Video Game Streaming: Bridge To The Future, Or One Too Far?
A PC is, at minimum, a $500 investment. And that’s assuming you want a pathetic rig that can barely handle MS Word. You’re probably looking at at least $700 up front (not including future upgrades) if you’re serious. Meanwhile, while we still don’t know how much next gen consoles are going to cost, if we assume they’re priced similarly to the previous generation at the beginning, count on paying somewhere between $300 and $600 just to play the next gen versions of Halo and Ratchet and Clank.
And it gets more complex. Xbox all but requires their customers to purchase an Xbox Live membership in order to access many types of content associated with their games. And that’s on top of the cost of a typical AAA game, currently (and arbitrarily) set at $59.99. Gamers already shell out a ton of money for their games. Adding another fixed cost on top of all that just for continued access to something they’ve already paid for will make many of them think twice.
So far, no one has managed to articulate precisely how gaming as a service would be organized, other than a vague model which assumes players will fork over a small fee to individual developers, in exchange for access to their games. Even in our conversation with Tim Willits, he seemed to suggest that id Software would offer up a means by which players could purchase ongoing access to their games (even if the assumption is it would be through a service like Steam). The implication being that gamers would have to make multiple such purchases from many different companies. The problem with this is that the current climate suggests that players are increasingly uninterested in such schemes.
Yet, you can argue, 10 million World of Warcraft players are perfectly happy shelling out 15 bucks a month. That’s a fair point, and it’s certainly true that the MMO is the spiritual forefather to the idea of gaming as a service. Which is why it’s important that the paid subscription model is dying rapidly. Almost every major MMO has gone, or is in the process of converting to, a free to play model precisely because they can’t acquire enough subscribers to turn a profit. If players dedicated to multiplayer games aren’t eager to pay monthly fees to access them, is it even rational to suggest people will do the same for single player games? Particularly when you factor in the inconveniences associated with subscription models, as opposed to outright ownership of an individual copy of a game.
Gaming as a service also adds an unwanted layer of complexity to what should be a rather simple exchange. Currently, for the vast majority of single player games, the process works like this: You buy gaming system >> you buy game >> you put game in system >> you play game. No matter how you purchase the game, so long as the machine you play it on works, so will the game. It’s that easy. Clearly, if one purchases World of Warcraft, they understand it will only be available so long as Internet access is available. But if one buys a copy of Ratchet and Clank, they justifiably feel they damn well should be able to play it at their convenience. Gaming as a service robs the player of that option. Should an Internet connection fail, should the player find him or herself unable to pay for it, they’re stuck ‘owning’ something they can’t use. Like persistent Internet DRM, gaming as a service needlessly inconveniences the player by forcing them to worry about a tangential element.
But perhaps most importantly, the assumption that gaming as a service is inevitable suggests an unwillingness to look critically at the actual state of America’s broadband infrastructure. Simply put: Americans do not have access to the kind of Internet service required for streaming gaming to work well enough to become the default method by which players access AAA games.