With the news that Google's Stadia Pro service has launched to the mainstream, and GeForce Now providing some, albeit suffering, competition, it begs the question; what would the long term future of game streaming services hold for the game modding and preservation scenes?
It's a genuine question, given the sheer proliferation and research going into the technology currently. Although such changes wouldn't happen overnight, much like video rentals and music all went the way of the cloud, with the ever-increasing advancement of bandwidth and the cost efficiency of centralized hardware, it may be that video games will be going the same way.
And there's a good reason why video game publishers want to push for such platforms. It all but eliminates video game piracy and gives full control over the games, content, and platforms that games are played on. There's not much chance of pirating a game streamed from a cloud service on proprietary hardware and software.
There's an economy of scale, too - it eliminates the need for costly, often loss-making home hardware, with centralized raw computing power being much cheaper to implement for companies, as they often share existing server and datacentre infrastructure.
Of course, there's a downside to all of this: the day will be coming, maybe not this year, but in the not too distant future, that games will be released exclusively to these online streaming platforms. Now the first and most apparent issue this presents is the impact on the modding scene.
There'll be very few if any options to mod games that are entirely hosted in the cloud, without those cloud providers providing more access than they'd like to their infrastructure. It would all but eliminate the concept, except perhaps for mods hosted within the game created by a select few with the specialized access that would be needed.
While such a situation would be nothing new to console gamers, it would signal the end of significant freedoms to customize and mod games that PC gamers have enjoyed for many, many years.
Perhaps more of an issue is the role of gaming historians. The great thing about games that are released on physical media, and even downloaded, are that they are preserved and playable regardless of how technology evolves. I can still play Sega Genesis games, Amiga games, PacMan, time has not hindered the preservation movement that ensures that these critical cornerstones of gaming history are not lost to time, via emulation and hardware preservation.
There's nothing to preserve with a cloud-based streaming service - it's entirely dependent on the company running it to want to maintain the hardware or update older software to ensure it's continued availability. Should such companies run into financial issues, it could mean the end of a massive swathe of gaming history in one fell swoop.
We've seen something of these issues already in the form of online gameplay being crippled once the developer/publisher decides they no longer want to support that game, and there are already some online-only games that are effectively consigned to the history books thanks to their support being withdrawn.
This problem would be hugely magnified in the online-only streaming world. Everything would disappear. The game would simply be gone overnight, never to be seen again except for videos on YouTube or Twitch.
It's unlikely that video game streaming will take over any time soon, of course, there's still plenty of demand for powerful PC hardware, and internet connections still have some way to go before the latency and lag is resolved to an acceptable level, not even considering those who live in rural locations with low bandwidth connections.
That being said, it's a glimpse into our future, and frankly, it's perhaps a future that I'd rather not live in.
What are your thoughts? Let us know below!