In the controversial ‘Synthesis’ ending to Mass Effect 3, players are given the choice of combining all organic and synthetic life into one. To many, this was considered the best possible outcome for the game, allowing all life in the galaxy to merge and cooperate with one another to work toward a common goal – that of survival.
In many ways, this looks to be where the games industry as a whole is headed, a world in which all games can be played on 1 system – to the benefit of all gamers. If companies such as Microsoft and Sony wish to maintain their independence and survive into the future, this may be the best option for all. With gamers turning to streaming services in favour of upgrading their consoles or PC, and a number of big-budget Playstation exclusives now being offered on PC, Game Observer discusses whether streaming services such as Nvidia GeForce Now will be the death of the modern games console.
Will Cloud Gaming Kill Consoles?
It’s difficult to determine whether cloud gaming will completely kill off games consoles. After all, Microsoft have made a huge push to invest in buying up any third party company they can get their hands on; Playstation are still heavily investing in creating big-budget, single-player exclusives, and Nintendo will continue to exclusively develop their catalogue of beloved titles for Nintendo consoles, it seems unlikely that the ‘big three’ of gaming will cease to exist any time soon. That being said, there is no doubt that the video games industry as a whole has become considerably more PC-centric in recent years.
With Microsoft extending their xbox game pass offerings to PC, and Sony adding a number of exclusives to the platform, PCs are now becoming more of a central hub for major titles than a completely separate platform. This is particularly beneficial when you consider certain cloud streaming services, like NVidia, offer membership tiers that allow gamers to stream from powerful rigs that make use of the GeForce RTX 3080, which means that games can be played on the highest possible settings without the need to invest in expensive hardware.
The recent release of the Witcher 3’s Free Next-Gen update, which added a number of graphical improvements that dramatically improved the games already stunning visuals, was only made available to owners of the PS5, Xbox Series X|S and PC, leaving PS4 and Xbox One owners in the dust. And yet, those that are desperate to try out this latest update could easily start a free-trial on their preferred cloud streaming site, connect a steam, GoG, or Epic Games account; which regularly feature the Witcher 3 on sale for around 80-90% off, and enjoy the next-gen update without the need to purchase a brand new console.
The same can be said for games like the Dead Space remake, which will only be available on next-gen consoles and PC, meaning that gamers who don’t own a PS5, Xbox Series X|S, or a high powered gaming PC can still enjoy this new release on day-one by streaming directly to a laptop, PC or tablet, provided they have a suitable internet connection.
It isn’t difficult to imagine a world in which Xbox and Sony go the way SEGA did at the turn of the millennium, when the company restructured themselves from being a dedicated maker of home consoles, to a publisher/developer who make games for consoles they were previously in competition with.
Can Game Consoles Last Forever?
There will always be an argument to keep games consoles in development. You could argue that the experience of using a controller over a keyboard and mouse will always draw gamers to a console, and that is true. Unfortunately for consoles, however, game controllers are also available for PC, and though they may not live up to the experience of using the PS5s DualSense controller, it might become hard to justify buying a console for this reason alone.
Sony has made sure to solidify their position in the industry as makers of high quality, big budget single player experiences, that consistently earn the highest reviews and accolades at award shows. But as it stands, Sony are now offering most of their exclusives on PC around a year after their console launch, meaning that games such as Returnal, God of War, and Horizon: Zero Dawn, are becoming increasingly more like timed exclusives than Playstation exclusives. This fact may help to keep Sony at the top for now, but in the future this sharing of exclusive titles may turn more gamers towards cloud gaming on PC, as opposed to an outright console purchase, and contribute heavily to a lack of console sales – particularly if their ongoing stock issues continue.
Microsoft, on the other hand, have continued to release their games on both Xbox and PC simultaneously, and in fact their games can be purchased on both the Epic Games store and on Steam, without the need for an Xbox Game Pass account. Again, this system is certainly helping Microsoft gain a foothold on the gaming market after their colossal defeat in the previous generation’s console wars, but this is only likely to further reduce their reliance on continuing to release home consoles in the future.
When you consider that cloud game streaming has existed for less than 10 years, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that this trend in the industry will only continue to experience huge growth in the coming years.
Cloud Gaming is the Best Option for a Low Budget
I need to caveat this section by first saying that I have had consoles my entire life, both home and handheld, and as much as the allure of becoming a PC gamer has always appealed to me, the financial barrier to entry has always been off-putting enough to keep me firmly as a console gamer.
And to be quite honest, for most people who have never dabbled in PC gaming, the customisable and upgradable nature of a PC can be overwhelming – both financially and in terms of the perceived technicality of the task, especially when you consider how easy it is to maintain a games console from the beginning to the end of a generation without the need to perform any upgrades.
