Episode 272 of Throwdown Your Questions started off with a question about streaming that has been touched in some form or another across both Throwdown podcasts for the last couple of months:
Are console gamers ready to give up their favorite consoles and replace them with a controller and a service with no physical console?”
This kicked off the panel’s discussion of all the hurdles that would have to be cleared before game streaming as a service starts competing to replace console gaming. Internet infrastructure is a well-known challenge for game streaming, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Even though Pew Research Center says broadband is more accessible than ever before, we all know that broadband quality is dependent on a lot of factors, like region, service provider, and even neighborhood population density (apartment broadband is notoriously spotty because many households are all pulling from the same nodes).
Chris digs into the bleakest possibility of an all-streaming gaming future: Licensing hassle and corporate bullshit. The main downside to streaming content exclusively – outside of internet speed – is that some of your favorite content can be on your platform of choice one day, then gone the next. Whether it’s an album or TV show, I think we’ve all been disappointed when coming back to our service of choice and finding that some of our favorites are missing.
We’ve seen this on the smallest scale in the video game space when download-only titles like Scott Pilgrim Vs The World or the classic arcade game X-Men had licensing deals go awry and end up inaccessible, even to people who purchased them. It’s terrifying to have something you paid money for simply disappear and you never be able to get it back.
As the crew has lamented for several episodes now: Nvidia piloted its GeForce NOW streaming platform years ago only to have most major publishers recently pull all their content from the service.
“Were you enjoying playing that Steam game from your phone at work? Not anymore, you’re not.
It’s a serious concern if gaming is going to be dependent on corporate contracts and licensing agreements. Companies change their minds and tweak deals to affect their bottom lines, and whenever they can’t agree, the customers are at risk of being left out in the cold.
But the most interesting hitch in the streaming-only hurdle is something that Adam brought up, which is that more and more people are becoming comfortable missing out on things that used to be standard with physical entertainment media. CD packaging graphics & inserts and DVD/Blu Ray extra features are the trimmings that we’ve traded for convenience in accessing the music and video content we want to play over the internet.
Superior visual and sound fidelity are also on the chopping block, but that hasn’t been too big a drawback, at least to those who aren’t serious technophiles. As a sound engineer, I can instantly tell the difference between CD audio and streaming audio. And while headphone quality has improved to bridge that gap quite a bit, there’s no streaming replacement for high-fidelity audio. Can the average user tell the difference though? Probably not.
4K Blu Ray is the best quality picture media available to consumers, and even the most recent 4K Netflix titles can’t compare. But if you’ve never watched a 4K Blu Ray on a high contrast, HDR-enabled 4K television, you’d honestly never know what you were missing.
Even if the broad public led by Generation Z adopts game streaming as inevitability and embraces a gaming future divorced from physical media, an aging portion of the gaming population will forever feel compelled to buy the stuff they want to own; and licenses to play downloadable games still don’t necessarily scratch that itch. How comfortable will the 1st home gaming generation (born in the late 70s, early 80s) be simply streaming games we’re licensed to play? A large percentage of the public gave up paying with cash in lieu of credit cards for the sake of convenience, right? And maybe a few more transitioned to digital payments via phone app. But there are also older people who still pay bills by check via snail mail. There’s just no sure way to know how suddenly and completely game streaming adoption will take place.
There’s a very expected human aspect to any social or technological transition, and it usually takes the form of “I like what I know, and I want what I like.” Microsoft tried to rush the transition in 2013 and got hammered for it. Sony could drag their feet in the new generation and risk falling behind. Stadia is great in theory and terrible in practice, while Nvidia made the most headway without the heavyweight support to seemingly complete the deal. Striking the perfect balance to make the technology consistent and accessible enough for the majority of gamers will take a concerted effort from major players like publishers, content service providers, ISPs, and telecom providers (5G anyone?).
We’re probably just a few short years away from seeing if they can all play nice enough to pull it off.