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Cloud Gaming and its Concerning Implications

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m a fan of collecting old big box PC games. Not only that, but I love playing classic games, and I am a huge supporter of the abandonware community, who through their tireless efforts have managed to preserve our digital history long after the ruthless games industry has forgotten them in all but copyright.

I’m also somewhat financially conservative when it comes to my gaming rig – as much as I’d like to, I simply can’t afford to always have a gaming beast, capable of playing all of tomorrow’s releases on Ultra settings. Likewise, I often wait out for sales – the sheer volume of games being released these days is more than most wallets can handle. It is from both of these perspectives that I am both concerned and excited about cloud gaming.

Cloud gaming, if you haven’t heard the term, has been gradually building influence and credibility in the games industry. Also known as Gaming-on-Demand, it provides a way for gamers to play games by streaming them from the cloud. This simplistic definition only barely covers the concept, and there are several different technical approaches to achieve this. However, the core benefit to the end-user is minimizing overhead costs. You don’t need to go out and spend thousands of dollars on a new PC – you can just stream the game like you would a Netflix movie, and all the heavy processing is done on a computer somewhere in a data center owned by Microsoft, Google, Nvidia, or any one of the dozens of other companies vying to carve out some territory in this lucrative market. No need to fork out thousands of dollars for a new gaming rig.

Great, right?

There is no doubt that cloud gaming provides significant benefits for gamers. Firstly, it reduces the entry-level costs associated with gaming. In some cases, you might be able to stream a game through your browser, as Google recently trialed with Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey in the Chrome browser. In other cases, you might need to fork out an initial amount for a thin client or simple controller peripheral. Either way, a great deal cheaper than a brand-new console or PC, as all the critical hardware is housed and maintained in a central data center.

Another benefit is performance. As long as your cloud gaming provider is keeping their host machines up to date with the latest hardware, you’ll be able to experience all of the latest releases at the highest settings that your display will allow. It also means that developers can start pushing boundaries with their game engines, as they will no longer need to consider lower-end systems, if their game is fully cloud-based. You’ll also be able to play your games anywhere, as long as you have access to a screen, a decent internet connection and a mouse and keyboard or a gamepad.

As Kyle Payne pointed out in his great article about Google’s Stadia, there really are a lot of exciting possibilities with cloud gaming, and I don’t blame anyone who is eager to embrace it. But there are many, many concerning implications for the games industry, and if these issues aren’t taken into consideration, there will be dire consequences for both the industry and consumers.

The first issue I want to address is something that has been occurring for many years already, even without cloud gaming, and that is game ownership. There was once a time when you purchased a game that you would walk away with something tangible – boxes, manuals, discs, artwork. The games industry has changed, and digital distribution is the new norm. However, cloud gaming will undoubtedly accelerate digital distribution faster than ever. Cloud gaming lends itself to a Netflix-style subscription model – why purchase a game when you can simply pay a flat monthly rate? The issue here is – what do you actually own? What happens if your streaming service shuts down? What if you’re halfway through a 300-hour RPG and your service loses the rights to the game?

Another issue that has become quite apparent to me, being an Australian gamer, is that of internet connectivity. At this early stage in the life of cloud gaming, there is currently no reliable way for me to experience the technology. Cloud gaming, up until now, has been mostly US, Europe, and Asia-centric. Internet infrastructure is not a quick fix, and it may be many years before some gamers are able to experience reliable cloud gaming, robbing them of the chance to experience games that may no longer be supported by the time their infrastructure is able to sustain the technology.

There are also dozens of smaller considerations. When it comes to savegames, will you be able to transfer them between game streaming providers? What if one of your providers shuts down? Will you still have access to your games? I don’t want to be overly alarmist – these are kinks that will most likely be ironed out thanks to consumer opinion and competition, the two great pillars of capitalism.

However, there are also more complex issues – how will the modding scene react to cloud gaming? The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a perfect example of a game that has been kept alive long past its release thanks to a vibrant modding scene. What will modding look like in the future? Modders require access to a game’s files, but how will they do this the files are locked away in a data center? There’s no doubt that cloud gaming is going to have a profound effect on modding, but what that effect will be remains to be seen.