When I first began to explore cloud gaming, I started out playing Destiny 2 on Google’s doomed Stadia service, using a refurbished desktop PC that had been bought for me over 10 years ago for around £100. This device is, for almost any modern purpose, outdated. And yet here it was, playing a relatively modern free-to-play game at a stable 60 FPS, and in better fidelity than I had been experiencing on PS4.
Of course, Stadia is on its way to join the ever-expanding graveyard of abandoned Google products and services in early 2023; and in reality the service itself had huge flaws to begin with. Firstly, the Stadia store was independent from any other store, meaning that games purchased on Stadia were only available to play on that service. And when you consider that gamers’ attitude toward the service was already dubious, seeing as though Google has a habit of closing down services within the first few years of release, many gamers simply were not convinced to buy games on a service that may not exist in a few years. And they were right to think this.
It was when news broke that Stadia would be shut down that I looked out for an alternative to the service, which was when I discovered Nvidia’s GeForce Now (GFN). GeForce now is decidedly superior for a number of reasons, chief amongst them being that games are not directly purchased through NVidia at all, and instead it simply connects to existing stores and launchers, such as Steam and Epic Games, to allow users to stream their library directly to their PC.
When you take into consideration the fact that both Epic Games and Steam regularly offer games at an extremely discounted rate, or even free in some cases, you can easily develop a library of top-quality games at a fraction of the price of what you would pay on the Xbox or Playstation store.
Provided you have access to an Epic Games account, and even an Amazon Prime account, you can enjoy free games every month that are included in the price of subscription. For instance, in my first few months of using GeForce Now, connected to my Epic Games and Amazon Prime accounts, I was able to download Total War: Warhammer 2 and Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun for free, and when combined with an EA Play subscription for £3.99, I could play the Mass Effect Trilogy, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and more, for less than the price of a subscription to Playstation Plus Extra.
If you are savvy enough to go on the hunt for the huge list of free games offered by companies like Amazon, Epic, and Steam, not to mention popular free-to-play games like Destiny 2 or Path of Exile, you would realistically never have to buy a games console again.
GeForce Now isn’t without its flaws. The library of games you can stream is currently limited to 1503 of some of the world’s most popular games, meaning you can’t just buy any game and have the NVidia servers stream it to you, but this list of games is growing all the time, and it’s conceivable to think that as these services become more popular, the list of games will grow to include less popular titles as well.
The other point to consider is that GeForce NOW requires a minimum internet connection of 15 Mbps for 720p at 60fps and 25 Mbps for 1080p at 60fps. The website also states that you will need to use a hardwired Ethernet connection or 5GHz wireless router, although, before splitting my own internet connection from 2.4GHz to 5GHz, I was still able to reliably stream games with little or no stutter.
Steam’s Digital Store Offers the Best Value for Money
It’s no secret that Steam frequently offers huge discounts and sales on a number of franchises and individual games, often rotating on a daily basis. For instance, on the day of writing this article, Sonic Frontiers is on sale on Steam for £34.99, whilst on the Playstation Store it is still up for it’s initial release cost of £49.99; the same for Sony’s own Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection, which Steam are selling at a discounted £31.49, and on the Playstation Store the game still retails for £44.99
Even when taking into consideration concurrent sales promotions on both platforms, Steam will still beat Sony and Microsoft on price. This is potentially due to an extra levy imposed by the console giants on purchases made via their respective storefronts. For example, during the Steam winter sale 22/23, and the PlayStation January sale 22/23, Evil West went on sale through PlayStation for £39.99, discounted from £49.99; whereas Steam are offering the same game for £35.19, discounted from £43.99.
These are just a few examples, but if you keep up-to-date with sales on Steam, the Playstation Store, and the Xbox Game Store, the former will beat both on price every time.
So what does this all mean for the future of gaming? Well, with Microsoft essentially buying any company that makes a game scoring above 50 on Metacritic, and Sony making a push to offer their best exclusives to the PC market, this could all point toward an eventuality where the biggest console makers simply become the biggest publishers.
Streaming services are changing the way we think about gaming, particularly those who enjoy single-player experiences, and the games industry is at a major turning point right now with attitudes towards console exclusives and hardware changing with the current console generation. It’s true that the Playstation 5 offers both solid hardware that will keep up-to-date with the graphical demands of games for years to come, as well as a controller that offers a truly unique experience when compared to any other, but with the price tag attached to such a console, and the lack of availability worldwide, it might be time to see for yourself if cloud game services provide a cheaper and longer term solution than traditional home consoles.