The way we game today is vastly different from just five years ago and worlds apart from prehistoric times when we blew into cartridges in the vain attempt to bring them to life on our fuzzy cathode ray tubes. Gaming is so different and continues to change so fast that many warn against trying to predict the future, for fear of looking foolish in hindsight. You won’t find such cowardice from me though and unlike some, who have built careers out of looking like fools, I’ll be correct. I’ll be correct because I’ve already had months of hindsight, using my incredible brain to critically evaluate last weeks news and extrapolating an accurate future from it. There were five key pieces of news last week that taken alone barely warrant comment but together shape the future direction of video game delivery. In decades to come I will be seen as a gaming prophet, the chosen one, able to divine meaning from these cryptic runes.
Open them in tabs if you like or just take my word on it:
- Sony buys Gaikai.
- Nintendo may charge for online services one day.
- Free to play, Android powered console.
- The Court of Justice of the European Union find in favour of consumers who want to resell their digital products.
- EA will become a 100% digital company.
Let’s delve into each one with a quick summary and then synthesise it at the end.
Sony buys Gaikai
So Gaikai is (was?) this company that came out of nowhere to reveal themselves as a game streaming competitor to OnLive. Now I’ve always been sceptical about the viability of streaming video games. Australia’s slow internet is one thing, but maintaining datas centres of top of the line computers to individually play every game being streamed is another. This is a massive step above streaming music or movies from a server farm. Users of Gaikai’s presumably short lived service, reported issues around latency and input lag. But there is clearly interest in the idea and I don’t think Sony is buying them to wipe out a possible competitor, they’re buying them because they want the expertise, they want the infrastructure and they want the patents. So while streaming may not be ready yet, and maybe not in it’s current form, just think about that there is still half a billion dollars worth of interest in the concept.
Nintendo charging for online services.
“We therefore believe that services which ask our consumers to obtain paid memberships are not always the best. We cannot promise here that Nintendo will always provide you with online services free of charge no matter how deep the experiences are that it may provide, but at least we are not thinking of asking our consumers to pay money to just casually get access to our ordinary online services”
Obviously Iwata doesn’t want to do it just yet, but he leaves the door open for charging some sort of fee, and it was a monthly fee suggested by the shareholder, for a premium service. Anyway, just park that one in your brain.
A free to play, Android console
The Ouya sounds dumb to me, I wont be buying this, but here’s the takeaway; it’s now possible for a startup to offer a bespoke console, running open standards and existing software. People are calling this the next Phantom, and it may well be, but the barriers the Phanton faced like access to software libraries, access to retail shelves and reliance on optical media are largely gone.
EU Court of Justice decision.
My understanding of commercial law is, uh, poor to say the least. My understanding of EU law, which apparently differs from the Common Law we “enjoy” in the Anglosphere is perhaps worse, but here’s what I glean from this decision: The EU want to treat digital goods purchased online in the same way they treat purchases of physical goods at the store, that we have full ownership and are free to resell. And it covers e-books, mp3s, I don’t think this will force Valve to open a used game key market on Steam, and I can’t see anyone willingly buying an MP3 file off their mate but I think this might protect the used game key markets that do exist and will make Valve review their terms of service to check compliance. In short though, this should be a good thing for consumers. So keep in mind that digital reselling is a thing and why content rights holders may not want you to do it. Oh but don’t expect the EU decision to be repeated in the US Supreme Court as it flies in the face of America’s core organising ideology.
EA becoming a digital only company.
Not much to say here other than EA imagine in the future they wont have products in stores, they’ll be entirely an online company. As an aside to think about, Netflix who today we think about as an online only company, used to mail people DVDs in the post and the ‘net’ in their name referred to them having a website. Times change.
With those 5 ideas in your head, you should be in the same headspace as me and see the future. But incase you’re too stupid, I’ll try to make it more explicit. EA imagine a digital only future, Sony imagine streaming as part of gaming’s future, Nintendo can imagine a premium online service. Standards are becoming more open and the EU see digital goods as tangible, resellable products. If free to play games are the broadcast television of gaming, then full priced games are the movies. And movies are moving to online, at home streaming. I can see a future of games where there is the cheap, Ouya like experience, and competing ‘premium’ subscription services. Playstation+ already exists and it has its instant library that serves you up games to play, so long as you keep subscribing. Subscribing sidesteps the EU, because we’re not buying these games, we’re subscribing to a service that includes access to them. Imagine a Nintendo+ offering Nintendo’s back catalogue and select new releases for a fee. Imagine way off in the far future, Nintendo+ and Playstation+ competing head to head not through consoles but through subscriptions straight to your TV equipped with high capacity local storage and enough GPU power to play them locally. Maybe EA, Microsoft, Valve, Google and Facebook also have their competing services and they throw money at third party developers for access, exclusive or otherwise to their titles.
I’m know there will still be an option to buy games outright, in physical forms even. Just like today you can still buy new release albums on vinyl. But Spotify made it to Australia just the other month and the uptake is huge. I can tell that many of my friends will never buy another CD or individual MP3 again, and why would they? The same is true for games. In the future, maybe 2020, maybe 2030, you’ll have on demand access to just about any game you want, on any platform you want, and the only barrier will be choosing which content service to subscribe to, some of which will be supported by ads or microtransactions.