Of all my concerns about cloud gaming, there is one issue that concerns me more than anything else – what will become of classic games? As contemporary games age, they drop in sales and popularity. Then, they can go one of two ways – they are either popular enough that they get remastered, or they fade into memory, or total obscurity, depending on how popular they were. In the case of the latter, it has largely been the efforts of the abandonware scene that has prevented many classics from completely disappearing, but what will happen to cloud-based games? When no one is playing them anymore, who will host the files? Will the cloud gaming platforms release these files to gamers, for the sake of preservation? I hope so, but I’m doubtful.

In order to protect our gaming heritage, and the history of games, this is a critical issue that needs to be addressed. Games are art, and to allow them to be lost in time and forgotten is a tragedy. I am cautious about legislation within the games industry, but in this case I think it is vital that, prior to removing games from their services, cloud gaming providers should be legally required to hand over all files to freely-accessible archives, such as The Internet Archive.

Cloud gaming has the potential to make games more easily accessible and approachable than ever before, provided you have access to the required infrastructure. And although it makes it easier to become a gamer today, there is a high risk of severing our ties to games of the past. Change is inevitable, but as consumers, we can influence the way change occurs. It would be futile to try and resist cloud gaming – its coming whether we like it or not.

But before you commit to a cloud gaming platform, consider whether the platform you choose is acting in the best interests of games and gamers.

Post Comment

  1. seelefantman on August 2, 2019 at 10:12 am said

    There is more to consider, for example:

    what does a “streaming-only” or a “cloud-only” future mean for game developement? Given that those cloud services will most likely be based on subscription models, publisher income and also developer income will heavily depend on playtime. Developers and publishers will more and more want to rely on and create and publish games that hook the player with grindy, time-gated content.

    also: with streaming, you don’t have any access to the gamefiles, since everything is in the cloud. This is not only a problem for the modding community, but for, say “normal” people like me as well. We can’t change our experience on consumer backend whatsoever.

    If a developer wants to change gameplay details today, he has to upload a patch and I have to download that patch. I can choose not to should I not agree with the changes made.

    With streaming, developers and publishers can tamper with gameplay and at will. change loot drop rates, change limits etc.

    those things are very scary in terms of microtransactions and other forms of monetization we will certainly see on top of what already exists.

    • Yeah, just latching on to one of your points, there’s a concerning trend of the developer of a given game needing to ensure that changes are enforced upon the player base rather than provided to the player base.
      My knee jerk is that it’s indirectly resultant from console development models and part of Steam’s DRM model (in a softer sense) being the autoupdate feature.

  2. The biggest issue for me is ownership. I wouldn’t trust Google, Microsoft or Sony with my gaming library. This is why I avoid buying digital games in general. I do think that this type of distribution may eventually become the norm since the regular customer is willing to trade anything for convenience, but I won’t be participating in that scheme. I’ll become a retro gamer and will have the chance to finally clear my backlog.

    Then again a niche physical market could exist for dinosaurs like me, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

  3. This kind of service would end modding for the community.

  4. Another unknown is what Google/Stadia is going to do with potential cash grab game releases that end up shutting down a year or less later. It’s too soon to tell how Stadia will handle those situations or if those situations are even possible on Google’s platform. One such situation I’d like to use as an example is Neowiz’s Bless Online and how they took advantage of Steam users. A lot of people paid $150 for a game believing developers would be able to deliver on years worth of content and updates only to see no development and the game shut down a year later.

  5. In general I find the thought of cloud only gaming highly off-putting . My main issues are the same as many peoples, that is to say actually owning the content I pay for and being able to change that content as I see fit which is an impossibility with most cloud only based services. The only cloud service which I would currently consider is the Shadow virtual gaming PC, since it’s the only service which addresses those main negatives.

    I do agree that cloud gaming is more than likely an inevitability but I’m too cynical to believe it will be pushed through for the sake of progress, rather I believe it’ll be more for the sake of locking down platforms and services for the benefit of large corporations more than they already are. Sadly large corporations tend to have a consistent habit of acting in their own self interest over the benefit or well-being of the consumer or even the industry at large.

