Microsoft hasn’t said much about its plans for the future of Xbox consoles, but thanks to the ever-present leak/rumor culture of the Internet, there’s now a great possibility that we’ll have a completely streaming console to look forward to. In a way, this is exciting due to it being something that we haven’t gotten before. But, I can’t help but be worried as to how it will turn out.
It must be noted that it doesn’t appear Microsoft is going 100% all-in with this concept. The current rumors point to this streaming Xbox being just one of two new systems. The other will be a traditional system that will be sold at a higher price, while the streaming Xbox will be the option for budget-conscious consumers. On paper, this isn’t really a bad idea. But, again, there are some things that concern me.
For starters, this streaming Xbox will only be able to be enjoyed by a select group of consumers. I say this due to it having to rely entirely on your Internet connection. But, not just any Internet connection will suffice. Users will need a reliable, high-speed connection in order for the system to actually be functional. This is exactly the case with existing game-streaming services such as Nvidia GeForce NOW and PlayStation Now.
Internet infrastructure is definitely getting better, but there are still millions of people around the world that are left out of the loop due to being unable to afford a high-speed connection or live in an area where it isn’t available. This includes folks in large, developed countries like the USA. Again, there will still be a traditional new Xbox thus nullifying this concern. But, I’m looking at this from a future perspective. Microsoft making this move to create a streaming-only console in the first place is a sign of the times. EA made mention of looking at streaming technology during its E3 2018 presentation, and Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot thinks that traditional systems are on their way out, with next-gen being the last hurrah.
Microsoft could be paving the way for a world with streaming-only consoles.
If this really turns out to be the case, I would hope that by the end of the upcoming generation that the majority of folks will be able to get online using a high-speed connection, but that just seems like wishful thinking. Even so, let’s say something like that actually does happen. There’s still another major possible issue — consumer exploitation.
It’s a secret to nobody that the majority of businesses try to squeeze as much money out of their customers as possible. It’s no different here in the gaming industry. Practices such as rampant DLC, microtransactions, and subscription-based networks have become increasingly more popular as the generations have progressed. Despite some gamers raising complaints against these tactics, the companies have pushed on.
One modern advancement, in particular, has been digital games. While it’s proven to be very convenient, it’s not without its flaws. The main one being that this form of distribution is vulnerable. When a digital-only game is delisted from an e-store, it can never be legally obtained again. So, should you lose your copy, that’s it. Physical titles are eventually taken off store shelves as well, but at least used copies can be picked up. Now, think of this from a streaming perspective. Like other streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify, customers have no real control over their libraries. Items can (and are) removed at the will of the companies. Some gamers already feel like they have no real sense of ownership with digital titles, so imagine a streaming service. This issue goes even further than that, albeit this second half of the argument is a little bit more extreme. Will we ever come to a point where third-party developers no longer need dedicated platforms?
Third-party companies will likely try and capitalize on the opportunity.
Again, Mr. Guillemot from Ubisoft is already gearing up for a future without digital consoles and EA is currently working with the streaming technology behind the scenes. The interesting thing about both these companies is that on PC, they already have their own clients separate from the unofficial “hub” that is Steam. For Ubisoft, it’s Uplay. EA has its Origin service. What I’m getting at is, what if these clients are eventually expanded to become their own streaming platforms on both PC and console? I see this following the same strategy as what’s happening with film/TV and music streaming. While the hubs like Netflix and Spotify are still strong, some companies have opted to branch away and create their own exclusive streaming services, such as HBO Go and Disney’s upcoming platform for film, and Tidal for music. So, who’s to say the likes of Ubisoft, EA, and others might not end up doing the same thing?
The whole point of a streaming console like Project Scarlett is really to cut down on expenses. Consoles are very expensive to make, from the R&D to the marketing. And with the way technology is advancing so quickly, developers seem more and more keen to jump to better hardware as soon as it’s available. Thus, if all the rendering is handled by the server clusters that streaming services use, developers would no longer worry about having to support continually aging console hardware for several years. This could also affect the PC gaming industry as well where development is even more complicated due to the thousands (if not millions) of different hardware configurations.
Like digital gaming, console streaming is certainly convenient, but the aforementioned drawbacks stop me from being excited about it. Aside from technology needing to improve, just the thought of companies having even more control is almost enough to put me off from the idea entirely.
If Xbox Scarlett truly does turn out like the rumors are indicating, then it really will be the beginning of a grand shift in the whole gaming industry. Honestly, this makes me look at the consoles of today and the yesteryears a little more fondly. Like VCRs, cassette tapes and floppy drives, we’ll eventually get to a point when these traditional consoles are considered to be outdated and will become extinct.
Take a nice long look. Consoles may never be the same again.
Having been introduced to video games at the age of 3 via a Nintendo 64, A.K has grown up in the culture. A fan of simulators and racers, with a soft spot for Nintendo! But, he has a great respect for the entire video game world and enjoys watching it all expand as a whole.