Is the Next Generation of Gaming reaching for the Cloud?
Microsoft’s next-generation console set to hit the market in Holiday 2020, but the tech giant may have yet another ace up its sleeve to redefine the new era of gaming
Cross-play, backwards compatibility and true 4K mark just the beginning of the feats the ninth-generation console of Microsoft is capable of.
Microsoft is geared up to take gaming to the next generation with the powerful new Xbox Series X, boasting of a GPU delivering twice as much as power as its predecessor, a solid-state drive and the revolutionary Xbox Velocity architecture, optimised to deliver speed and performance never seen before.
While the world is anticipating a fierce contention between Sony’s PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X as they enter the market, the executive in charge of Xbox, Phil Spencer is nonchalant on the subject of console wars with contemporaries and has more expansive plans to make gaming accessible across platforms: with or without a console.
Xbox, Out of the Box
Back in the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2018, Microsoft teased project xCloud, a video game streaming service, granting users the ability to bring their favourite Xbox titles to any screen they desired, made possible through Azure cloud servers.
Flash-forward in time to March 2020: With ample time to improvise, Microsoft began testing xCloud (Preview) across 11 European countries, with plans for a bigger launch in the latter half of the year.
A commercially ready xCloud service would be akin to Netflix, if Netflix were a video game streaming service, enabling players to stream titles across myriad of platforms: phones, tablet computers, televisions and laptops; even without the ownership of the console.
But the question poses itself: Why is Microsoft simultaneously developing a gaming console and a game streaming service at the same time?
The realisation that success in the video game industry has more metrics to it than just console sales dawned upon Microsoft ahead of the 2019 E3. Spencer had realised long ago that ‘the business isn’t how many consoles you sell’, and has since been unperturbed about the performance of consoles in sales.
Therefore, a clear, concise answer would be that Microsoft is expanding the horizons of its services, upon realising that the market offers more uncharted destinations to conquer in the next generation. Video game streaming is yet another market that Microsoft is aiming to set foot in, and it has already taken its first step.
It’s evident that Microsoft will soon be ready to stream titles across any compatible device with a screen in no time. The bigger question now is whether the world is ready for it. As it happens, not too long ago another tech giant decided to leap into the video game streaming business, albeit too early, and too impulsively.
The Commercial Failure of Google Stadia
In November 2019 Google took a leap of faith and rolled out a cloud-based video game streaming platform called Stadia.
Stadia wasn’t your traditional gaming console; as a matter of fact, the Stadia wasn’t a console at all and came with just a controller. The platform featured high-speed video game streaming up to full 4K resolution which could be accessed through mobile phones, tablet computers, PC, laptop computers and Chromecast.
In theory, the Stadia was a disruptive piece of tech, notably owing to its first approach at its characteristic platform-agnostic attribute. So what went wrong?
Google bravely attempted to eliminate the prerequisite to make hefty investments in hardware in order to play titles but ended up requiring heftier amounts in instalments, especially with its problematic subscription model. On top of the monthly $10 subscription fee, the business model had one buying the titles they would want to pay separately. For the same price, Xbox Game Pass offers a library of over 100 games available instantly for download and play.
The next big problem for Stadia was the commodification of the streaming service. Streaming itself isn’t so much as a product than it is a medium, and having to pay a monthly fee for the medium is less than impractical. With the conclusion of the episode of Stadia, Google certainly will remember to look before taking their next leap.
While Microsoft seems to be making all the right choices in realising their ideal of building a world where one is empowered to play wherever they want, whenever they want, on whichever device they want, and with whomever they want: will the odds roll in their favour, or will unprecedented circumstances change the course of gaming yet again?
It remains to be answered.