Throughout the history of gaming, we have seen fads and trends. These have been particularly prevalent in the last couple of console generations. The success of Nintendo’s Wii led to a huge push for motion control games. While it was successful on that console, it didn’t fare so well on Xbox and PlayStation with their camera-based solutions. Last console generation saw the rise and fall of rhythm action games. Everyone had a plastic guitar peripheral. Now they’re gathering dust in a cupboard. More recently, there has been a big push towards Virtual Reality. The technology is there for VR, but it has never caught on in the way that some people thought/hoped. Well, the new trend seems to be towards the streaming of video games. I think this isn’t going to be a fad, though. Like it or not, I can see this being the end to console generations.
For some time now, PlayStation fans have had the PlayStation Now service. Google is entering into the fray with its Stadia streaming service. Microsoft has been working on streaming tech for a while with its impressive Azure cloud computing as a basis for their work. Their travails have resulted in Project xCloud. However, unlike their much-touted Augmented Reality headset, HoloLens, this project seems to be actually reaching the marketplace. Various Xbox employees have been testing the service for some time now. At this year’s Xbox E3 press briefing they announced that it will launch in public beta form in October. Microsoft clearly has confidence in the service as a product and are leveraging it, ready to be part of their plans for the next console generation.
Google may have made a bit more of a splash with their Stadia streaming service; however, I think that Project xCloud beats them hands down. For a start, your Xbox Live Gold subscription is all you need to gain access to the service. With Stadia, you’re going to be charged at least $9.99 a month. What’s more, it doesn’t really come with any games. With Project xCloud, you have access to all the digital games in your library. You will also have access to anything on Game Pass if you subscribe to that service. The real kicker, though, is that if you already own an Xbox One, you can use that as your own personal server for xCloud.
The reason that I think the timing of Project xCloud’s release is important is that if the beta is live later this year, the full release could coincide with the release of the next Xbox. This is essential as it could keep Xbox One owners as part of the future of gaming. What I mean is that you could potentially play games for the next-generation Xbox on your Xbox One via Project xCloud. If the processing is done in the cloud, then all you need is a box to receive data. The Xbox One could do this easily and help to make the Xbox One ecosystem live on. If this is the case, then the next console generation could realistically be the last we ever have. After all, why continue to create hardware when you can just use the same box and stream the more power-intensive games to the customer.
All of this relies on having a quality internet infrastructure, and that isn’t really in place yet. There are a lot of places where broadband internet is sporadic or just simply isn’t available. It’s getting better all the time, but a stream-only option just isn’t viable at the moment. However, with new consoles launching in 2020, who’s to say that by 2027 or so that the infrastructure won’t be there. If it is, then we can say adiós to console generations. We just keep the boxes we have and stream games at 8K and 60 frames per second or more. If the console manufacturers do continue to create boxes, they’re just going to be streaming devices. After all, with all the processing being done in the cloud, then why would you need powerful (and expensive) processors in the box.
One of the interesting things moving forward will be how much Microsoft continue to develop this technology. Fortune Magazine recently did an interview with Phil Spencer and Kareem Choudhry about the Project xCloud. During the video, they showed one of the blades going into data centres around the world that powers Project xCloud. The workhorse in each server/blade is a block of 8 Xbox One S processors. Clearly, this is all that is needed at the moment. However, when we move onto the next Xbox, will they swap these for eight processors from the new system? After all, the games for the next console generation probably won’t run on the guts of an Xbox One S. This will need another large investment, but if Microsoft is serious about this being the future, it’s what will be required.
If I’m honest, I’m still very much on the fence about streaming my games. I love having a console by my TV and am still a fan of collecting physical media. The possibility of being able to play the latest version of Forza on my phone while I’m out and about, though, is intriguing. It’s all going to come down to what the latency is and how much it’s going to eat through my phone’s data plan. I find the technology fascinating, and I can see a future where everything is streamed. At the moment, Microsoft seems to be doing a good job of showing the benefits of their system. However, time will tell whether this is the next big thing. If it is, then I really think that it’s the end of console generations.
What do you think of Project xCloud? Are you looking forward to trying it out in October? Do you think it could spell the end for console generations? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below