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Game on: Google Stadia and Others Press Play on the Future of Gaming


According to IHS Markit, the global console market grew from $42 billion in 2017 to $47 billion in 2018, buoyed by a record high in the digital content and services sector. The sale of digital games, downloadable content and games as a service raked in $32 billion last year. That pinnacle is expected to be broken this year with nearly $34 billion in revenue generated.

A pair of newcomers — Google and Apple — are entering the gaming space in a big way, taking on Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony. Not resting on their laurels, Sony and Microsoft have “next generation” consoles on tap for 2020 releases, while Nintendo is readying a lower-priced Switch to target a broader console gaming audience.

In the traditional console video game business, the bestselling devices of all time like Sony’s PlayStation 2 (155 million units sold worldwide) and Nintendo’s Wii (over 101 million sold globally) have only reached a fraction of the potential gaming audience, according to Jack Buser, director of games, business development at Google.

Google is targeting billions of gamers globally with its new cloud-based streaming service, Stadia, launching later this year. “The long-term vision is to take Stadia anywhere you might have YouTube,” Buser explains.

That YouTube connection goes even further, as Google demonstrated at the 2019 Game Developers Conference (GDC). It showed gamers watching a video game trailer or Let’s Play video on YouTube jump into gameplay immediately by clicking the “Play Now” button. Buser says this opens up opportunities for streamers and YouTube gaming influencers, who can now invite fans into their games with the click of a button.

Considering that consumers watched over 50 billion hours of video game content on YouTube in 2018, and over 200 million fans watch YouTube gaming videos daily, that’s a powerful marketing tool. Because Stadia is cloudbased (using Google’s global network of data centers), gamers can seamlessly transition from gaming on their living room TV to their laptop to their mobile device — using their same Google account. Doom Eternal, an intense 4K first-person horror shooter from id Software, was demonstrated at GDC across multiple platforms.

Stadia will stream games in 4K running at 60 frames per second. Buser says all that’s needed is an internet connection of 30 megabits per second. Stadia will automatically optimize the gameplay experience to the highest quality based on your bandwidth, Buser adds.

Researchandmarkets.com says more than 189.3 million smart TVs are in the global market. Each of those TVs now becomes a high-end gaming system, thanks to Stadia’s powerful hardware stack, which combines server class GPU, CPU, memory and storage. Buser adds that Google’s data center infrastructure means Stadia technology will never become obsolete, which is an issue with current game consoles, PCs and mobile devices.

While there will be a free version of Stadia offered, users can pay $9.99 a month to get free games, exclusive discounts and the ability to stream up to a 4K resolution.

Further, the Stadia controller connects the gameplay experience across any device, and Google.

“The controller also includes a button for instant capture, saving and sharing gameplay in up to 4K resolution,” Buser says. “And it comes equipped with a Google Assistant button and built-in microphone.”

Stadia’s success will revolve around pricing and exclusive games, according to Joost van Dreunen, managing director of Super Data Research, a Nielsen company. “The hopeful utopian perspective here is that as cloud gaming delivers on its promise of facilitating play of any high-quality game on any device, the market will grow,” says van Dreunen.

"We already see the positive benefits this had for music and video. And Stadia’s initial leadership team suggests that they are serious with industry luminaries like Phil Harrison, who held key positions at both Sony (where he oversaw 13 studios, including Sony’s most successful) and Microsoft, and Jade Raymond, who’s held executive positions at Ubisoft and EA. It suggests that Google may go about cloud gaming differently than it has with other forms of entertainment.”

Buser says a team of global developers are creating exclusive titles for Stadia, including games designed specifically to take advantage of YouTube integration. “Because these games are running in Google gaming data centers, which are all connected, we can support large-scale multiplayer games where thousands, if not millions, of people are playing in a single connected world, and you can jump into this world through YouTube from any entry point,” Buser explains.

The evolution of gaming into the digital space continues with Google’s commitment to gaming. Piper Jaffray analysts Michael J. Olson and Yung Kim forecast that by 2020 game software sales will be completely digital as streaming and subscription models become more popular. 

“Google’s announcement marks a key milestone in the game industry’s history,” says van Dreunen. “It is in part because video games have become a mainstream form of entertainment that a non-endemic participant like Google has an opportunity to enter,” he adds. “It also gives us part of a vision of the future in what we traditionally know about console gaming is starting to evolve. After digitizing gaming software over the last decade, the industry is now starting to digitize its hardware.”

It’s Game on with Apple Arcade

While Apple has incorporated game developers like Epic Games and its Infinity Blade mobile franchise into past press conferences, the company has never gone all-in with gaming until now. Apple is launching a subscription-based service this fall that will immediately impact the free-to-play mobile, desktop and TV gaming ecosystems, which has enticed huge audiences from franchises like Candy Crush, Fortnite and Hearthstone with the ability to generate income through in-game purchases.

Apple has not confirmed its subscription pricing, leaving fans wondering if there will be a handpicked collection of all-you-canplay games with no ads, additional purchases or ad tracking. The service will feature new and original games from studios of all sizes, as well as exclusives from veteran game creators like Hironobu Sakaguchi (the Final Fantasy series), Ken Wong (Monument Valley) and Will Wright (The Sims series).

