When looking at the sky, it’s easy to forget that should you somehow touch a cloud, your hand would just go through it. There’s nothing for you to physically grasp, despite knowing that clouds are real and serve a real function in ecosystems. It’s the same for cloud storage and the convenience it has provided in the age of the Internet; digital data is stored in logical pools on servers as opposed to any hardware. Many industries, namely music and film, have already used cloud storage functions for streaming, and it’s now the gaming industry that is beginning to catch up.
Cloud gaming specifically refers to when games can be played remotely on any device (not only consoles anymore!) that has access to an internet connection through which it can receive the game data. In other words, technology has advanced to the point where games and their unique interactivity can be streamed. Major companies in the gaming industry are beginning to invest in cloud gaming, like Google and Sony, and that implies that cloud gaming is going to integrate itself in the current gaming landscape in an interesting way; so before it does, I want to take the time to analyze the grounds that gave rise to cloud gaming in its current form, its pros and cons, and potential impacts on not only the industry, but also the consumers.
What’s fascinating about cloud gaming is that it can be seen as an evolution of the subscription services many companies already utilize, especially since Microsoft and Sony with their massive game libraries have integrated cloud gaming into their services as an add-on. The increase in cloud gaming’s potential also has to do with the widespread implementation of newer, stronger mobile technology and 5G network providers since the 2010s that can sustain it. This, alongside the time many had to spend indoors during the COVID-19 lockdowns, has curated an attractive space for cloud gaming to occupy within the industry: a wider range of people are becoming interested in gaming, but maybe not to the extent where they decide to invest in the required hardware and PC equipment, especially when the market is at a point where prices for new title releases average around £59.99 on launch.
This is the current landscape cloud gaming finds itself in, which is why market analysis and estimations for cloud gaming show promising growth and, by extension, investment, because it is still a project that’s a work in progress.
But what type of experience would cloud gaming offer?
Availability is one, if not the most, appealing aspect of cloud gaming that companies have focused on thus far. In other words, the scenario in which a player will have access to many games—through a monthly subscription service payment, of course—regardless of their mobile device’s OS is impressive. This also means that gaming will be more portable than ever, in a way that the Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck quite aren’t. Similarly, the storage space required for a game to run properly would decrease exponentially since the game would be streamed. Furthermore, cross-platform gaming will also be more viable, especially for fans of online multiplayer games, which could encourage lower hardware costs as well.
However, the success and linearity of cloud gaming is heavily, dare I say fundamentally, dependent on a user’s Internet access and bandwidth. A patchy Internet connection can easily cause latency issues with reaction times (assuming that one even has access to a constant Internet connection), which would dampen the very experience of playing a game. This may be the main obstacle that cloud gaming must overcome, given that games running native on PCs and consoles still run into latency issues.
Even then though, how can a player rest assured that a game they enjoy will not be taken off the library of their subscription service, similar to how Netflix removed Friends from its list of series a while back? Reliance and trust in a company to always prioritize its audience rather than profit is a slippery slope, and many players will have to make their peace with that reality if cloud gaming is to become what it is projected to become. As already established, any service having to do with the cloud relies on the actual services to deliver that experience. The environmental and sustainability costs of cloud gaming, specifically in the long term, may not be worth it. However, physical media itself isn’t very sustainable either.
All in all, cloud gaming still requires ample time to find its footing within the gaming industry and have it be strong enough so that it won’t become a transient technology only. As with any direction for a particular market to move towards, cloud gaming comes with its benefits and detractions. It’s up to the cooperation of developers, publishers, and players to deem cloud gaming as the next step forward. From the developers’ perspectives, cloud gaming is very much enticing for how lucrative it has the potential to be. As for casual players, easy on-demand access to high-budget video games through their mobile devices for the relatively lower price of a subscription might sound revolutionary as well. But there will always be specific publishers and groups of people who deviate from market estimates, and in turn, establish their own niche exchange of supply and demand. Either way, with the emergence of cloud gaming being accompanied by rapid technological developments, the gaming industry will be a fascinating landscape to navigate in the coming years.
Edited by Gio Eldred Mitre, Gaming Editor