the service allows users to simply stream the latest games through the internet. This was a very clever move, but I am surprised that it has taken so long for any of the industry leaders to do this. Since I was very young, I remember the struggles of splashing out on a new game, only to find out it wouldn’t work on my PC, sometimes despite even meeting the hardware requirements. Consoles and disks can break, but with the Google Stadia all this could be avoided, alongside offering the potential for brilliant portability as it can be used through a variety of platforms.

So, could this streaming service be the first step towards the end of physical hardware? PC gaming has often found itself hampered by requiring expensive and confusing mixes of hardware, off-putting to new users who may be less tech-savvy, leading many gamers to lean towards the simpler consoles. Consoles are at the centre of gaming, with fans divided as to whether Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo are the superior. But with the option to simply stream any game through older laptops, tablets or even smartphones needing nothing more than a subscription price, this will probably change the market forever. Sure, there will always be a large portion of gamers who enjoy the feel of having a physical unit under their TV, or those techie types who love the depth and technicality of PC gaming, but with the simplicity and lower cost of these new streaming services, I feel it is likely that in the future the use of physical hardware may begin to die out in favour of streaming services.