Ever since personal computers started to make their way into homes in the 1980s, they've revolutionized almost every aspect of modern life. We now use them to write, shop, communicate with friends and family and do countless other daily tasks. Since the beginning, however, there's one thing that we've used computers to do more than anything else: play games.
In fact, even the earliest computer developers had gaming very much on their minds – going back as far as 1962, with the release of Spacewar!, which is considered the first PC game ever created. Today, you can play it on just about any device right in your favorite web browser, along with countless other gaming classics released since then. Today, though, there's a new computer gaming revolution afoot, and it's taking computer games out of the box and into the cloud.
I'm speaking, of course, about the latest in video game streaming services that are now online or about to launch in the market. The best known of them is Google's Stadia, which many believe is poised to take over the video game industry and radically alter its' landscape forever. If successful, it will leave plenty of industry casualties in its wake, and the jury's still out on what that will ultimately mean to the legions of computer and console gamers around the world. Here's what you can expect the results to be in the near term.
The Death of the Console
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Right now, the video game market is a fragmented one, with companies like Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo each operating its' own fiefdom within the industry. The rise of Stadia and services like it is probably going to break their collective hold on today's biggest game titles, enabling true cross-platform gaming for the very first time. Sony, for one, is already sending out signals that they recognize that their PlayStation brand is all but certain to decline in the coming years. For their part, both Microsoft and Nintendo are already making moves to embrace cloud gaming, with the former rushing to develop xCloud, and the latter exploring cloud streaming on its' current-generation Switch console. Oddly enough, the threat is creating strange bedfellows, with all three of the console giants making use of Microsoft's Azure cloud platform to build out their respective services.
Gaming App Developers Will Face Stiff Competition
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Since smartphones and mobile devices have come to dominate the technology markets in recent years, so too have they started to capture the lion's share of gaming spending of late. It's already expected that mobile gaming will capture as much as 60% of the market this year - but cloud gaming services might slow their march in short order. That's because there are natural limitations to the app-driven mobile gaming market, which is constrained by low-power mobile hardware and fragmentation within the smartphone market. Services like Stadia will bypass those limitations and offer a high-end gaming experience on mobile devices that today's mobile game developers can't hope to match.
Game Publishers Will Get Squeezed
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Another likely casualty of the coming cloud gaming revolution will be the bottom lines of some of today's largest video game publishers. Although Google goes to great lengths to downplay what effects their service will have on the video game industry itself, it's hard to miss the obvious writing on the wall. For an instructive lesson in what's to come, all you have to do is take a look into what the rise of online music streaming services has done to music publisher and artist revenues over the last decade or so. With only a handful of players in the game streaming market, it's going to create some massive downward pressures on the costs of video games, and Google, in particular, will be uniquely positioned to call the shots with regard to how much they're willing to pay for the latest titles. That means publishers will face the choice of taking whatever Google offers them for their work, or risk being shut out of a massive, growing market.
The Bottom Line
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Obviously, it's too soon to tell when, or even if, the above effects will come to pass. First, Google has to prove its ability to scale up its nascent service and produce a subscription model that gamers will find appealing. With billions of dollars in the bank and no aversion to taking losses to corner a market though, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which they'll fail. For gamers, that could mean a world where it's Stadia (and it's few competitors), or nothing at all. Well, they'll still have their pick of their favorite racing games for PC and other browser-based fare, but even those face impending doom with the coming death of Adobe Flash.
On second thought, maybe it's time for gamers around the world to start cozying up to their new entertainment overlords at Google – or start developing some outside interests to fill up their leisure time.