Xbox: cloud gaming is a “great alternative” to the console, not a replacement

“No storage limits, no downloads. Just bring your controller.”

That’s the promise given by the sizzle reel for the Samsung Gaming Hub at its launch event in London on Monday, accompanied by action-packed footage from Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, Red Dead Redemption 2, Fortnite and more. .

The Hub is an area on Samsung’s 2022 smart TVs that gives users access to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, Nvidia’s GeForce Now, Google’s Stadia, Amazon’s Luna, and even the Utomik PC subscription service. , allowing them to stream games via the cloud.

In the communications around it, there are references to unlocking games for people without a dedicated device – but what indication do these companies have that there’s sufficient demand for such a service? Microsoft and Sony have repeatedly stated that demand for their latest consoles is higher than any previous generation, so those who would enjoy the featured titles already own such a device (if not a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X). | S, then probably one of their ancestors)?

“On our end, we know there are three billion gamers in the world, and we know we’re talking to the vast majority of those customers today,” said Pav Bhardwaj, senior global product manager at Xbox. Gamepass. GamesIndustry.biz.

Pav Bhardwaj, Xbox

“For us, cloud gaming opens up our product and service to customers around the world in different markets. There are different reasons why people don’t buy dedicated hardware: affordability, accessibility, maybe they’re players who have dropped out or do they already own devices for other platforms. We really think it’s about accessibility and choice.”

Gus Grimaldi, Samsung Electronic’s Product Manager for Europe, adds: “People who are already familiar with all these AAA games have probably already configured their console or PC. [We want to] open up the ecosystem so you can play those games, removing friction so you can try out the best games out there or maybe games for your kids or another demographic within your home. You can all try and try. It’s about giving people a choice, not everyone is a professional player.”

That’s true, but billions of non-professional gamers with a bent for gaming almost certainly have a smartphone or tablet. These devices have become ubiquitous in most markets and already offer a wide range of gaming experiences, from casual titles like Candy Crush Saga to AAA equivalents like Apex Legends, Call of Duty Mobile and Genshin Impact (and, before the Legal Crusade from Epic, Fortnite). Plus, they’re all available for free – no subscription required, unlike the services available on the Samsung Gaming Hub.

Bhardwaj notes that Xbox Cloud Gaming is also already available on phones, through the Game Pass app, as well as internet browsers for low-end PCs and iOS.

“For us, it’s just an extension and evolution of all the different places you can play,” he says.

Grimaldi highlights the main difference between mobile devices and smart TVs: “It’s not comparable to playing a game on a phone or tablet compared to a full screen. This experience is so much more pleasant, so much better. To be able to offer this to Samsung customers without the friction of having to be an expert on how to get the games is amazing for us.”

“It’s not that one harms the other, it’s more of a rising tide, and it’s a really good place to provide all these different opportunities”

Pav Bhardwaj, Xbox

As mentioned, the Samsung Gaming Hub encompasses a variety of streaming services, although the partnership with Xbox certainly dominates the marketing. Sony’s own service, PlayStation Now, is absent; When asked if this could be added at a later date, Grimaldi was unable to comment, but added that Samsung “still operates an open ecosystem”.

It should be remembered that Sony has already attempted this. In 2014, the platform holder brought its PlayStation Now service – built on the foundations of Gaikai, which it had acquired for $380 million two years prior – to its own line of Bravia TVs. A year later this was extended to Samsung TVs as well, but the service was pulled from all but the PlayStation 4 and PC in early 2017.

Given that the idea of ​​bringing high-end games to a console-less audience isn’t new, what’s different this time around? Bhardwaj emphasizes the hard work Microsoft and Samsung have put in so they can “hit the bar of quality that today’s gamers expect”; 1080p, 60 frames per second, lowest latency — the usual.

“We had to bring the service to this level before we were comfortable giving it back to customers and new players,” he says. “We had to make sure it was an experience they wanted to continue, and that’s where we think we are now.

“We also wanted to make sure that the cloud gaming experience is ubiquitous on our other devices. We didn’t want this substandard service – if you want to deliver on that promise, you need to be able to deliver Halo, Forza, all these other great games, with really good quality with low latency. You have to do it, we weren’t going to do anything different.”

He continues: “Compared to eight years ago, things have evolved so much in terms of bandwidth, technology … but at the same time, people’s expectations have also increased in parallel. I think we have to go to the inflection point where we can deliver cloud gaming services through smart TVs the same way Disney+ or Netflix are delivered, at this level [of quality] — and you don’t need a console. It’s the magic of the experience.”

