Why do we need video game streaming

Netflix for computer games : Google wants to revolutionize the gaming industry with subscription

The music industry has seen it. The film industry too. And if Google has its way, it will soon conquer the games industry: streaming from the cloud. As the group has now announced, it will launch its Stadia cloud game service in November - including in Germany.
Stadia calculates computer games on special Google servers - and then streams them as moving images to the end devices of the users. A big advantage here is that users do not need expensive hardware to play a graphically demanding game. If you want to be there at the start in November, you have to spend 129 euros for the Chromecast Ultra streaming device and a controller for game control. The offer also includes three months of the Stadia Pro subscription service, which otherwise cost 9.99 euros each. Subscription customers get sharper 4K images and access to a selection of games.

Up until now, you needed a console for computationally intensive games

Will the streaming service soon shake up the entire games industry? In fact, computer-intensive games like "Assassin's Creed: Odyssey", "Red Dead Redemption" or "Forza Horizon 4" still require a game console or a powerful PC. Console manufacturers such as Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo generate billions in sales with their products every year, and Google expressly sees itself as competition. If games from the cloud could be streamed to any end device, no matter how poorly, this would have a significant impact - not only on the manufacturers mentioned, but also on the use and design of games.

Is the streaming revolution coming soon for games too? It's not that simple. However, the offer disappointed the expectations of some analysts because the subscription mainly includes older titles. Of the current games, only "Destiny 2" is included so far. Others will have to be bought, as on other platforms. That will make it more difficult for Stadia to attract customers, criticized analyst Pierce Harding-Rolls of the market research company IHS Markit. So far, Google has not shown that the Internet group can supply customers better than traditional PC and console platforms.

Analyst Michael Pachter of the financial firm Wedbush also emphasized that subscription services are difficult to sell without a wide range of content. "It's like having a buffet with just a chicken dish, a meat dish and a noodle dish," he told the Financial Times. "If you want to become a Netflix for games, you have to have 1000 games on offer."

The internet is often not fast enough

And there's one more problem, because first of all, smooth game streaming requires a fast internet connection. If, on the other hand, there are delays between control commands and signal output ("lags"), many gamers are alienated - as is the loss of graphics due to the stream. Of course, the customer's internet connection also plays a role. In Germany not all households have a broadband connection. According to the industry association Breko, 93.5 percent of all urban households were able to access 50 Mbit or more in mid-2018. In the country it was just 50.5 percent. The super-fast 5G mobile communications standard is also not initially intended for private customers in Germany. So there are big gaps in broadband coverage - that clearly limits the number of game streamers in this country.

Games streaming is not really new: the German game company Crytek experimented with the cloud as early as 2005. Streaming services such as Shadow, Playstation Now and Geforce Now have been around for some time - what is particularly new is that Google, a much larger provider, has now entered the arena. Playstation Now from Sony is a streaming subscription that costs around 15 euros a month. Subscribers have access to a rotating selection of PS4, PS3 and PS2 games that can be streamed to either the PS4 or a PC; alternatively, it can also be downloaded to the PS4. Sony recommends an internet connection of at least 5 Mbit per second so that everything runs smoothly. This is sufficient for older games, but graphically new PS4 games do not come close to the locally installed version.

The provider Blade uses a different technology for its Shadow service. For around 30 euros per month, users rent a powerful Windows 10 computer in the cloud, on which they can not only play, but also run complex graphics programs, for example. Users should connect their router and their end device via a LAN cable, because the Wi-Fi can slow down the connection. In our test, Shadow works quite well - but the high price should only be attractive for a few users. Especially since they still have to buy the games.

Geforce Now made the best impression of the existing services on us. Like Blade, Nvidia offers access to a high-performance computer in the cloud. Here, too, a 50 Mbit line and a LAN cable are recommended in order not to suffer any loss of quality. Geforce Now currently supports more than 200 different games that are linked to the Steam and Epic accounts of the users, so they also have to be purchased separately.

So far, cloud gaming has been more expensive than Netflix

The three examples show: Cloud gaming requires fast internet - and tends to be more expensive than an average Netflix account. This makes it especially attractive for the target group of frequent gamers, not so much for casual gamers. How much Stadia can shake things up remains to be seen. In fact, Google has a strong lever here: YouTube users should be able to jump from viewer to player position with a single click. Given the range of the video portal, the Stadia is likely to attract enormous attention.

Nevertheless - or precisely because of this - there are enormous reservations about the streaming offensive. Console and PC manufacturers have to worry about their sales if the expensive hardware becomes obsolete. There is also a lot of headwind from the players themselves. The main point of criticism is the feared loss of quality compared to stationary games. However, users also criticize the fact that streaming services take away control of their own game library: that painstakingly worked out game progress is endangered and also the popular modding, i.e. the modification of the game by creative fans.

This argument only works if the games are actually offered as a flat rate - with providers such as Blade or Nvidia, on the other hand, the games remain in the possession of the players even after the subscription ends. However, developments in music and video streaming services suggest that games streaming could also move towards flat rates. This could also endanger the preservation of the games for future generations. The archiving of games as a cultural asset has so far mainly been done by individuals and museums who collect physical specimens.

A flat game rate could have an impact on quality

A flat rate is likely to have the greatest impact on game design. When games like Netflix series are consumed, providers could succumb to the temptation to artificially lengthen their games instead of relying on dramaturgically well-thought-out, self-contained narratives. There are already enough games that feed their users with new bites. But this trend could be intensified by game flat rates.

Perhaps computer games will also go in a completely different direction in the future. Respected game maker Amy Hennig (“Uncharted”) believes that real-time streaming of games can spark a narrative revolution. Hennig cites the interactive film “Bandersnatch” on Netflix as an example, in which viewers can influence the course of action at the push of a button. With similar formats, the games industry can address significantly more people than before, says Hennig. The future of streaming is definitely going to be exciting.

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