The Future of Gaming: Internet Streaming?

The Future of Gaming: Internet Streaming?

In recent years, physical media has gradually begun to disappear. Consumer entertainment, obviously involving games, but music and movies primarily, was until recently limited to CDs for music (8-tracks and cassettes for those over 35) and DVDs and Blu-Rays for TV shows and movies (VHS, Betamax, and Laser discs for those old enough to remember). Over the last few years, movies and TV shows have evolved from exclusively being procured via physical means to being streamed via internet services such as Amazon© Video, Hulu©, and Netflix©. Even before the advent of video internet streaming, physical media in music evolved into MP3s that people could carry around in their pocket, evolving from sharing programs into Amazon© downloads and Apple iTunes©. Streaming internet music programs such as Pandora© and Spotify© have further evolved the music industry.

The gaming industry, with some exceptions, has made virtually no strides in internet streaming for games

The gaming industry, with some exceptions, has made virtually no strides in internet streaming for games. Sure, there are gaming purchasing available with every major gaming retailer, including brick and mortal outlets, internet websites, and the traditional powerhouses (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo). But the gaming industry has not made strides in the internet streaming business the way the music and movie/TV industry has. Most of the streaming services offered by these industries are affordable or free with advertising. What is available for game streaming is glitchy, confusing, subject to restrictions because of streaming speeds, or limited in game availability.

On Live

09-OnLive

On Live is a service offered to gamers for PC, Mac, some tablets and smartphones, and a variety of devices to stream games. Although sold as more of a cloud gaming service, the service is touted as being able to stream games for several different monthly fees. The primary service is known as Onlive Games bundle, featuring 250 games and cloud saves for $12.95 per month. Other services include PlayPack for $9.95 a month, giving the capability to stream games, and Cloudlift (still in Beta), for $7.95 per month, to play downloaded games via the cloud. These three services are very similar in capability, but are confusing in functionality. Frankly, it is difficult to tell what each does and how they are differentiated. It looks like a way to get people to pay $30.85 per month for confusion. On Live requires at least a 2 Mbps down service, though 5 Mbps is recommended, something with probably is not available consistently on most mobile networks for cloud gaming on the road. The extremely limited gaming availability, the confusing pricing tiered structure, the limitations on gaming devices (notably iOS©), and the financial problems that On Live have endured make this company limited in survivability.

The extremely limited gaming availability, the confusing pricing tiered structure, the limitations on gaming devices (notably iOS©), and the financial problems that On Live have endured make this company limited in survivability

Steam In Home Streaming

Steam In Home Streaming

Steam In Home Streaming

Supposedly Steam has a streaming service, but it is not streaming games via a subscription service to their entire library. All the Steam streaming service, referred to as In Home Streaming, does is allow you to play games on one computer and stream them to another computer in your own home. This allows games that run on PC to be streamed to Mac and the Steam OS, play higher end games on lower running systems, and resume a game where you last played it.

Steam is arguably the biggest PC gaming distributor and a streaming service capable of playing cloud based games would be absolutely awesome. It would probably also serve to revitalize the PC (and Mac) gaming industry with access to far more games than what most people currently pay for. Stream has not made any strides in streaming however. As the tacit leader in PC game sales, Steam is uniquely positioned to advance the PC game streaming industry.

As the tacit leader in PC game sales, Steam is uniquely positioned to advance the PC game streaming industry

PlayStation Now

PlayStation Now

PlayStation Now

Another feature that Sony is adding the PS4 and PS3 via the PlayStation Store, and PS Vita and PS TV via a downloadable app, is PlayStation Now. PlayStation Now is intended to be a streaming service via the Internet, similar to the functionality of movie streaming services like Netflix. PlayStation Now just officially launched. The library initially features PS3 games. Internet speeds are required to range between 5 and 12 Mbps.  This is the first time a console has incorporated this functionality.

Because of the desire to achieve backward compatibility on the PS4 (something that does not currently exist), the PlayStation Now feature could be seen as this opportunity. However, Sony is adamant that this is not a backward compatible feature. This is even further emphasized by only including (as of now) PS3 game titles. Many of the top PS3 titles are capable of being streamed, however.

