There was a lot covered at the Apple Event this year; the iPhone 11 pro, ad Apple Watch 5, Apple Plus to name just a few. But what really got my attention was a closer look “Apple Arcade,” and just how many companies now are pushing into video games and interactive media.
Much like the previously announced Google Stadia, this would be essentially be a streaming service for video games.
Recently, we’ve seen a greater push for major companies to get on board with the video game industry. Netflix is looking more at interactive storytelling, with their experimental Bandersnatch receiving commercial and critical acclaim. Although, they have had success as a developer with their “Stranger Things” series of games released on home console.
It’s undeniable that something’s happening in the industry that’s urging companies to be more experimental and expansive with their platforms. So today, I’m going to tackle the challenges and potential there is in video game streaming services.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
The entertainment sphere is about to undergo a major shakeup with the advent of Disney +: a streaming service with tons of Disney-owned content, Disney original movies, and Disney tie-ins to Disney-owned cinematic universes.
They have Marvel and Star Wars, and for some fans that’s absolutely enough to fork over the subscription fee.
It’s all about keeping the audience coming back for more content in a subscription-based world. Reinvention and diversification is required.
But it isn’t just about the looming presence of Disney +. In the technological sphere, there’s 5G on the horizon as well; with quicker more reliable data meaning that you will use services easier than ever.
With that, the idea of streaming a video game doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
GAME AND FILM PHILOSOPHY
I find that the biggest question as to the feasibility of video game streaming comes in how we view games compared to film, as well as ideas of ownership.
It’s true that we’re living in a less materialistic generation. It’s less about having stacks and stacks of DVDs and more about having one or two services that supplies all your viewing needs. With Netflix and Amazon Prime alone you can get access to literally thousands of hours of content, before even factoring in video games.
The biggest difference comes with the interactive element.
Now, in theory, I don’t believe there’s a difference in how we perceive ownership. There’s no reason that owning a Blu Ray should feel any different to owning a physical copy of a game. However, it’s the hardware that I believe is essential when evaluating a difference.
Certain genres of require that immediate response time. Framerates and lag can be a major practical issue when it comes to engaging in these interactive elements.
Franchises like The Sims and Minecraft could thrive on streaming services – being able to access your virtual world from any number of devices, but I fear that for more fast-paced gameplay.
With an updated list of games, it looks like their competition is going to be home consoles, which are more than capable of running the full video-game experience.
Based on Google’s Stadia controller, it looks designed to support handle the fast-paced immediate responses you’d expect from a console game, but only time will tell.
THE YOUTUBER IN THE ROOM
It’s no surprise that “Let’s Plays” have become more prominent in recent years. Between Twitch and YouTube there is a real market for let’s play gaming, where players will video their reactions to in-game events and share them online.
Heck, notable let’s player – Pewdiepie – has amassed over 101 million subscribers with a heavy emphasis on gaming. That’s not to mention Microsoft buying Fortniter “Ninja” to do videos exclusively for their service.
It’s important to see how Google is integrating Stadia with YouTube, making it easier to connect accounts and share content to the online community.
With these developments, the sphere of gaming has grown; feeding back into visual content. It appears that Google isn’t focusing so much about the games themselves, so much as it is about the community.
However, a good game is like a good film. It needs to attract a base and generate online interest. Looking at the games that have worked best in this social medium, we have things like Fortnite and Five Nights at Freddy’s that have proven successful in the online market.
Stadia certainly seems to be pushing for the social media market. But the question is, are gamers going to instinctively gravitate to it, when they can simply record and upload footage from their home consoles?
Perhaps the most important aspect of these services is the content and third-party support.
One of the biggest hurdles for these companies, is that they’re not video game developers. Sure, you have the Google Play store and the App store, but those are merely avenues for developers to export content.
There are certainly some well-known franchises coming to these services; with a lot of buzz around Bandai Namco’s Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 and Doom Eternal coming to the Stadia, and Apple Arcade looks to have a Sonic the Hedgehog title coming to it. But there doesn’t look to be something truly exclusive coming to these services.
After all, if you’re a gamer, why would you want a monthly subscription to play these titles when you could instead just play them on a tried-and-tested home console?
Unless there’s exclusive IP that people will flock to, then I fear that these services risk being a dilution of their home-console equivalents.
WHO ARE THESE FOR?
Game streaming services remind me a lot of the Microconsoles of the past decade. For those unaware, there were a ton of devices designed to turn your mobile apps into console games. It was a small and inexpensive alternative to your X-Box, Playstations, and Nintendo alternatives.
We had the On-Live console, Ouya, and Vita TV – names that will only mean something to you if you studied anything about video game markets.
Otherwise, to your typical consumer … they’re merely the stuff of legend.
It didn’t really catch on. Console gamers forked out for the console, and casual gamers and on-the-train commuters preferred playing Angry Birds on their mobile or tablet.
I stumbled across an article from 2013 detailing why these low-cost equivalents were “destined to fail.” It outlined how the PS Vita awkwardly managed to split the market between casual and console gamers. With mobile games, there was the idea to have short bursts of fun, whereas console games are designed to be more immersive.
A few years later, we have a similar article highlighting the “tough sell” of the Apple Arcade. Again, it suggests gamers would rather pay for a pre-existing video game subscription like Nintendo Switch Online or Playstation Plus, and casuals wouldn’t bother with the fee.
There is a fundamental difference in mobile games and console games; everything from file sizes, to graphics, to scope alters drastically and can result in incredibly different experiences.
Playing Mega Man X on a console has an undoubtedly superior feeling than the mobile app version.
But I think the philosophy is similar, and both Apple Arcade and Google Stadia run the gambit of falling right between casual mobile gamers, and console/PC gamers.
Admittedly, I got nervous after seeing the Arcade trailer; it looked very based on casual mobile-console graphics, and I would rather do a one-off payment for these types of games on my phone or laptop than subscribe to yet another service.
The technology has certainly improved, but I question how much of a draw that’s going to be to win people over.
I think Netflix has the bright idea when it comes to a gaming/streaming hybrid, and is slowing moving into the market as well.
I refer again to how they’ve handled Stranger Things, with the game-tie ins offering a greater context of the events of the series. Moreover, it wasn’t all online.
Stranger Things 3 on the Nintendo Switch functions like a traditional game; you buy it, download it, and play it. Netflix retains the IP and they’re able to expand upon it in other mediums.
Conversely, Bandersnatch presents a less-intense means of online immersion. The viewer can simply watch the movie on their Netflix account and select outcomes. There’s no score, story mode, or completionism to the series you can interact with it how you see fit.
As soon as you have video games with story-modes, online play, trophies, etc. then that becomes an entirely different experience.
It’s still too soon to determine if Video Game Streaming will become the new microconsole flash-in-the-pan idea that never took off.
Considering how much is actually packaged with these services, including Apple TV+ originals and Apple Music, I don’t think you can do a one-to-one comparison. It could be that people take a package subscription and simply don’t use some of the features.
Sure, you may have more casual viewers checking out Spielberg’s Amazing Stories on Apple TV+, but that’s not the same audience trying to get an S rank on all the Sonic the Hedgehog levels.
But after seeing the games and services coming to Apple + and Apple Arcade, there were things that seemed off. I couldn’t figure out why I needed these services.
We live in an age of heightened convergence culture, social media sharing, and a glut of content. With Netflix, Disney +, and Amazon Prime offering a ton of services, just how many service subscriptions can we manage?