Almost exactly 10 years ago, I was at GDC participating in a demo of a service I didn’t think could exist: OnLive. The company had promised high-definition, low-latency streaming of games at a time when real broadband was uncommon, mobile gaming was still defined by Bejeweled (though Angry Birds was about to change that), and Netflix was still mainly in the DVD-shipping business.
Although the demo went well, the failure of OnLive and its immediate successors to gain any kind of traction or launch beyond a few select markets indicated that while it may be in the future of gaming, streaming wasn’t in its present.
Well, now it’s the future. Bandwidth is plentiful, speeds are rising, games are shifting from things you buy to services you subscribe to, and millions prefer to pay a flat fee per month rather than worry about buying individual movies, shows, tracks, or even cheeses.
Consequently, as of this week — specifically as of Google’s announcement of Stadia on Tuesday — we see practically every major tech and gaming company attempting to do the same thing. Like the beginning of a chess game, the board is set or nearly so, and each company brings a different set of competencies and potential moves to the approaching fight. Each faces different challenges as well, though they share a few as a set.
Google and Amazon bring cloud-native infrastructure and familiarity online, but is that enough to compete with the gaming know-how of Microsoft, with its own cloud clout, or Sony, which made strategic streaming acquisitions and has a service up and running already? What of the third parties like Nvidia and Valve, publishers and storefronts that may leverage consumer trust and existing games libraries to jump start a rival? It’s a wide-open field, all right.
Before we examine them, however, it is perhaps worthwhile to entertain a brief introduction to the gaming space as it stands today and the trends that have brought it to this point.