With a wealth of cinematic treasures all just a few button presses and milliseconds of buffering away,the tech behind streaming services is a jaw dropping and revolutionary one, offering an exciting and innovate method of watching films that would make Blockbuster roll in its grave.
If you’re somehow still not up to speed with streaming services (seriously?), the elevator pitch for Netflix is you pay £5.99 a month and in return gain unrestricted access to a staggering amount of television shows and films.
But what if we dare to swap “TV shows and films” with “video games”?
After the largely unsuccessful On Live streaming console, the future was beginning to look pretty bleak for game streaming services. Yet now that streaming tech and the average consumer’s internet speed have slowly started to give dial up the finger, a few gaming services are crawling out of the wood work in an attempt to get a piece of that Netflix pie.
The recently announced EA Access for example, requires a £3.99 monthly subscription fee and gives you first dibs on EA’s games as they are hot off the press, while also giving you the keys to – a currently small – library of their older titles. While this publisher specific service will probably be the closest thing we have to a gaming Netflix on the horizon (depressingly), there is only one proper game streaming service that is actually useable right now.
Putting future services aside, Sony’s recently released Playstation Now is the only system that genuinely streams games to your console, and due to Shuhei Yoshida’s favoured brand of black magic, it even allows you to stream games to phones and television sets too. But its not all awesome, there is no – currently, at least – option for an all encompassing Playstation Now fee that gives you access to the entire library à la Netflix, they instead use a single title renting price structure at a coffee-spittingly high price.
So is this all we can expect from game streaming?
This generation’s (actual human generations this time, not consoles) shorter attention span means that the time between taking an interest in something and then having that something needs to be as short as possible, and this is where a video game Netflix could thrive. We’re fast approaching a time when downloads and streaming are the king of the castle and the head of solid state media is flaunted on a stake to ward off any pretenders for the throne. The industry thought that the introduction of the new console generation – PS4, Xbox One and… the Wii U, we guess? – Would see the discs’ death cry, but someone stopped it on the way to the pearly gates and dragged it back for another few years.
So lets spitball; how could it work? If it aint broke, don’t fix it – a monthly/annual fee would give one access to the entire library of games available. It would have to be a third party service so as to better manage the rights and make the idea of Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft working together as coherent and slick as possible. The fee however would no doubt dwarf the Netflix price as video games are one of the most expensive forms of media around. A cinema ticket would cost anywhere around £10, a Blu-ray closer to £15, but a brand new game can often put you back somewhere north of £40.
Luckily, indie games run the gamut from pennies to a round at the local, so on behalf of broke students everywhere, we salute you. This price disparity means that the Netflix fee could double in size but still prove decent value for money, especially when considering much more time is spent with games than movies. Seriously, think about it – some RPG play times rival underwater creature’s life spans and few movies push the two and a half hour mark nowadays.
Games in their nature are a much more complicated beast than movies however. Streaming a movie is a fairly simple task with little processing required, which explains why Netflix is on everything but the kitchen sink; although we heard through the grapevine that the IKEA x Netflix team up is coming along nicely. Playing games require much more technical firepower, as gamin at its essence it is fundamentally an interactive experience (no shit). This means that your interactions have to be processed and translated onto the screen – the work of the game engine. This, coupled with exclusivity deals (Game developers often sign deals with hardware companies like Sony in which they only release their games on one specific platform in return for a fee) mean that some Playstation 4 games could only run on a Playstation 4, some Wii U games only on Wii U and so on.
Bandwidth also becomes a stumbling block. High quality video can run you roughly a gig per hour and is generally a smooth experience, but since streaming means no initial download takes place to run the game from, the information would have to be sent from the gamer, to the processors across the world and then beamed back in split second fashion. Even the smallest amounts of input lag could make a game unplayable and current technology just doesn’t cut it in most areas.
So if the question is “Will we ever see a Netflix for video games?” then the answer is “Yes, but don’t hold your breath”. The likes of Playstation Now maybe having a good stab at it, but the current experience understandably doesn’t quite offer the same fluidity and breadth as Netflix.
Whether you like it or not, the slow death of solid state means something in this mould is definitely what we’re heading towards as an industry. A platform that reaches all corners of the video game market for on-demand 60 frames per second streaming is only a matter of time. Now excuse us while we clutch our varios collector’s editions and weep.