Rental prices range between $1.99 and $19.99 (US Dollars) for a three day rental or about a dollar per day for a week. However, many PS3 games are much cheaper than that to purchase through various retailers (especially those that sell used games such as Gamestop in the US or eBay) or through the PlayStation Store through a digital purchase. Sony finally announced, after months of gamers complaining incessantly, that they will be utilizing a monthly paid service (for approximately $20 per month) for PlayStation Now. Consumers can still rent individual games, though it is really isn’t worth it.

PlayStation Now will be far more worth it when the PSNow library is expanded to include all PS3 games, as well as PS2, PS1, and PS4 games, though Sony will probably provide some sort of tiered pricing structure to include an expanded library. If they add PS4 games, it will probably succeed and revolutionize the gaming industry. Sony also needs to consider server capability since streaming loads could be extremely high.

PlayStation Now will be far more worth it when the PSNow library is expanded to include all PS3 games, as well as PS2, PS1, and PS4 games

Azure Cloud Development

Windows Azure

Windows Azure

Recent rumors have surfaced that Microsoft is also working on cloud gaming. According to Neowin, Microsoft is working on gaming streaming that will work on a web browser, including the Xbox 360 dashboard. Microsoft has not publicly commented on this, other than cryptic messages saying that we are evolving into a mobile-first and cloud-first society. Supposedly this new service will work in Internet Explorer and Chrome. Recent rumors about a new web browser, called Spartan (obvious Halo reference) could lead credence to the Neowin story. Spartan is being touted in the rumor mill as an Internet Explorer replacement, which, in theory, could be the Xbox game browser that is being floated around. Spartan is supposed to have Cortana integration (that’s a Siri-like service for the two people with Windows Phone 8).

Microsoft is working on gaming streaming that will work on a web browser, including the Xbox 360 dashboard

Another Microsoft rumor is that they are working on a low latency cloud gaming system, which is being called DeLorean. Microsoft contends they can mask up to 250ms of latency and they do this by combining future input prediction, state space subsampling and time shifting, misprediction compensation and bandwidth compression. If true, Microsoft could lead the pack in console internet streaming.

Limitations

Slow Internet

Slow Internet

The limitations to streaming games via various services include Internet speeds, subscription costs, server overload, online latency, and licensing problems. Licensing will probably be one of the harder problems to overcome as not all companies and publishers will want to license their product. Publishers could restrict their game from being streamed through an online service because of a perceived loss in potential revenue. This could particularly impact new releases, something which could kill a game streaming service. Older games could be the answer to the licensing problem as royalties are somewhat limited and publishers will be far more willing to allow licensing of their games. Video streaming rights are negotiated for flat fees for a specified period of time. Game streaming will probably follow the same basic business model.

Licensing will probably be one of the harder problems to overcome as not all companies and publishers will want to license their product

Another problem to overcome involves internet speeds. Many locales around the world do not have the sustained speeds needed to stream games (see Netindex for worldwide averages). Obviously internet speeds are vitally important for gaming. Server overload and latency are equally important. Servers utilized by the service will need to be robust and not susceptible to lag or slow downs, something which is problematic at best. Infrastructure, both intra and inter, is probably the biggest impediment to streaming games.

The Biggest Advantage is…

No more of this?

No more of this?

The biggest advantage to streaming games is that the game can be played, in theory, on a multitude of devices, without the need for advanced hardware. Low end PCs, Macs, tablets, any console that is capable of the streaming service, etc., and can connect to a controller can play the streamed game. In essence, the streaming game would be akin to a video streamed via a service similar to Netflix. The need for higher and higher end gaming systems would become passé.

The biggest advantage to streaming games is that the game can be played, in theory, on a multitude of devices, without the need for advanced hardware

Conclusion

PS Now?

PS Now?

Unlike other industries, particularly movies, music, and television, gaming has not kept up with the vigorous streaming business. Business models are robust for movies, TV and music, but gaming has not kept up. Digital gaming downloads and other related internet have lagged far behind the rest of the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, potential internet streaming of games is far more dependent on infrastructure than anything else. Because video streaming is largely passive, the need for infrastructure is not as imperative. Unfortunately for streaming, gaming is entirely dependent on the depression of a button being registered nearly immediately within the gaming software, then being registered within the hardware, and being translated into action within the game. Streaming the game over the internet, with the inherent problems of lag and infrastructure, could be problematic. If Microsoft can overcome these problems with their DeLorean concept, it could revolutionize the gaming industry.