  6. KimJongUwU on August 4, 2019 at 1:58 am said

    It’s just like redbox for games. You’re just paying to use the game, not own it.

  7. For me there are 2 crucial disadvantages:

    Ownership, as described in the article

    Modding, not mentioned but a huge advantage of PC gaming to me and a massive disadvantage of cloud gaming

  8. I’ve been buying more DVDs than ever since people started streaming movies because I’ve noticed how quickly an especially beloved series will disappear off the face of the map when it ceases to be worth the streaming service’s money.

    I won’t be making use of streaming gaming for a multitude of reasons (even with great internet, I can’t imagine that I’ll enjoy the latency of some of my twitchier games)

  9. I had access to the beta Google put out for Assassin’s Creed, and I could only play about 2 hours of it in total. I have a fiber internet connection, with my computer hooked up by Ethernet to my (funny enough) Google WiFi, and the lag was unbearable. The frame rate would drop constantly, and my eyes could barely stand it. I got motion sickness playing after about 30 minutes. This is my biggest reservation for using cloud based services, besides now owning the games, and for those two reasons alone, I cannot see myself using any of these services in the near future.

  10. As someone who really fought embracing digital downloads in favor of physical copies until my regular PC games were moved to digital only, I am risking a bit of a bias against cloud gaming in the same ownership access.
    Modding has never really concerned me since I don’t mess with it much, but I do believe people should be able to play a game however they wish, even if it destroys their own copy in the process, and I dislike anything that interferes. Hence probably why I do not play live service games or anything that requires a constant internet connection.
    I will not be so quick as to assume cloud gaming is the future, but I believe it has a place in the future. Presently, I do believe it is too early. Lacking internet infrastructure aside, there currently are no good offers. Stadia offers full price games on top of a subscription fee and all the risks of a Google start up that could be shelved at any point.
    In short, I don’t think consoles will ever disappear and am certainly not rushing to try cloud gaming out, but as long as our only option is Stadia and not the the true Netflix of games I seriously doubt it is worth much considering.

  11. – The Google Cementery –

    Currently:
    TOTAL DEATHS: 155

    Coming soon:
    TOTAL DEATHS: 156

  12. luizamejia35 on August 10, 2019 at 1:56 am said

    I am not someone who needs this service; I am not the demographic. This makes me happy, and not only because of the obvious. I am a spectator in all of this. I can watch this project unfold and make conclusions based on what occurs without having to worry about whether I’m affected or not.

    At the moment, in my opinion, it is way ahead of its time, and it may not end well. That internet connection requirement is ridiculous and will be what holds that the potential of Stadia. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. But, I believe in miracles. I think patience will give us the answer.

  13. I alway welcome new texhnology and i have trued both music and video streaming.
    However i recently reverted. The reason is simple: if you actually spend $9,99 on music a month and $13,99 on Video, you will have a huge collection in no time.

    Recently my mother send me boxes full of Cd’s that i bought as a student.
    300 beautiful Cd’s that i immediately converted to high quality 16bit files. Now all the music of my teenage years i can listen digitally on any device, but if my hard drive or wifi fails the original CD is always there.

    But with streaming, after 3 years of suscribing, i have nothing. Even the Itunes files i bought are laughable at 256kbps compared to my 16bit CD’s. After a while some files become unavalaible while my Cd’s are always there.

    After this realisation, i decided to stop suscribing and started buying Cd’s again, which i stopped doing for years. Had i kept buying Cd’s, i wuld now own every single CD i listened on streaming. Now i have to backtrack and buy the albums that i used to stream….

  14. The biggest issue for me is ownership. We have already seen some shady thing happen when people get banned from some online place and they just lose everything they bought which is ridiculous to me. I do hope there will always be a way to download a game at least since a lot of physical game store are closing so owned physical copies will get harder and harder for some. Pay $65 for a game so I can stream it but never actually owning that game will never sit right with me. Service go down and companies do under and companies get into pissing matches with each other causing them to take there games, music, movie off one servive for another but if you paid $65 for that game and can not play it anymore would rub a lot of people the wrong way.

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