The gaming market is huge.  In 2018 it was estimated that 2.3 billion gamers spent $137.9 billion on games.  Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox are the market leaders.   The PlayStation 4 (PS4) alone has sold 84.9 million consoles!

However, the console market may be coming to an abrupt end!

There are several companies now pushing towards a new way of gaming that no longer needs the expensive consoles.   I’m talking about cloud-based gaming.

Google recently had a gamer event at which they announced their new upcoming service “Stadia” which could really be a market changer.

Let me first explain how consoles work and then how cloud-based gaming could potentially revolutionise the gaming market.

Consoles have been around for years.  In the past we had gaming consoles from Atari, Sega, Nintendo etc. All were designed to plug into a TV and have controllers to, well, “control” the games.   Consoles are basically computers, dedicated to running games.  Today’s consoles have fast processors (CPUs – Central Processing Units) and high-speed graphics processors (GPUs – Graphics Processing Units).  The current PlayStation 4 Pro is capable of 8.39 TeraFLOPS, which is 1000000000000 operations per second!   To put that into perspective, to match what a 1 TFLOPS computer system can do in just one second, you’d have to perform one calculation every second for 31,688.77 years!

The problem is, all this power comes at a cost.  To buy the latest PS4 pro costs $499.   And when the PS5 inevitably comes out, it’ll be another $500.   Add on the cost of games, and it becomes an expensive outlay.

Cloud based gaming services are completely different. Instead of requiring an expensive, powerful gaming console, you instead have a monthly subscription.   Think of it as a Netflix for games.

Instead of running the games on a console in your home, the game actually runs on a server in a datacenter far away and is streamed live to your TV.

Take the example of a driving game.   The game service is streaming footage of you driving down a road. You press left on the controller – this message is sent to the datacenter, where the server there interprets this and changes the stream to show the car turning left.  Back home, you now receive a live stream where the car on your TV is following your commands.

What’s key here is latency – the time it takes to send the message to the server and the time it takes to respond.   If you try to turn left, but it takes a few seconds to respond, you’ll end up crashing the car!

Because Google has such huge processing power distributed around the globe, they’re the most likely to be able to pull this off.   By having the servers closer to your home, the latency is lower, so the response times are faster.

Sony and Microsoft are also working on streaming games platforms, but Google definitely has an advantage when it comes to processing and power.   Just look at how quickly they can search the entire web and find what you’re looking for when you use their search engine.

It’ll be interesting to see how these services succeed.  I can’t see hard core gamers wanting to give up their powerful consoles, but if they can get the same experience for a fraction of the price they might be convinced.   If the service also offers a wide range of games to play without the expense of buying them yourself, it could also be a winner.

For these services to really succeed we’ll need better internet service – higher bandwidth and lower latency, which if you’ve read my other articles, could be on the way.   We’ll need both these technologies to come together at the right time if consoles are in fact going to become a thing of the past.