Sweaty Spice, the other Spice Girl

As a Microsoft Live Game Pass subscriber, I got the message that I had access to the emerging Microsoft cloud gaming beta. Conceptually it is simple. Instead of being tied to a console and my TV, the games get executed in their massive data centers, and the visuals are streamed to a device (phone, tablet, etc) and with the addition of an appropriate controller, you are good to play.

I did indeed buy a controller and I got it to work. It works. It felt like there was a little delay (like when I am recording my guitar on my computer, via a USB digitation device) that was noticeable but not disqualifying. Still, it wasn’t terrible. It was different.

Today, in the NY Times is an article on “‘Crucial Time' for Cloud Gaming” that describes some of the challenges. Google’s Stadia was first out of the gate, arriving with a lot of fanfare, and a mediocre reception. But nobody should trust Google to remain committed to a point product like this.

But Microsoft, Amazon, and even nVidia are all diving in head first.

From the linked article, this one paragraph sums it up:

“Big Tech has a sense of arrogance that they can take over an industry segment and disrupt it entirely,” said Joost van Dreunen, a New York University professor who studies the business of video games. “So far in gaming, they all suck at that.”

My Experience

It didn’t suck, but it wasn’t a wholly satisfying experience. There was that slight delay. I got used to it, but it was always there. It is the sort of “haze” that drove me in the 1990s and early oughts’ to upgrade my main rig every 18 months or so.

But, while it worked well on my iPad pro, the display is small and cramped enough that it felt constricting. Not at all like my high refresh rate 55” LCD TV. Not compelling.

I didn’t play long enough to determine if the streaming was going to destroy my Comcast transfer cap, but I suspect it would.

Summation

It may be the future, and it will likely get better, but I am not ditching my console anytime soon.

Overall, I think Microsoft and Sony have the leg up, as they have well established ecosystems of game studios and the best content is focused there. I have a sub to Apple’s Arcade as part of my Apple One access, and while those aren’t cloud games, they are OK, but not spectacular. I suspect that this mediocrity will be common to the majors (Google, Amazon, Facebook) who are rapidly escalating their commitment to the space. A fabulous platform with shit content will still suck. And Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are the 800# gorillas with a huge ecosystem of studios that have a long history of cranking out titles that resonate with the community.

Sure, Epic may be spoiling for a fight, and EA may play ball, but a lot of the exclusives that drive loyalty to one platform over another will continue to be a difficult moat to cross.

Then there is the ever increasing demand on your bandwidth limits, and streaming potentially 4K streams will begin to pressure the major providers to increase or remove caps. However, after a month of streaming 4K video via Amazon Prime video, and hitting my 1TB cap by the 15th of the month, I suspect that a seismic shift has yet to happen.

The future it may be, but this is one early adoption that I will pass on. I will continue to await adequate supplies of the Xbox Series X consoles to upgrade.

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