Gone are the days of going out to the shop and buying a cartridge or disk to put in your games console at home. The existing Sony Playstation Network, Xbox Live and game streaming services like Steam and Epic Games already seem to have rendered this format obsolete. Now, Google Stadia and Apple Arcade are going up against the established gaming mainstays (and each other) when they are released later this year.
There has been much fanfare hailing these releases as the next great revolution in gaming, but will they be any good? And which, if any, of these two new platforms should we choose?
Google’s ‘Netflix for gaming’ is a cloud-based gaming platform. What that means is that gamers can pay a monthly subscription (£8.99 a month) for unlimited access to online games. Conceptually, this is a hugely significant shift in the way we purchase and play our favourites. The freedom of being able to simply open a tab in Chrome and play with the same gameplay quality and content you would see on a high-end console, and without the costly hardware, downloads and games, is bound to make even the most committed console gamer sit up and take notice. Only a tech giant on the scale of Google could possess the server and processing power to run this kind of gaming platform and it is difficult to see how smaller-scale rivals could compete.
There are a few caveats that bring this startling vision of the future back down to earth. Stadia’s CPU is more powerful than both Xbox or Playstation’s latest offerings, but transferring the 4K, 60FPS performance to your computer or phone screen relies on a strong home broadband connection. Download speeds between 10-35 Mbps are required to run Stadia, making fibre broadband a necessity for those intent on cloud gaming.
This poses a problem for those who game on the go and rely on mobile internet. While many UK households are ready for online gaming, and 5G may make transitioning between mobile and desktop faster, it remains to be seen how Stadia will perform on mobile internet, especially as it will have to compete against popular rivals like mobile casino games and apps. These require less bandwidth and so can be enjoyed reliably on mobile, making it easy to find top-ranked titles such as Play Ojo and Dr Slot. That said, Google used the recent E3 gaming conference to reveal their launch library, which contained the likes of Assassin’s Creed and Destiny, which is undoubtedly very impressive for a newcomer.
Apple’s service will consist of a platform more similar to iTunes, requiring game downloads and storage in a personal game library. Working with iOS and new indie game developers, they will create an exclusive library of games for Apple devices. From the outset, this seems to be more of a reconfiguring of how Apple titles are distributed and played. Expect to see established names like Sonic Racing and LEGO Brawls.
While details of this new platform are sketchy, it appears to be stoking the rivalry between Apple and Google, with similar release dates mooted. This is not so ambitious a project, but it is likely to have fewer teething problems and many gamers do enjoy managing their own library of games using other services like Steam.
This aside, keeping its services exclusive to Apple users will hinder the tech colossus, particularly with its device sales faltering. New rivals are likely to offer gaming libraries playable on Android and Microsoft operating systems, allowing smaller tech companies to grab a share of the market, as the developers of Steam will testify.There are likely to be issues from the outset with Google Stadia, but it represents more than the sum of its parts. Other avenues into cloud gaming are likely to emerge as Google develops their service, which rivals like Apple, Sony and Microsoft are going to have to come to terms with. Undoubtedly, Google has raised the bar and expectations, but we will have to wait until the Stadia’s release to discover just how high. Hopefully, when we look back one day as we chart the history of gaming, we might see it as a turning point.