The way that gamers play games has changed rapidly over the last few years. Physically owning hardware was the norm until the late 2000s, at which point players started to become much more comfortable with the idea of digital copies. From there, players have also become used to the idea of downloadable games that are tied to subscription services, especially on consoles like the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. As technology progresses and players continue to look for new ways to play, it only makes sense that they'd look for new avenues to gain access to their favorite games. The future is closer than ever, and it looks like the new way to access games will be through game streaming services.
If you're going to look at this particular sector of the industry, it's probably a good idea to know what it is and what it is not. Game streaming isn't terribly complex, but it's important to keep it separated from two services that either have very similar names or that have very similar end-states.
Game streaming services refer to those services that allow players to access games via the cloud, using the powerful hardware of a dedicated service to run games on their own screens. This separates game streaming services from download services like Xbox Game Pass or EA's Origin, which allow players to download games directly to their machines.
The important part of the game streaming services is that they allow players to play games over the internet. While passive streaming exists on services like Twitch, these services always allow players to play games directly. The services tend to excel because they remove the stringent hardware requirements from many PC or console games and make the fidelity and playability of the game reliant only on the internet seed of the consumer. As broadband gets faster and more widely available, it's thought that more of these services will likely come to dominate the gaming market.
Some of the best gaming streaming services available today certainly show how the technology can work, though they do require that you already own some fairly significant gaming hardware. Microsoft, for example, already has the Xbox One app that allows you to stream games from your Xbox One to your Windows PC. Likewise, Sony's PS4 Remote Play allows PS4 owners to stream their games directly to their PCs and to some Sony phones. Both of the solutions are very good entry points for those interested in streaming, as they don't cost anything extra.
If you're looking to stream from your PC, you'll also have a few options. Steam's SteamLink allows you to stream your games from the PC to another computer or to a Steam Link device, which gives players a very good idea of how streaming works when moving from a more robust platform to a less robust device. Nvidia Gamestream and Remotr both allows PC owners to do much the same thing, though without requiring players to use their Steam libraries to play.
If you want to look at something that's a bit closer to the streaming services of the future, though, there are some great options. Jump, for example, allows players to stream a number of indie games directly to their computers without having to worry about system requirements. Vortex does the same with somewhat more popular games, and there are a half-dozen other services that use the same basic infrastructure to the same ends.
Sony's Playstation Now allows players to stream games to their devices, getting around some of the more difficult issues of emulation to allow players access to Sony's vast back catalog. For many, this is a great proof-of-concept of streaming because the games are being streamed from hardware that's significantly different from that on which they are playing. It's this type of service that seems to be on the cutting edge of the gaming world.
The game services that have been announced for the next few years definitely seem to be taking a note from services like Playstation Now or Jump. Rather than relying on players to have physical ownership of games or to have access to high-end machines, these streaming services will leverage the power of the cloud to allow players to engage with games on their own terms with a variety of different devices.
Google Stadia will likely be the biggest name to enter the market in the near future, promising the be the Netflix of games. The service will allow players to stream a number of AAA games on a variety of devices, allowing players to get 4K fidelity without having to own 4K-ready machines. Players will theoretically be able to swap machines on the fly and play games on any device that can run Google chrome, allowing many players to untether from their current machines and still experience top-tier game play.
The big competitor for Stadia will probably be Microsoft's Project xCloud. This servic seems to largely mirror the experience promised by Stadia, though with a few differences under the hood. The big difference seems to be that xCloud will be baked into the code of games already running on Microsoft's Xbox systems, meaning that anything released on the console will likely have an xCloud equivalent from day one. Microsoft also brings quite a bit of multiplayer gaming knowledge and server experience to the table, making it one of the few companies that will realistically be able to compete with Google on the level of technological know-how.
Game streaming services have made it out of their infancy, with a number of great services already available and a handful on their way. As consumers become more used to streaming, it's expected that these services will likely become a huge part of the gaming market. Whether Stadia or xCloud actually live up to the hype is still to be seen, but one thing is for certain - now that streaming services are here, they're definitely here to stay.