- Reuters/Lindsey Wasson
- Every major tech company, from Apple to Amazon to Google, is trying to create a “Netflix of gaming” service.
- The idea is simple: Stream high-quality games to any device, regardless of how much processing power that device has.
- Thus far, Sony is the only company that has actually launched a service.
The future of gaming may not involve a high-powered, expensive box sitting underneath your TV. Instead, it could be as simple as Netflix.
Just as Netflix allows you to watch movies and TV shows from any device, a streaming gaming service would let you play high-end, blockbuster video games anytime, anyplace and on any device – your phone, or tablet, or laptop, or TV. No game console required.
The vision is often referred to by the shorthand, “The Netflix of gaming.”
In 2019, nearly every major tech company is working on a version of such a service – and each hopes to establish itself as the de facto standard in video game streaming services.
Here’s everything we know about the increasingly competitive field of video game streaming services:
Amazon’s already a major video game retailer, and it operates the largest video game livestreaming service in the world with Twitch.
The company’s next move into gaming, though, is even more ambitious: Amazon is working on a Netflix-like service for playing games, according to a report from The Information.
The new service from Amazon will reportedly allow players to stream games rather than having to buy and download individual titles. The company is said to be discussing potential games for the new service with game publishers, but it sounds like plans are still early; the streaming service isn’t expected to arrive until 2020 “at the earliest.”
Amazon has yet to officially announce such a service, and a representative didn’t return a request for comment.
But even without official confirmation or an announcement, multiple jobs listings originally spotted by The Verge point to Amazon building just such a service. One such listing even explicitly says, “This is a rare opportunity to take a technical leadership role to shape the foundation of an unannounced AAA games business.”
So, why Amazon?
It’s one of the few tech companies with a cloud computing infrastructure already in place, worldwide, to pull off such a challenging technological issue. It’s called “Amazon Web Services” (AWS for short), and it’s the type of infrastructure required to pull off video game streaming on a mainstream consumer scale.
Verizon? Like the company that you pay for smartphone service? Yes, that Verizon is reportedly working on a service that’s thrillingly named, “Verizon Gaming.”
Early testers were sent an Nvidia Shield set-top box, a wireless Xbox One gamepad, and software that gave them access to the Verizon Gaming service.
Images of the service show a surprisingly large library of games that are otherwise only available on game consoles, such as the PlayStation 4’s 2018 blockbuster “God of War.” Verizon has yet to officially announce such a service, nor is there a release date.
This fall, Apple launches Apple Arcade, a subscription-based game service for various Apple devices. The new gaming service was announced at an Apple event in late March.
The service promises access to “over 100” games across your Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, and Mac devices. Unlike some of the other gaming subscription services, Apple Arcade isn’t streaming based – you’ll download games from its library directly to your Apple device, and they’ll be playable online and offline.
The big question surrounds the content that will be included in the service. It might be tough for Apple to convince people to subscribe to a smartphone gaming service, and make no mistake – this is absolutely that. Every game on Apple Arcade is required to run on iPhone, which limits the size and the types of games available.
Pricing is another big question: Would you pay $10 per month for a smartphone gaming service? How about $5 per month? Apple says it’ll announce more on pricing and a release date at some point this fall.
4. Google’s new platform, Stadia
Near the end of 2018, and for much of January 2019, Google ran a limited test for its video game streaming service. That service, fittingly enough, is named “Project Stream.”
During the test, users could play 2018’s “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey” for free in a browser tab on their computer. You could even use a Bluetooth controller to control the game.
It was little more than a proof of concept test, and it confirmed that – yes – Google’s service is indeed capable of streaming a blockbuster game to a web browser. It was impressive, easy to use, and quick.
Fast forward to mid-March, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai was on stage kicking off the first-ever Google keynote at the annual Game Developers Conference. At the March 19 event, Google unveiled “Stadia” – its streaming video game service that aims to upend the video game industry’s traditional, hardware-based console model with a Netflix-like service. There’s a Stadia gamepad (you can also use a wired controller or touch controls depending on your setup), but otherwise the service runs on anything that runs Chrome – from the Chromecast-powered TV in your living room to the smartphone in your hand.
The service is expected to launch in 2019, starting in parts of North America and Europe. No pricing was offered, but Google plans to offer more details at some point this summer.
With “Project xCloud,” Microsoft is creating its own game streaming service. And, in 2019, the service goes public.
The company demonstrated its service in a video released in October 2018:
The concept is a bit more Microsoft-centric than the rest of the group, and there’s a good reason for that: Microsoft’s Xbox group.
“We have as much a shot to build a subscription service as anybody else,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told journalists at an invitational editors’ meeting at Microsoft’s headquarters in late January.
Nadella says Microsoft has the upper hand with its Xbox gaming arm, which gives the company a strategic advantage that much of the competition is lacking.
“We have a huge back catalog, which is: We have our own games,” he said, referring to the Microsoft-published back catalog of games on the Xbox that includes “Halo,” “Forza,” and much more.
Microsoft promised “public trials” of Project xCloud in 2019, but has yet to give specific dates; it’s otherwise testing the service privately on an invite-only basis.
In a recent video, the service was demonstrated in a more casual environment:
Sony, meanwhile, has been operating a subscription-based video game streaming service in PlayStation Now for five years.
The service enables players on PlayStation 4 and PC to stream PlayStation 2, 3, and 4 games without a download. It costs $20/month or $100/year.
PlayStation Now hasn’t made a major splash despite being the only service that’s widely available to consumers right now. The reasons for that are complex and varied, but its limitations and high price are two main factors.
If the promise of game streaming is to bring your games to any device, PlayStation Now fails to do that. It offers a slightly-aged library of games on devices that are capable of playing brand new games.
The true promise of the “Netflix for gaming” is brand new games as part of a vibrant, rotating library – like Netflix does.