Again, there’s the reference to no longer needing dedicated hardware. As the media streaming services mentioned by Bhardwaj show, other forms of entertainment have long eluded the need for dedicated hardware: movies and TV shows can be experienced alike, whether via mobile, tablet, a decoder, a connected television. or web browser. It has been much more difficult to separate video games from their traditional devices.

Gus

Gus Grimaldi, Samsung

Industry executives, developers, and pundits have been predicting a world without consoles for years — at least a decade, in fact. Google’s opening bet for Stadia was that the next generation of games was more than just a box. Still, consoles persist and, as mentioned earlier, demand for Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 suggests they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Will the rise of cloud gaming services fuel the fire behind these age-old predictions, reigniting the notion of a console-free future?

“Some people are still going to love playing on consoles, having a console in their living room to download and have that experience,” Bhardwaj acknowledges. “I love consoles – it’s just another avenue, another option to open up gaming to other people. It’s not that one harms the other, it’s more of a rising tide , and it’s a really good place to be in to provide all of these different opportunities. There’s always the PC, and there will be new form factors coming out in the future.

“Consoles are popular, and cloud gaming is just a great alternative.”

While streaming has irreversibly disrupted other entertainment industries, gaming will likely always remain an outlier. The general public engages with the products of this industry to those of other media; a Netflix subscriber is likely to watch dozens upon dozens of movies and TV series over the course of a year, whereas mainstream gamers – and even a large chunk of mainstream audiences – will only engage with a handful (especially if they prefer the hugely popular multiplayer games like Fortnite, FIFA or Call of Duty).

“[We want to] open up the ecosystem, eliminate friction… It’s about giving people choice — not everyone is a professional gamer.”

Gus Grimaldi, Samsung

That’s an added challenge for any company that runs a subscription-based service focused on offering a vast and continually expanding library of games. But, as you might expect given how far Microsoft has shifted its gaming business towards this model, Bhardwaj is optimistic.

“If you do the math on buying two or three games a year, I think there’s an equivalent in the annual subscription fee,” he says.

“There is also an element of being introduced to game genres that you would never have played before because you would never have bought them. When you have a catalog of hundreds, you are constantly exposed to new types of games , and there’s also a community element where your friends play certain types of games that you may not have played.”

Grimaldi adds, “It’s about the search and discover experience. The Gaming Hub gives you the ability to watch all kinds of games, whatever you want to play…we can trace that back to ‘at the top so people can play games, discover new games, without having to understand the whole gaming ecosystem. The Gaming Hub brings together everything about gaming to help with that discovery and search, similar to what we do with the “media” section of our TVs, bringing all apps like Disney+, Netflix and Amazon Prime video together.”

He adds, “It’s only natural that we’re starting to bring all those experiences that you already have on media services to the game.”

Samsung Gaming Hub launched last week and also offers access to Stadia, GeForce Now, Luna and Utomik in addition to Xbox Cloud Gaming

Samsung Gaming Hub launched last week and also offers access to Stadia, GeForce Now, Luna and Utomik in addition to Xbox Cloud Gaming

On the notion of discoverability, and going back to the nature of cloud gaming itself, there’s one last factor that works in its favor – and it’s reminiscent of Bhardwaj’s comments about cloud and console being complementary . While the latter offers a superior experience in terms of stability and crystal-clear graphics, the former is much more accessible.

Downloading a console or PC game, even one you have access to at no extra cost through a subscription, takes time. There’s no doubt that many Game Pass users have spent hours waiting for a title to install, only to play for less than an hour, decide it wasn’t for them, and then delete (the question of whether subscriptions make games more “disposable” is another question). While cloud gaming allows you to sample a title in minutes; since the feature launched on Xbox, I’ve definitely used it to gauge whether a game is worth downloading.

With little to no game rentals available (why are you, Blockbuster?) and very few major new titles offering demos before launch, could cloud gaming become a key discovery tool? Bhardwaj certainly thinks so.

“I’m the type of person who finds out she has half an hour before going out and wants to play a game,” he says. “Do I sit and wait for something to download, or do I jump into the cloud functionality? Being able to jump in and play a brand new game that’s been released has been amazing, and I can give it a try and if I like it, I’ll download it while I’m out.

“It’s another layer of accessibility in the game in how quickly you can jump in and play it.”

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