We’ve come a long way since the days of renting movies and games from Blockbuster. Yes, we all know that Blockbuster no longer exists but a case can be made that Blockbusters demise was the result of technology coming so far in such a short amount of time.
Gone are the days where we spend the whole week deciding what to rent on the weekend. Now, we open up Netflix (to name one such service) and peruse the thousands of films ready for our viewing pleasure at a click of a button or a tap of the screen. Streaming models have taken over our lives since the internet became fast and readily available. Spotify has changed the way we listen to music and other music services are following suit. Services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu give us hours of video on demand.
The success and convenience of streaming content is unquestionable. So why has video gaming been left behind?
Gaming is up there with the most powerful mediums of the modern world yet unlike music and film, seems to be dragging its feet when it comes to streaming. Twitch has made giants like Amazon take notice by showing how much people love watching live streams of games being played. So much so that Amazon is in the early stages of buying Twitch for a not so bad $1 billion.
So video games and streaming belong together right? While video on demand services have been running and gathering pace for years, video game streaming has had a horrid past.
On Live, a cloud based video game streaming company decided it was time to bring game streaming to the mainstream and launched in 2010. The service was plagued with problems throughout its run and although is still running today, it has pretty much become an after thought in the gaming industry. OnLive launched with investors such as Warner Brothers and British Telecom and publishers such as Take Two, Epic Games and Sega. They hit multiple countries and even released a dedicated console. You could even play console games on a smart phone or tablet. The idea was right. It was exactly what we need today. It was the “Netflix” of gaming.
Unfortunately, the implementation didn’t match the ambition. Latency was a big problem and players found that lag was rife throughout the service unless you had amazingly fast broadband; something that wasn’t and still isn’t available to everyone. The amount of big titles started to dwindle and paying subscribers fell rapidly. By 2012, only 2 years after launch, OnLive was the subject of a buyout and the majority of staff had been laid off.
Fast forward to 2014. A new generation of gaming consoles and a new dawn for video games and streaming. Twitch is available on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 and is amazingly easy to use and stream a play through of what ever you’re playing. Now, anybody can live stream their games. So where’s the Netflix of gaming? Sony and Microsoft were looked at by the gaming community to unleash a game changing (excuse the pun) service. Sony entered the ring with PlayStation Now. After showing off all the streaming capabilities of the PS4 at their press conferences, PlayStation Now was announced to a mixed reaction from gamers already burned by OnLives ambitions. The service will allow users to pay for access to a selection of original PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 titles on either a per-game basis or via a subscription, with plans to offer PS4 titles in the future. Initially available on PS3, PS4, Vita and Vita TV, Sony showed off demos of heavy hitters such as Last Of Us, Beyond Two Souls and God Of War: Ascension (all first party titles) running on the service. The open beta started at the end of July but the verdict is still out. There are no details of pricing or which publishers will be partnering with Sony for the service.
Partner the lack of information with the fact that no one really knows how the service will perform with low internet speeds, (Sony recommends a minimum of 5mbps, the same as OnLive) and you can see why the mixed reception is justified.
In a world of native 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second, the games that are being streamed need to look good. OnLive aimed for 720p resolution and with average internet speeds, that rarely happened.
Sony’s demos looked great but take the service away from a showfloor and into an average gamers living room and we may see a different result.
It was Microsoft’s turn next and only recently, EA announced EA Access, a service both offered to Sony and Microsoft but Sony declined probably based on the fact that it may get in the way of their own offering.
EA Access is a game service on a monthly or yearly subscription basis, offering a range of EA games to users. The service is different to the likes of PlayStation Now as games are downloaded to the players hard drive ready to play as long as the player has a subscription. The downloading of games eliminates the risk of lag and poor frame rates but the range of games offered are generally last years offerings such as Fifa 14 and Battlefield 4.
EA also offers discounts if the player wants to buy a game permanently. It has already launched but it is still early days in terms of how well it is being received.
The problems with video game streaming are obvious. Latency, frame rate and the ability to cope with low bandwith are the main culprits. After that comes the negotiating with publishers to get their games on board and agreeing a payment model.
Video has done it. Music has done it. Yes, they generally aren’t as intense on the average home broadband connection to stream as HD console video games are but they had their own obstacles and they still did it.
What we need, is a service which can cope with the average internet connection in the home (let’s say 5mbps) and still look good on the TV. A service that has virtually no latency, resulting in less lag and jerkiness. And a service that doesn’t just offer games from one publisher, but a variety of them.
Imagine if all of the gaming catalogue on the Steam platform was available to stream (reliably) for a monthly fee? That’s what I’m getting at.
Unfortunately, it seems for now, as long as internet speeds suffer and game publishers continue to release their own individual services, we may have to wait for the “Netflix” of games for just a while longer.