The subject of a video game future that doesn’t involve boxes, be it consoles or PCs, has been increasingly on the cards for some time now, with recent moves from Microsoft obviously leaning in that direction. However with Goggle announcing their Stadia streaming service at the Game Developer’s Conference the other week, it seems all but certain that it is a future we’re heading towards with pace.
And video game fans seem pretty torn over the whole thing. The idea of being able to access all of the games you could ever want from any device you already own seems pretty enticing. Personally, I am already a big proponent of the Game Pass service Microsoft are running, and planning on expanding.
Honestly, a Netflix-like streaming future was always the inevitable future for video games, even if some consumers and commentators didn’t want to admit it. The more cynical, ever suspicious characters out there are obviously sweating a little at this prospect. A sentiment that I, surprisingly, do not share.
I’ve resigned myself to the fact that we are barrelling to an inevitable cyberpunk future, in which one of a few handful of mega corporations own and distribute all good and services to the world’s population. Video games being one of them.
What has so many people so antsy about this is that an all-streaming future for video games means that consumers will lose what little power they still have to own and control their own media. It’s something that’s already happening in some pockets.
The three major video game companies have already closed down online stores for outdated devices over the years, which has meant that there are some games out there that are lost to time, only existing on the few devices that downloaded them, like the many games for the DSi and Wii that never found physical release. These titles are at the whims of Nintendo and whether they ever want to make them available again.
Which seems terrible. My rebuttal to this; who cares. Sure, from a preservationist’s point of view, it’s tragic that all these video games could just disappear from the face of the earth, to be forgotten to time. But how many games on these platforms can you honestly name that you can’t just attain another way, through physical copies or legally ambiguous ROM dumps.
99% of them are nothing games that you’d sooner forget about than want to preserve, just ton of shovelware that probably isn’t actually worth hanging onto. I feel like people are getting lost in the romance of these older games without actually stopping to think about them and that they’re probably not worth remembering anyway.
Even the good Nintendo games from back in the day keep getting re-released over and over through the likes of the NES mini or the Switch’s online service, and even the really good ones you load up and only play for 5-10 minutes before getting pretty much all you need out of it.
It might seem like I’m being flippant about the whole thing, and when it comes to looking forward to the possible ramifications of a streaming only video game service; concern over publishers and distributors abusing their power is a possibility.
Without the ability to “own” a version of a game themselves, consumers will be entirely at the whims of the company running the streaming service. Which means games could very much suddenly become unavailable for some reason or another. When interest lags for example, the game could be pulled to free up server space for something more popular.
Or to take a more sinister train of thought: when a new game is coming out that a publisher wants to make a big push on, and all of a sudden, similar games that exist in the same competitive market become temporarily unavailable while the hot new thing is just coming out.
It’s certainly a possibility, but I like to think public reaction is important enough to a company that they wouldn’t take such obvious steps and deny people access from relatively new or popular games at a moment’s notice. Because let’s be real, the face of gaming has changed, so many of the biggest games at the moment are perpetually online, service based games: Destiny, Division, Anthem, Apex Legends, Fornite.
These games thrive with their online communities, and if people drop away from them, then there’s hardly any merit in playing them because you’re only getting a fraction of the intended experience by playing this online community game alone.
But not all games are like this, plenty are still single player experiences, and these, more than the games I just listed are probably safe from random pull downs. At least until they become grossly outdated. Think about it, Sure, your Halos and your Dooms are going to be safe, but who cares about some no name shooter from years ago like “Inversion” or “Gotham City Impostors”, especially when so many other games have come out in the meantime and done it so much better, and are more worth investing your time into.
The more media I consume, the less interested I am in revisiting things. It’s rare I re watch movies, even less so am I willing to go back and invest time into a video game I have already had my time with. Even with older games from my childhood, oftentimes it amounts to a half an hour at the very most before I have got what I needed out of it and put it away for another year. With the odd, exceptional example, but that bring me back to my original point in which exceptional games will always be available.
When people worry about the streaming future, they’re doing through a lens what really romanticises their nostalgia. Ironically, this the exact way that larger companies are preying on consumers when it comes to marketing their products. It’s a vicious circle. Which is why I don’t really think these worst case scenarios in which video games are lost to time and the whims of a corporations marketing strategy will come to fruition.