EA announced a push toward streamed gaming at its E3 conference today. That comes hot on the heels of the very unexpected release of Resident Evil 7: Cloud Version, an exclusively streamed version of a game that assumedly wouldn’t have been able to run on the Switch’s hardware natively. Together, these releases paint a strange and somewhat scary vision of the possible future of gaming.
Especially when taken alongside Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot recent comments that the next console generation would be the last, that future starts to seem even more believable. Guillemot said he thinks “streaming will become more accessible to many players and make it not necessary to have big hardware at home.”Basically he’s saying we won’t need consoles with fancy hardware in them because we can just stream all of our games from a cloud service — just like Resident Evil 7, and just like EA is enabling with its new streaming options. That technology isn’t new — PlayStation Now is already a decently reliable service, for example — but there’s an enthusiasm for it from major companies right now that makes it feel different this time around.
While not exactly the same, we’ve also already seen things like being able to stream from your PlayStation to your Vita, your Xbox to your PC, or even your PC to your phone with the Steam Link app, though none of those work perfectly. Online streaming services like GameFly (which EA bought earlier this year) have also failed to find real success in the past, and EA even said during its E3 announcement that their service was “not quite ready for full market prime time.”
Clearly cheaper gaming systems and more access to high-quality games for everyone is a good thing, but that’s assuming this stuff actually functions like its offline counterparts. Resident Evil 7 on Switch only works as well as your internet connection, and “always-online” requirements in games that are otherwise single-player still consistently have hiccups and issues — especially if you don’t have a fast connection.But more than that, I’m scared about the future after this future. As someone who still goes back to play my SNES (and who deeply regrets selling his N64 as a naive child), the idea of my library of games being at risk of disappearing with the flick of a switch makes me extremely uncomfortable. Game preservation is already a massive issue, and this will just make that problem worse.
What happens when you cancel your subscription? Or when that subscription service shuts down its servers in two decades? Or a licensing agreement expires, which happens more than you think, and your favorite game isn’t allowed to be played anymore?
Plenty of incredibly popular online-only games have already been shutdown in the past through no fault of their own, and if streamed gaming becomes the norm then I guarantee we’ll start seeing the same fate for single-player games as well. Imagine if ten years from now your copy of God of War or Breath of the Wild just didn’t work anymore.
That said, I know this concern could be unfounded. People have been saying “this will surely be the last console generation” for over a decade, and they’ve been trying to get game streaming to work for just about as long too. It’s possible that neither could be true, and this push could end up failing from its own inadequacy fairly quickly. But the people making games don’t see to think so, and this recent trend gets me nervous all the same.
A lot of good could come from game streaming if it’s done properly, and I always hate to see people gated out of playing amazing games because they can’t afford the hardware. But it feels like this shift will end up hurting gamers more than it helps them, assuming it works at all. It’s the dreaded always-online requirement that players hate multiplied by ten, and it seems to be the future we should start preparing for.