We’ve become comfortable with our discs, with our controllers and gaming consoles. We’ve allowed our imaginations to fall asleep. Sure we’re seeing virtual reality making a comeback, but that’s not enough. That’s just refining a technology that was far too ahead of its time when it was first introduced (anyone remember the headache inducing Virtual Boy?) What I want to know is where’s the innovation?
Going from cartridges to discs: that’s a leap. Moving from 2D to 3D graphics: that’s a leap! Really, really pretty graphics: that’s nice, but we’re overdue for another leap in gaming innovation, and my money’s on the PS5. There's growing evidence that the PS5 could be a streaming console powered by the cloud. Join us as we look at the evidence, and how a console like this could function.
Major Players in The Game Industry Believe Streaming is The Next Big Thing
Ubisoft is one of the largest publishers in gaming, responsible for hit titles like Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, and The Division. While they don't have specific control over how Sony will structure the PS5, their CEO, Yves Guillemot, has offered some insight into a potential future for game consoles.
"I think we will see another generation, but there is a good chance that step-by-step we will see less and less hardware. With time, I think streaming will become more accessible to many players and make it not necessary to have big hardware at home."
So, while Ubisoft's CEO doesn't think the PS5 may necessarily ditch hardware entirely, he does believe that this will be the transition gaming takes into the future. Yves was also one of several major players in the industry who contributed to a recent Kotaku article on streaming high-end games
Todd Howard also spoke with the Kotaku author over at The Guardian. Gamers will know Todd as the head of Bethesda's game studio and the father of titles like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. As it turns out, Todd is indeed a fan of streaming as a potential next step for gaming:
"I think streaming technology is definitely coming, and it’s gonna make people’s access to games infinitely easier. You’ve seen it happen to music and movies, and it’s definitely gonna be happening to gaming, and I think it’s a great thing."
While Sony has been offering cloud streaming with PlayStation Now, the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, has been talking about the technology a lot since E3 2018. From his perspective, streaming allows them to reach gamers on any device, not just a console. He predicts a future where game creators can reach billions of people.
He makes a good point in the aforementioned Kotaku article when he says that some studios resort to simple match-3 games instead of immersive story-driven experiences because they need to develop for mobile platforms and the hardware limitations within. Phil Spencer's second quote in the article is also very interesting:
"That is our goal: to bring high-quality experiences to every device possible on the planet… I think we all want to think about how we grow the gaming business, to not create arbitrary decisions on what console you buy or what network you join. [We should be] trying to make sure that we are all pulling in the same direction. The biggest challenge I feel now is gamers’ desire to continue to divide our industry."
Will Sony and Microsoft eventually put their differences aside? It doesn't make a lot of sense from a business standpoint, but it's entirely possible that more collaboration could happen in the future. Specifically, we could see Sony loosen its grip on cross-play, which has prevented games like Fortnite from being playable cross-platform on all systems.
These quotes are quite interesting, but it's even more intriguing when we look at what Sony has had to say on the matter.
Sony's Game Plan Suggests a Cloudy Future
It's 2018, and Sony's PlayStation CEO, John Kodera, has declared the the PS4 is in the final stage of its lifecycle. According to him, Sony is "crouching down" so they can jump higher in the next three years when they intend to take that next step.
So, the PS5 could be coming in 2020 or possibly 2021 depending on a number of factors. In the full Wall Street Journal report on the investor meeting where the CEO declared this, he also told reporters to expect something different in the future.
We need to depart from the traditional way of looking at the console life cycle. We're no longer in a time when you can think just about the console or just about the network like they're two different things."
A report from Bloomberg reveals that Sony is changing direction and focusing more on subscription services and and recurring income for the company's profits. We've already seen Sony experimenting with this using PlayStation Now, which has come a long way since its launch in 2014.
This change in focus, along with the insistence that Sony is preparing for a big change, leads us to believe that our theories about a cloud-based PS5 may not be so far-fetched after all. Read on to find out how a console like this could function.
What Do You Mean by an Empty Box?
We’ve always known game consoles as boxes of RAM, GPUs, CPUs, cooling fans, and all sorts of other moving parts. Our games (for the most part) have always been on discs ranging from the weird blue back discs on PS2, to the surprisingly colorless blu-ray discs of the PS3 and PS4 (they’re of course called that because the laser that reads them is blue).
With the PS5, you may not line up to bring home an unwieldy cardboard box containing the the next home game console. I’m thinking it’s going to be more along the lines of you sitting at home with a small device or controller of some sort, eagerly crafting popcorn in your 3D printer as you wait for the servers to go live. No box this time around folks, and while that may scare you, the signs are already here, and by the time it does come out, you’ll be ready for it.
Think about it for a second; we’ve already downloaded countless map packs, arcade games, and indie titles, none of which were ever printed on a disc. We’re used to purchasing digital content, and if Steam on the PC is any indication, you can run an entire business based around downloads. It’s becoming more than just downloads though, we’re also entering into a world of cloud-based gaming. Streaming content from servers and into your device without so much as a second of download time. Sure, it’s not perfected, but it’s already a reality.
Let's take it one step further. Many theories have been talking about game consoles become more of a service instead of a platform. What if PlayStation games became apps that you bought on your Smart TV or on your Amazon Fire device? Not only would they sell more because they're more accessible, but they would reach a wider audience.
