Is cloud gaming the next frontier for video games?

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By Colton Carrier, reporter.

Practically every medium under the sun has jumped to streaming, one way or another. Be it Netflix shaking up the film industry or Spotify shifting how most people find their new favorite tunes, streaming has changed the way most people engage with their favorite media. So it only makes sense that video games would try to hop on that bandwagon. Taking titles such as “cloud gaming” and “games on demand,” services over the years have tried to hold onto this new market. However, cloud gaming has been a pipe dream, limited to those with the best internet connections and the most up-to-date computers.

Cloud gaming has a shaky history, to say the least. It first jumped into the public eye with OnLive, a service that streamed games over a desktop connection. During the service’s five-year run from 2010 to 2015, games were found to have low-quality visuals due to extremely variable stream quality and input lag that made certain games unplayable. Across the board, critics found streaming to be inferior to just owning games, in every regard. Afterwards, Sony bought out the patents to OnLive, using the technology to build their own game streaming service, PlayStation Now.

The whole concept of cloud gaming is a bit complex. Basically, instead of having a high-power computer or game console in your house, you’re remotely accessing a computer built into a server. From here, the game you want to play is streamed to you, about the same way a YouTube video is streamed to you when you watch it. From there, every input you make – like button presses, mouse clicks or analog stick movements – travels over the internet to that remote computer. Ideally, this all happens so fast that there’s no noticeable delay, but that’s where the first issue of cloud gaming arises.

Anyone wanting to dive into gaming on demand doesn’t just need a good internet connection, they need a consistent one, ideally uncongested with other devices and physically close to the servers. For most people wanting a cheaper alternative to video game consoles, that isn’t very accessible. Streaming games also takes up a significant amount of data. To put things in perspective, a modern AAA release will take around 50 gigabytes to download; running most streaming services uses around 10 to 20 gigabytes per hour. With most internet providers using data caps, that’s a lot of data being used up fast.

All of this brings us to the blockbuster on the cloud gaming scene, the Google Stadia. Cutting to the chase, the Google Stadia works. But at this time, the entire service appears half-baked, from premise to execution. Claiming to run at 4K on Chromecast devices and 1080p on phones and Chromebooks, first impressions show corners cut left and right, with the same old graphic issues present, as well as consistent performance issues. On top of this, the service will be missing key features, such as Bluetooth support, a larger game library, Google Assistant support, all promoted during the service’s announcement.

Gaming on demand has made strides from a decade prior, but the same issues keep popping up with each new iteration. However, Google has made one of the boldest leaps into cloud gaming in history, covering more regions than any service before it. While I wouldn’t suggest hopping aboard the on-demand train just yet, there’s no questioning that game streaming has become a genuine option for those with the means to give it a shot.

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