The disruptive impact of OTT video services such as Netflix and YouTube remains a hugely topical issue for many media executives. But in the meantime, as the TV industry works out how to respond, Silicon Valley’s largest players have been busy expanding their presence in another media sector, one that is hugely popular with the younger audiences that TV executives crave – video gaming.
Google’s unveiling of a new gaming product, Google Stadia, at the Games Developer Conference 2019 is representative of a stream of new gaming developments from the digital giants, as they race to expand and diversify their entertainment offerings beyond video and music.
Google Stadia – a game-changing gaming platform?
Google Stadia, touted as the “Netflix of gaming”, will offer users a scrollable library of instantly accessible games streamed straight from Google’s cloud network. Games on Stadia won’t require downloading – just a very good internet connection. With much of the processing displaced to Google’s servers, the computing power required of user devices will be much lower than traditional games consoles, allowing players to access AAA games from standard mobile or laptop devices. Freeing such games from the preserve of traditional hardware will alarm incumbents such as PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo, but could also open up the addressable market for such content to casual gamers who might never have purchased a dedicated console.
Google Stadia will be a flagship project for Google Cloud Platform and could be seen as a challenge to the gaming offerings of the other cloud incumbents, Amazon and Microsoft. Microsoft’s own cloud gaming platform, Microsoft xCloud, is scheduled to go public later this year and rumours suggest that Amazon (owner of Twitch, gamers’ favourite live streaming platform) may be developing its own gaming offer. With Amazon Web Services already the go-to platform for 90% of the world’s largest games developers, Amazon also has the infrastructure to support further developments in this space.
Subscription services – not just for streamers
Apple, too, is throwing its hat into the gaming ring with Apple Arcade – a new subscription-based game service. In contrast to Google’s cloud proposition, Apple’s model will be much more like the games passes already offered by traditional players like Xbox, with users paying a subscription to download and play games. Crucially Apple’s games will be available offline: while Google’s cloud offering might offer gamers more convenient access to greater number of titles, users may find that their existing internet infrastructure, whether mobile or broadband, is insufficient to support the high bandwidths that AAA gaming titles require.
Before even launching the service, Apple has dedicated upwards of $500 million to developing 100 new games, reflecting its wider push for original content across all entertainment verticals. Apple’s further expansion into software and subscription-accessible content highlights its aim of developing customer loyalty to the Apple ecosystem and incentivising iPhone sales as the popularity of Android models continues to grow.
Integration for mainstream audiences
Facebook, meanwhile, has indicated that it will be integrating a dedicated gaming tab within the main Facebook app, increasing the mobile accessibility of its instant games, communities and streamed content. From the original instant games on Messenger to last year’s standalone Fb.gg app, Facebook has been experimenting with different formats for its gaming offer. Giving gaming a privileged place on the homepage, it believes, will consolidate popular content and leverage the total brand to draw new gamers to its platform. YouTube made a similar call last year – identifying that while gaming was a popular category, the majority of gamers (especially casual users) weren’t looking for a separate app.
Capitalising on social media audiences is a key consideration for Snapchat too, who unveiled Snap Games at the Snap Partner Summit this month. Used by 90% of 13-24 year olds in the United States, Snapchat has enormous reach within a time-rich demographic highly amenable to gaming. With 6 initial titles embedded in the Chat Bar, Snap Games emphasises social gaming, with real time, multi-player games and the ability to chat and send voice messages mid-play.
Freeing up the future
For games who migrate to these new gaming platforms, the initial user experience may not feel substantially different to traditional platforms. Yet in the medium- to long-term, the impact on the gaming industry could be significant. Innovations like cloud-based- and subscription streaming are likely to free up games developers from the constraints of console update cycles or single transactional models, to explore new creative and technical possibilities, such as virtual reality.
The investments being made by all these digital giants also recognises the importance of gaming as an entertainment medium, especially with younger audiences. Indeed, by ensuring that streaming is no longer just about video, but is about games and music too, the US technology giants may have once again changed the rules of engagement.