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Video game streaming: A market on the horizon

Streaming services have gained a foothold in virtually every entertainment market over the past decade. Netflix and other streaming services have practically put cable television to rest. One industry that direct streaming hasn’t ventured into is gaming. That is about to change, for better or worse. Companies have observed the $150 billion worth industry and noted the potential for expansion. And they can’t wait to capitalize on it.

The Game

The answer to the question, “What could video game streaming achieve?” is still very vague.

In theory, a streaming service encompassing all devices could eliminate the need for consoles and console exclusive games. We could play any game on any device with sufficient hardware. And if someone has doubts about that, think about it this way: If there was an opportunity to make more games available on any device, either the producers would step up the hardware in their devices for less money, or games would be developed with better optimization, making them less demanding.

The Players

There is a very likely possibility of having console quality games on even mobile devices if streaming comes to pass, in the way it should. More for less is good news for customers. But what are the potential players in the streaming market preparing to offer?

Microsoft

Microsoft’s Project XCloud began with the expression that their vision for the future of gaming didn’t involve an expensive console. A cynical person such as myself might attribute that sentiment to their expensive console not selling. After the disappointment of the Xbox One despite it’s great hardware, Microsoft looked to take the beef off the device and implement it to their servers. They plan the service to avail top tier video games in any and all devices. This was exciting news for video game enthusiasts. XCloud allows you to play Xbox games without ever owning an Xbox, with all the features like crossplay, party chat and competitive online play available. All you need is an XCloud account to have access to the Xbox’s library of games on any device, even your smartphone. A Wi-Fi connection with decent speed or even a 4G connection can avail the XCloud to anyone, anywhere.

Google

A few months after Project XCloud’s announcement, Google introduced us to the beta version of its Project Stream. The service offers game streaming via the Google Chrome browser. The process was demonstrated by streaming Assassin’s Creed Odyssey over Chrome. Google offered the game for free to beta testers (those who met a few criteria) for the procedure that ran from last October to January 2019. There were a few problems, but the major takeaway was streaming via the Chrome browser is possible for a high-end game running at 60 fps on 1080p HD.

The others and how they hold up

Aside from the more prominent projects of Google and Microsoft, it is rumoured that Apple might also be working on a game streaming service. Granted, Apple hasn’t exactly had much to do with gaming at any point. But the allure of the market might finally be bringing them around.

It can be argued that Sony with Remote Play and PlayStation Now has already done what Microsoft and Google are trying to do. The truth is that the PS4’s remote play allows games to be played on the PSVita and the PC, but only up to 720p resolution. And you have to keep your PS4 running over the internet or across your room. In addition, the PlayStation Now service requires that you own a Sony PlayStation device to play the games on it. And the streaming service has been tormented by input lag issues and low quality video capability. So the XCloud and Project stream are far more than just counters to the PlayStation on Xbox and PC respectively.

The future

There is a very simple idea at work here. If you own a game you should be able to take it with you wherever and play it on whatever. Backwards compatibility and streaming on demand are facets of the idea. Offerings like Project XCloud have the potential to change the entire gaming market going forward by redefining how you buy a game and how you own it. This is not to say that console exclusives or physical copy ownership in gaming are going away. Many people are still sceptical of digital ownership, which is why you can still buy game disks. And console exclusives are a great way to market and sell consoles.

Video game streaming in the context of Project XCloud and Project Stream is an indication of inclusion and reach. More games will be available to more people far more conveniently. You can own a console with exclusive games and buy physical copies if you want to. And someone else can play games they want to play on anything from a phone to a tablet at any place if one wants to. Simply put, video game streaming can find the balance Netflix and Cable couldn’t. It can provide a solution to everyone without upsetting anyone or shutting down any preceding option. So when Microsoft talks about Project XCloud being the Netflix of video games, they aren’t looking to put the last nail in console gaming’s coffin, just because the last two generations of Xbox got owned by basically every other console.

At least that’s what we hope. It’s Microsoft. They’ve screwed up good things before. All we can do is wait and see. Good thing is if it doesn’t look good, you can still resort to pre-existing means. This isn’t the 3.5 mm jack, no one’s trying to replace it for dubious reasons.

What’s up Microsoft’s sleeve?

Microsoft has concentrated on almost everything other than their smartphone division in 2017. Resulting in around 7.6 billion dollars in losses and almost a thousand jobs lost following Nokia’s acquisition of its phone division, have Microsoft finally lost the game?

Image: Business Insider

Not really. Microsoft is apparently going through a restructuring of its mobile division, with plans of finalisation by the end of June 2017. With the Surface product line being revealed, it obviously seems like Microsoft is revamping its lineup of products with a brand new flair.

A few days ago, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella announced in a podcast that Microsoft will still make phones but they may not look like phones at all. Adding fuel to the fire, an insider hinted that several Windows releases indicate support for a device named “Andromeda”, with high chances of the device being a pen-based digital notebook.

Microsoft’s patents point towards a foldable mobile device that can act as a single-screen touch-operated device when laid out flat, or used as a laptop when folded with the second half of the screen displaying a keyboard.

Early rumours suggest that the device may sport a high end processor with 4GB of RAM and 128 GB storage. This is in the same flow of rumours that suggest similar specs for the Surface Phone. Similar concepts have already appeared from ZTE – the Axon M.

Image: David Breyer

One interesting hint at what Microsoft might be working on in its mobile division comes from the Microsoft Continuum. Similar to Samsung’s DeX, which aims to turn a Galaxy S8 into a PC, Microsoft’s Continuum is being developed to provide the same experience. However, multitasking is a big issue that Samsung has already solved in DeX. It implemented its own windowing system similar to the experience found in Android Nougat. Microsoft still hasn’t implemented this in Continuum.

Image: David Breyer

Recent reports from Windows leaksters also suggest that a previous device being worked on has been scrapped in favor of a new one being developed by a team led by Microsoft’s hardware lead Panos Panay. Panos was in charge of the team that designed the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book.

A WIRED interview last year even alludes that within the same room making the Surface Book 4, the prototype of an unspecified phone was being made. Microsoft has neither confirmed nor denied any rumors yet, but do remember that patents of the Surface Pro was made just a few months before it was released.

With the Surface product line being revealed, it obviously seems like Microsoft is revamping its lineup of products with a brand new flair.

Reported release dates are quite ambiguous. The closest source rumours suggest that the device may be releases this year or the next, with the device being kept under wraps, set to be one of the most powerful devices launched by the company.

Whatever the device may be, we can only hope that something productive and innovative comes out of Microsoft. With the release of Surface Pro and Surface Book 4, Microsoft seems to have gotten their momentum back. The question is, can they keep it up with their newest device? Only time will tell.