Console gaming has had a hard time staying relevant with the emergence of mobile gaming. They’re still profitable because hardcore gamers stayed loyal to their consoles which are the only machines powerful enough to deliver the kind of in-depth gaming experience that they demand. But that may soon change with the latest addition to the gaming market; video game streaming.
The Next Revolution in Gaming
Console manufacturers typically give their consoles lifetimes of seven years however that is at odds with the two-year upgrade cycles of other hardware platforms. This life-cycle is such a vital part of the console business model but they may have no choice but to drop it in favor of streaming for the next generation.
With the current generation, the quickest way to play a video game on a console is to download and install it. The three major video game consoles, the Wii, the PlayStation and the Xbox, all have online stores that allow gamers to download titles directly to their consoles. The only problem is that most titles are about a dozen gigabytes so they take hours, or even days to download and they take massive amounts of space on hard drives.
Netflix, HBO Go and Hulu revolutionized the movie and television industries when they offered direct streaming options. Their services allow users to watch their favorite shows instantly without having to worry about how much memory they chew up or piling up massive stacks of DVDs. This revolution all but killed off DVD players.
And now the gaming industry is heading in the same direction. Nvidia and Sony are aiming to make the next generation of consoles tiny devices that stream gameplay to your television. The idea is that rather than having a massive console in your living room that demands to be fed discs or downloaded content, the micro-console streams games from a cloud as they are played.
How Video-Game Streaming Works
The new consoles will work in a similar fashion to Netfix. The game is actually played on a powerful server based in a warehouse somewhere far away and the video is streamed to the console. Players mash buttons on their controllers and the signal is sent back to the server where it is processed and the result is streamed back to the players’ screens.
The leading micro-console in the market is Nvidia’s gaming service called Shield. It only offers old titles at present however Sony have released their own version called PlayStation Now, retailing at $99, which also boasts a selection of last-generation titles.
The only thing keeping cloud gaming from taking over completely is lag. Nothing kills the gaming experience quite like having to wait fractions of a second longer for button inputs to respond. In some games, those fractions of a second are all that it takes to get shot in the face. The lag is brought about the added time that it takes for a command to be beamed up to the cloud, processed, then sent back down to the console. The effects of lag can be minimized with a solid internet connection. Video-game steaming providers suggest a minimum of 2Mb/s connections and 5Mb/s for HD gaming.
Hold on to Your Consoles for Now
Cloud-based gaming is an exciting concept. Gamers will love the freedom that it offers however we can expect that the traditional console producers will do their best to delay the emergence of cloud gaming for as long as they can. Their current model is simply too profitable for them to just let it go too. If you include the amount of work that has to be done on reducing the lag times and how most homes do not have the internet speeds required to play A-list titles in HD, it may be a while before video-game streaming becomes the norm.