It sounds nice, but then PlayStation as a console, as a generation of gamers, suddenly fades. It's frightening to say the least, but maybe it's the future. If you can use pre-existing devices to play your PlayStation games, then there wouldn't be anymore consoles or exclusives to worry about.
I Thought Clouds Just Meant Rain: An Overview of Cloud-Based Gaming
The concept of a cloud was something that mystified me. I always imagined a floating collection of condensed data just floating in the sky somewhere, masked to look like any other cloud. Only this one held the videos, photos, and iTunes playlists of everyone in the world. Turns out, I was wrong about the sky part.
A cloud-based anything represents the ability to access, download, upload, or stream data from a remote server. When you watch Netflix on your PS4, you’re streaming data from their servers. When you upload your saved games on PS3 and PS4, you’re uploading them to a cloud server so you can re-download them later or have a backup in case something happens.
That’s the beauty of cloud-based technology. It allows for remote storage of vital data, that way you have a backup located in a set of servers that are probably as well guarded as Fort Knox, if not more so. So, beyond keeping our 150 hour saved data from Skyrim safe, how does Cloud technology affect gaming?
Well, you may have heard of PlayStation Now, a streaming service that has just recently become available. This service allows people to rent titles from a catalog and play them on their television, console, phone, or tablet. The games themselves are stored on a cloud and streamed to your device of choice, so it doesn’t matter if they were originally PS3, PS4, or even PS1 games.
All of your inputs and all of the gameplay is handled over the streaming connection you have with the cloud. It can sound a little weird at first, and while the technology still needs to be perfected, it does work. With faster and more reliable connections, this technology will become even more reliable and probably become the norm just before the PS5 makes its big debut.
The same concept, albeit on a smaller scale, applies to the remote play functionality that the PS4 shares with the Vita. Because you can stream your games from your PS4 to your Vita, you’re essentially treating your PS4 like a cloud server and the Vita is pulling data from it as you input your commands on the handheld system.
Well, if There’s No Box, Can we Still Call it The PS5?
We’ve always known that box as “the system.” If there’s no box, is it really a successor to the PS4? There’s really no solid answer to that question, mostly because of the fact that it’s quite existential. It’s never really been about the box, much as we love to think it is. It’s about the experience, and the games. They may not call it the PS5, but we’ll all know it as the heir to the PS4’s throne.
It may be something small, a receiver like a Roku box simply meant to receive and send signals while you play your games over a streaming connection. In the future, such a receiver may already be built into your television or perhaps your virtual reality headset, thereby removing the need for any box whatsoever. That’s the beauty of it though, less accessories, the lack of a box, all of it contributes towards something we can all appreciate: lower costs.
Lower PS5 Costs? You have my Attention Now
We always assume that next generation of consoles is going to one-up the graphics, the games, and most certainly the price. The release of the PS4 proved that this isn’t always the case. The PS3 came out a staggering $600 price point, while the PS4 was only $400. It’s most certainly better, but the cost was lower.
That math didn’t work out, but we didn’t care. People rushed out to buy it like they always do. With a future generation of gaming that needs no console box to hold us back, we can take our games on the go, we always stay connected and we can focus our monthly budgets on the software, not the hardware. In turn, the manufacturers can do the same thing, which results in better games for lower costs.
Imagine purchasing a $60 controller or device and diving right into your PS5 games. No massive console, no grand purchase that has you taking out another line or credit, just a small device and a world of opportunities opened to you. The console has always been something that we didn’t want, but something that we needed to play our games. It’s always been about the games been about the games, so it’s high time we removed the middle-man as it were.
It’s Time to Break the Chains
It’s hard to think of your precious child of a console this way, but that hardware is static. As time goes on, the quality of a game’s graphics and fidelity is limited to the power of the chips and circuits within that box. There’s a plateau that every console reaches, one where the games can no longer improve because they’ve reached the limits of its power.
We’re chained down my friends, held back by the limits of what we have in our living room. Can they push it to the limit? Of course, but they can never break it while it’s still in that current form. PlayStation has always been more than a simple box. It’s been an idea, a concept that transcends time and generations. We’ve grown so attached to our consoles that we’ve failed to see the ways they’re holding us back.
PlayStation Now, cloud-gaming, Remote Play, these are the harbingers of the future. I for one welcome them with open arms. Don’t worry friends, your PS4 isn’t going anywhere soon, but when it comes time to take that next step into the world of gaming, we’re going to do it without any hardware to hold us back. We’re going to enter into what could be the final generation of gaming.
If everything is streamed from servers, those servers can be upgraded. That hardware doesn’t have to be manufactured for each and every household, it only needs to be present for game developers. Once the game is made, anyone can stream it, regardless of their device’s power. Once we’ve removed the plateau and ascended past the restrictions of physical hardware, we enter into a phase where nothing can stop the future.
It’s scary, it’s different, it’s a lot of things my friends. In the end, we cannot stop the future, we can only embrace it and enjoy the games that are coming. No box, no problem, that’s what I say. PlayStation has always been more than a box anyway.
What do you think of this concept? Do you think a console-less future is coming? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
Article by - Bradley Ramsey