The future of video games will not be streamed
There is recurrent thinking going for a while, within the video games world, a thinking that sentences to death the “traditional” way of selling, playing and doing business while serving a completely changed audience. The future of gaming will be streamed, that thinking says, it will be “social”, “free-to-play”, purely and simply in digital delivery. So let’s try confronting what certain interested thinkers describe as clear trends with some factual data of the videogaming business.
The future is in the “social” games, seemingly, in the obsessive-compulsive pastime hosted on Facebook where the best of life is to spend real money on virtual objects within an anaesthetized ecosystem. Maybe it’s this way but Zynga, the company that built an empire on “social games” by copying gameplay mechanics from everywhere and intoxicating the Internet with its many SomethingVilles, is in more than worrisome conditions: the copycat-publisher laid off a sizable part of its employees, closed offices in several parts of the world and put off-line 11 of its many free-to-play games.
Zynga isn’t “exclusive” partner of Facebook – the platform from which the largest part of the company’s revenues comes – anymore, and a business that in 2011 was worth 1-billion dollars now seems to be the first noteworthy victim of a new net economy bubble after the one that burst at the end of the Nineties. If the future of video games is social, then the American teenagers – that in the future will be consumers with a salary – seem much more tied to the present of traditional gaming experiences, in an engaging environment with a finite sense beyond monetization.
The future of video games (lol)
Even the software houses that think free-to-play (F2P) games are the inevitable last goal of the industry push the brakes: Crytek, which became renowned for its Crysis FPS series but always wanted to go F2P, says that the transition period will be long and meanwhile there will be room for new titles to sell at retail. And the cloud gaming, with its powerful remote servers to manage real-time rendering of the game’s world sent back to the user’s client like a common YouTube video?
Cloud gaming is clearly the future: OnLive, the ambitious company that wanted to stream AAA titles on smartphones, tablets and little boxes costing a few tens of dollars, almost went bankrupt and in the end was sold to venture capitalist Gary Lauder for 4.8 million dollars. OnLive’s estimated value before knowing the real state of things? 1.8 BILLION dollars. Now, thanks to new funds and with part of its re-employed staff, OnLive is once again persuaded to be the Jesus Christ of video gaming that will bring revolutions beyond imagination.
Who isn’t sold on cloud computing’s potential at all is Satoru Iwata: the Nintendo president says he wants a future where gaming consoles will always have a central role, and the Japanese corporation is working to keep this promise. Cloud gaming will be useful for some things, Iwata-san suggests, but not for the game full immersion. The same way of thinking – applied to the PC world – is embraced by Gabe Newell, the Valve boss that built an empire with Steam digital delivery but is definitely negative about pure gaming streaming.
“Cloud gaming works until it starts to be successful“, Newell said, and at that point the network intensive usage starts to bring the connection cost dizzily up and latency is even higher. In the future sensitivity to lag will increase rather than decrease, Newell suggested, and “the ability to do local high-speed processing will become more important than it is now“. Possible ways to use cloud gam
ing? Valve’s boss talks about a “sideshow“, some secondary feature like demos and streaming of other people’s gaming performances.
Waiting to know the details of the PlayStation 4 “cloud” features based on the Gaikai technology recently acquired by Sony, analysts are persuaded that the next generation of home consoles will bring a positive rebound of the market: video games on optical disks will once again return to be at the center of the show, IDC says. In fact, even now optical supports are an overwhelming part of the sales for the 5 million copies of Borderlands 2, the 10 million copies of Diablo III, the 4 million copies of Halo 4, the 5 million copies of Dead Island and the 12 million copies of Assassin’s Creed III. And the PC? Well, the situation is complicated but is always way better than the way it is depicted. PC gaming is dead, so it’s business as usual.