The past decade and a half or so, there’s always the cry that the current console generation may finally be the last. It wasn’t true last time, as the current success of the PS4, Xbox One and Switch demonstrate, and those three are also unlikely to be the last pieces of dedicated hardware in the industry.
But even if PS5 and Xbox Two are coming, there’s still a change in the wind. Despite the fact that it’s far from mainstream right now, game streaming is all the power players of the industry are talking about, the idea that like Netflix replacing DVDs, soon we’ll be able to stream new release games instead of owning dedicate hardware to play them, either via discs or downloads.
It may be none other than Microsoft that ends up at the forefront of this movement. Microsoft itself announced that it was working on new Xbox devices, plural, with behind-the-scenes rumors saying that the Xbox Scarlett family of devices has two main components. First, a traditional successor to the Xbox One. Second, a streaming box that will launch Microsoft’s games streaming service, right now called “Scarlett Cloud,” according to Thurrott.
The key idea with Scarlett Cloud is that Microsoft may have solved the fundamental latency issues that have plagued game streaming so far. According to these rumors, things like controller input and collision detection would be handled locally on the hardware, for instance, helping with those issues.
So, if this is Microsoft’s big wave of the future, why are they even bothering to make an Xbox Two as well?
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Likely because they’ve learned from the Xbox One launch, where they had all these grand plans to make disc ownership almost obsolete, but that led to a mass rebellion which forced them to change aspects of their plans before launch. Similarly, they also relied heavily on new tech that was supposed to be game-changing in the form of the Kinect, and we all know how that panned out.
With two devices, Microsoft can have it both ways. Traditional console games can simply buy Xbox Two and carry on as usual. But those willing to dive into game streaming can buy the streaming device and subscribe to Scarlett Cloud and give that a shot.
But why would players pick the latter over the former, when no one seems to really mind how the current system works?
Cost, if everything goes correctly.
The idea here is that a streaming box would cost substantially less than a traditional console, as we could see it launch at $100-200 instead of $500 (I’m inventing that estimate, but it seems probable). And not just the cost of the hardware, but potentially the cost of the software as well, which is where the real savings could lie.
Netflix destroyed the Blockbuster/DVD model because it was offering essentially unlimited access to movies and shows at ~$10-15 a month that would otherwise cost $2-5 to rent a piece, or $5-100 to buy outright, if we’re including TV box sets. The content-per-dollar value was out of this world, and if Microsoft could do something similar to the $60 game model, that would be something to see indeed.
They’ve already started, in effect, with Xbox Game Pass, which offers far, far less stuff than Netflix, sure, but we are already seeing Microsoft put all its new $60 releases into the Game Pass at launch for its $10 a month asking price.
If they can do something similar to with all new release games, charging players a relatively low monthly fee for instant access to big games for far less than the $60 asking price, that would indeed shake up the games industry as much as Netflix rocked the world of film and TV.
And yet, I’m having trouble seeing this going smoothly for a few reasons, the technical aspects of game streaming aside. Even if Microsoft solves that, it feels much more likely to me that we’d see EA, Ubisoft, Take Two, Activision and others simply invent their own subscription pass, rather than granting Microsoft access to their catalog themselves. I would not be surprised that when the era of game streaming does arrive in full force, it’s not going to be like Netflix where it’s taken competitors years to come up with rival services, but rather we might see a mountain of these all go live at once.
Still though, even that might be better than the current system. Let’s say you even have to subscribe to five different game streaming passes from publishers at $10 a month. To own an Xbox and have access to new releases from almost every major publisher for $50 a month? That’s…probably still significant savings over shelling out $60 for new games one at a time.
The point is, the potential for a large-scale shift in the industry is there. It may get a bit messy reaching that point, but it does seem like all the major players are determined to make this happen, and it appears like it may be Microsoft which ends up leading the charge.
We don’t know enough about these future plans to make any full judgements at this point, but we’re getting a preview of how this might work with Game Pass, if Microsoft and others can solve the technical side of streaming, this very well may be how we play most games soon enough.