“The App Store is the world’s biggest and most successful game platform. Now we are going to take games even further with Apple Arcade, the first game subscription service for mobile, desktop and the living room,” says Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing. “We are working with some of the most innovative game developers in the world to create over 100 new and exclusive games to play across iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV.”

Apple is not just handpicking the games in Apple Arcade, but also contributing to the development costs and working closely with creators to bring the games to life. The service will feature games from Bossa Studios, Cartoon Network, Finji, Giant Squid, Konami, Mistwalker, ustwo games and dozens more.

Apple Arcade will introduce a collection of brand-new games that will not be available on any other mobile platform or in any other subscription service. Rather than pay up front for each game, a subscription will give players the opportunity to try any game in the service without risk. Since every game includes access to the full experience, including all game features, content and future updates, no additional purchases will be required. Every game is playable offline, and many games offer support for game controllers. Because subscribers can play Apple Arcade games across iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV, they can pick up where they left off in a game, even if they switch devices. New games will be added to the service on a regular basis.

“The subscription-based service is a deviation from what has allowed Apple to become an absolute juggernaut in the industry: by offering premium titles for a fixed monthly fee, it effectively forfeits the free-to-play revenue that drives its success,” says Super Data Research’s van Dreunen. “Nevertheless, Apple is looking to build on its success in mobile gaming by adding a new business model and playing a more significant role outside of mobile.”


Sony Confirms Next Gen PlayStation for 2020

While PlayStation 4 remains the best-selling console of the current generation of hardware (over 96 million units sold), Sony has spent the past four years developing its next PlayStation device. The PlayStation 5, which is the anticipated name for the latest in Sony’s long line of successful hardware, will ship in 2020.

Sony skipped the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) for the first time. But the hardware giant confirmed its next generation console is heading to store shelves next year via an exclusive Wired Magazine interview with Mark Cerny, Sony’s PlayStation architect.

Sony recently shipped development kits to game studios worldwide, so games are in the works from both internal Sony studios and external developers, with titles that will take advantage of the machine’s powerful new AMD chips. For those techies out there, the CPU (central processing unit) is AMD’s Ryzen line, while the graphics processing unit (GPU) is AMD’s Radeon Navi technology.

What this means for gamers is visuals beyond anything PS4 Pro can deliver in 4K with high dynamic range (HDR). In fact, PS5 will support 8K, which opens the door for legions of gamers who will soon have a reason to upgrade from their 4K TVs to an 8K model.

But Cerny also focused on an incredible leap of audio technology with the new console, the one area that advanced processing power failed to significantly upgrade in the transition from PS3 to PS4. Sony has been working with immersive surround sound audio with its PlayStation VR hardware, which has sold over four million units to date. “Presence,” a key term in delivering a completely immersive experience in virtual reality, is something that Sony is focusing on for its non-VR experiences with the new PlayStation, says Cerny. Gamers will be able to hear enemies sneaking up from behind. When alien spacecrafts rush overhead in the game, it will be completely immersive.

Another element that Cerny promised will separate the new console from any previous generations is the inclusion of a powerful internal solid-state drive (SSD). As games become larger and more complex, even disc-based titles like Red Dead Redemption 2 require massive amounts of data to be stored on a hard drive and then accessed when moving from one area to another in the game world. What once took 15 seconds to do — and forced game makers to create cut scenes or custom lobbies to mask the loading times — will now require a fraction of a second.
 

Microsoft Cross-Platform Gaming

Over the past few years, Microsoft has been touting cross-platform gaming within its Xbox and Windows 10 ecosystems with its Xbox Play Anywhere platform and more recently its Xbox Game Pass digital titles. One price allows gamers to play games like Forza Horizon 4, Crackdown 3 and Sea of Thieves on Xbox One or Windows 10 devices. Now the tech giant is testing Project XCloud, a gamestreaming technology that Kareem Choudhry, corporate vice president of Gaming Cloud at Microsoft, says will complement its console hardware and give gamers more choices.

“We love what’s possible when a console is connected to a 4K TV with full HDR support and surround sound — that remains a fantastic way to experience console gaming,” Choudhry says. “We also believe in empowering gamers to decide when and how to play.”

Choudhry envisions a future where gamers can seamlessly access content on their phone, tablet or another connected device. “True console-quality gaming will become available on mobile devices, providing the two billion-plus gamers around the world a new gateway to previously console- and PC-exclusive content,” Choudhry says. “We can achieve this vision with the global distribution of Microsoft’s datacenters in 54 Azure regions and the advanced network technologies developed by the team at Microsoft Research.”

At this year’s E3, Microsoft unveiled some basic details about its next generation console, currently titled Project Scarlett. Complete with a custom-designed AMD processor and other next-gen upgrades, the console is expected to arrive in the 2020 holiday season. Accompanying its release is the game Halo Infinite, the next installment of the blockbuster Xbox-exclusive series.

Like Sony and its PS4 Pro, Microsoft offered a slight upgrade to its Xbox One console in 2017 with its Xbox One X and Xbox One S. Microsoft also launched the Xbox One S All Digital Edition last year, which stripped away the disc drive. All of these consoles support 4K gaming with full HDR.

“We’re excited about our ability to deliver a best-in-class global streaming technology,” Choudhry says.

John Gaudiosi

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