My son wanted to play Minecraft. He's too young to really play it, but he had become aware of it via a tiny mine cart toy I won in an arcade machine (a coin pushing machine, if you must know, and the toy is one of those that has a metal ball underneath so you can roll it around). After explaining that the controls might be a bit tough, him swearing blind that they wouldn't be and that he knows better than I do, and me suggesting we carry on with Disneyland Adventures instead, I weakened and said we'd give it a go. He wanted to play it immediately, of course. This, as anyone who plays modern video games knows, is something that's becoming increasingly difficult to do.
I own a physical Xbox One Edition of Minecraft, yet by the time I'd installed it, downloaded the updates, and actually got into the game, my son no longer wanted to play Minecraft. He wanted to watch Paw Patrol, which I could get playing on the TV is seconds. There's a barrier to entry with video games that a lot of people don't see, but it's there. These days video games come with a lot of baggage that eats away time. As far as worst offenders go, Minecraft is saintly, yet it still couldn't be played quickly enough.
While a next generation low-cost Xbox that focuses on game streaming tech might sound like an abomination to purists (you're probably counting the pixels on the images in this article, aren't you?), it could revolutionise video games for the kind of people that aren't reading this website (or any other video game website). Bringing the ease and speed of services like Netflix to the video game industry will open up a casual market that platform holders have been desperate to tap into since ET on the Atari 2600. A standard Xbox Two will be available too, of course, functioning just like consoles do today.
There are obvious problems with video game streaming tech as it stands. Of the services available today (PlayStation Now and Nvidia's GeForce Now being the two most high profile), it's hard not to feel that you're getting a compromised experience. Whether it's a cutback library of titles, disappointing image quality, or the dreaded input lag, I can't help but see game streaming as exciting tech that ultimately feels a long way from being something that's ready for the mainstream. Microsoft (if the report is accurate) feels differently.
There's a lot of talk and marketing in the games industry about 4K, which is understandable as video games in 4K look amazing. But when it comes to streaming, consumers seem to be fine with less. Even devices and services that offer 4K TV and movie content don't do so uniformly. Take Netflix, which streams in 4K for most of its original output if you pay for the more expensive sub, but only 1080p for the bulk of the catalogue. Apple seems to be making a decent push at selling 4K streaming via its Apple TV, but it's still not universal, and rival services like the Google Play store are woefully lacking in UHD 4K options. Microsoft's next-gen Xbox streaming device doesn't need to offer 4K gaming if it can accurately mimic the home console 1080p experience with the added layer of convenience streaming offers.
Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass is a superb service that delivers value in spades, but its real brilliance could be unlocked when paired with streaming, removing the lengthy wait for games to install before you can play them (something Microsoft's FastStart tech only goes part way to fixing). Instant access to titles that are all included in a subscription is how Netflix boomed (and seemed rather magical at its launch), and it's easy to underestimate the impact such a model could have on casual video game consuming households.
Naysayers will shout loudly about how video game streaming will never work. They might be right, but I want to be optimistic. Microsoft is a company built on creating software, with its services in the gaming sphere often being industry leading and transformative. Looking back it's hard to believe Xbox Live happened during the original Xbox era (I beta tested it and it felt like a new console generation in terms of impact), and without it who knows how online gaming on consoles would be today. Do you remember how online gaming was on the PS2? SOCOM was great, but the disjointed mishmash of services was not. The Xbox One's backwards compatibility program is now almost taken for granted, while other platforms offer nothing that comes close. I understand the skepticism but Microsoft has defied expectations before, and streaming video games looks to be the company's next big bet.
I'm not going to rush out and buy a next-gen Xbox streaming console for myself (I'm a gaming snob, naturally), but I'd certainly consider one for my son's bedroom if he wanted one. While I firmly believe that the Xbox One lost to the PS4 primarily due to a large power difference and 'scandals' such as missing grass in Grand Theft Auto 5, the Switch has proven that convenience has a place. A low cost, easy to use, instant access next-gen games console could be very tempting for a lot of people come 2020. Let's just hope internet providers don't let the whole thing down.
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