One of the most exciting things to look forward to from the E3 event is hearing about the next-gen gaming platforms which are in development or slated for upcoming release. This year, however, has been very quiet on the new tech front.
This comes as no huge surprise from Nintendo, as the Switch was released only last year and is still basking in popularity – with new titles expected to be announced during Nintendo’s E3 presentation. The most anticipated of these being that Fortnite – the hugely popular co-op survival game that has until now been available for PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4 and iOS – is finally available now for Switch as well.
Sony was pretty hush-hush in terms of new gaming systems. It seems that Sony supposedly won’t have anything to offer in the way of consoles until 2021, at which point the reality of gaming consoles may not look as it does now.
Microsoft went so far as to announce the new line of consoles that they have in development – nicknamed “Scarlett” – and the expected release date of 2020. This line of products has been described as a “family of devices”, although what that exactly entails is up for debate. Given that Microsoft strongly backs the cloud gaming initiative, it’s a safe bet to assume that if Scarlett is a set of separate devices or peripherals that it may be heavily cloud-based.
Microsoft clearly sees a promising future in-game streaming – imagine playing the new Halo, and the only necessary hardware on your end being a screen, controller and network connection. Microsoft envisions a gaming reality where this may be the case, with no high-powered (and expensive) console required on the part of the user. This eliminates the need to buy a hardcopy version of the game, or even to download the game files. The games you purchase will reside in your game library on the cloud. This could potentially make playing high-end games more financially accessible, as well as changing the entire console market.
PC gamers have similar game streaming services available to them as well. GeForce Now from Nvidia allows you to stream games that you have purchased through other digital stores such as Steam while doing all the heavy lifting on their networked processors. Blade’s Shadow streaming system gives you access to the computing power of a high-end Windows 10 PC on whichever device you may have.
Other companies besides Microsoft are looking into what cloud gaming can offer. EA has demonstrated a trial of its game streaming service at E3 and even Google is developing a subscription-based game streaming service. Sony’s PlayStation Now has been successfully streaming PS2, PS3 and PS4 games to a variety of devices since 2014. With competitors focusing more on the cloud gaming front, Sony will also undoubtedly have plans to expand their streaming capabilities. Perhaps this is why they are holding out on releasing the PS5 for the moment, especially since comparatively the PS4 is still performing very well.
Before game streaming can become a widespread thing, however, the infrastructure of our internet will have to advance quite drastically. Streaming a game’s visuals and audio is only part of the feat – maintaining a latency that will make the games playable is a far bigger issue.
It is estimated that cloud gaming requires a speed of 20Mbps, with the average speed in the USA being 18.7Mbps and the average speed in the UK being 16.51Mbps. Given these numbers, it wouldn’t be feasible to roll out cloud gaming to the masses just yet. However, statistics show that these average speeds are increasing year by year.
An ecological benefit from the potential trend of cloud-based games would be a significant cut-back in the resources used to create and ship the thousands of hardcopy games that are released each year.
These technological leaps are a few years away, however, so no need to regret your new console purchase just yet. Neither Microsoft nor Sony are likely to do away with console systems altogether any time soon, with both developers planning at least one more generation of consoles. Whether they resemble what we know of gaming consoles today will remain to be seen.