Streaming has quickly become the talk of the town, with a couple of quite strong announcements that have been provided over a few days from some of the biggest players in the modern technology landscape. Once that those announcements have arrived, people have started to understand that this one could be (at least) one of the "battlefields" of the next-generation of gaming.
This generation of console, the one with Xbox One and PS4 leading the way, has been pretty controversial when it comes to innovation. Before they released, so with Xbox 360 and PS3, we were promised 1080p gameplay, but that actually became a standard only in 2013. To a certain extent, it felt like no technological steps ahead had been done.
Then, with the launch of PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, we began to see what those platforms could actually be about. Things like 4K and HDR, the latter in particular, were a huge jump ahead when it came to define what a good quality image should be about and what graphics could do to really surprise you during your gameplay.
Anyway, after 2-3 years we've had them around, it doesn't feel like brand new consoles could give the same jump, and – even with RTX on the horizon – when I hear of PS5 and Xbox Scarlett dropping in 2019 I have the impression we're running too much and too fast to let video games follow the number of platforms releasing and have meaningful innovation for consumers.
The good news is that, with things like streaming, platform holders and service providers like Google have understood that now we don't necessarily need more power (not only that, at least) but that we want to see new things and have those things help us in having more comfortable and personal gaming experiences. All of them are going for this process in different ways.
With Project Stream, for example, Google is aiming to let you play AAA games in your regular browsers' tabs. That would be something that 1) doesn't require you to have too much powerful nor dedicated computers; 2) can run in your daily activities flow, without interruption of sorts – I'm already thinking of me playing 30 minutes/1 hours of The Witcher 3 on my office's $499 laptop, and that's exciting.
Interestingly, when I talked about different ways and approaches, I mean that Google is probably going for a platform of its own, outside of the browser-based stuff. They have had a project called Yeti in place for a couple years, and that project is reported to have a console-like box at its center, so there's a possibility of seeing a sort of gaming Chromecast (or simply a more powerful Chromecast model) coming in the future.
On top of that, the Mountain View giant has hired former PlayStation and Xbox executive Phil Harrison to lead its gaming effort and has been joined by the guru behind PlayStation VR, Richard Marks. So it's clear that they want to establish a strong and long relationship with gaming outside of being a simple provider of select content, and that they want to build some kind of hardware that could involve video games in some manner.
Excited to be able to share that today I've started a new role as Vice President and GM of Google - and relocating (back) to California.
— Phil Harrison (@MrPhilHarrison) January 22, 2018
Delighted that Richard Marks is joining Google. Exciting addition to the ATAP team!
— Phil Harrison (@MrPhilHarrison) July 30, 2018
Microsoft is thinking it differently, and that's mainly because they already are in gaming and already have a box out there. Project xCloud is thought first and foremost to help Xbox video games have a broader user base, something the team at Redmond has heavily been focused on since Phil Spencer joined it in early 2014.
Coherently with their vision, where they don't talk about sales anymore but active users over a certain time span (look at the way they announced Forza Horizon 4's 2 million players in 1 week to have a recent example), the Xbox makers want to bring their titles on more and more devices so that they have a) more appeal, b) more gamers, c) more engagement.
2 million players in 1 week as #ForzaHorizon4 becomes the highest rated Xbox exclusive of this generation! Huge thanks to our fans around the world helping this very special game get out to such a fast start! #4ChangesEverything https://t.co/aNT4AmHA1K
— Aaron Greenberg (@aarongreenberg) October 10, 2018
To do so, they are building xCloud with mobile gaming in mind – that's where, at least in an initial phase, Project Stream and Microsoft's effort are going to differ, their focus. And that intention gets clearer if you read the official post of the announcement of the platform, where they say that at the moment being they're testing with Bluetooth Xbox One controllers but are studying a dedicated touch input layer for smartphone and tablets.
Mobile doesn't have me interested, to be honest, but it'll be nice to see how Microsoft tries and appeals a userbase that is clearly on my same page – Xbox fans are usually hardcore ones, so they'll need to deploy a serious user interface and some neat inputs in order their offering is good enough to have them engaged. If that's something they can do properly, it could be the closest thing to the Xbox portable dream we'll ever have.
The video games industry has had its early reactions to the streaming thing, of course, and they're quite positive because most of them share Microsoft's vision of improving the engagement (the more time people spend on their titles, the more they're keen on investing on stuff like microtransactions and future games of the same genre/series).
We've already seen Ubisoft partnering since day zero with Project Stream, which is now running tests on Assassin's Creed Odyssey since the very launch of the game, and that's just an example of how the French publisher deals with innovation in gaming (they've supported Nintendo even on the craziest things, and are among the first when it comes to extravagant online functionalities and additional support to platforms in the likes of PS4 Pro and Xbox One X).
Bethesda is apparently on the same page. Pete Hines, marketing boss, recently said that he has had a first look at what the next generation of consoles is and feels like, and in a brand new interview he told Eurogamer that streaming will be "a theme" for video games in the next few years.
This, together with the rumors of Xbox Scarlett coming in two different forms (with a less powerful model entirely dedicated to low latency streaming-based gaming), is a clear hint at the process that's currently happening, that won't be sudden and will seemingly have the physical boxes available at retail together with the cloud. And to see BGS evolving into a studio capable of adapting to this kind of "future" – one where we'll be playing Fallout online – is among the first steps to embracing the transition.