Little by little, video games are evolving towards the dematerialized whole. After the emergence of online shopping platforms and local streaming comes the time of “Cloud Gaming”. In the face of this ongoing revolution, NVIDIA has already placed one of its : GeForce Now.
As the year 2015 draws to a close, the time has come for the first assessments. And in the field of video games, in addition to the release of new titles that are more or less convincing, several major trends have been noted.
The first is of course that of eSport, which continues to be structured, both in terms of how it is taken into account by publishers and in terms of the ecosystem or even the media. It’s a big, fat cake that everyone wants a piece of. There is, of course, the rise of virtual reality, but – as we have recently mentioned – nothing concrete is expected to happen on this front before the course of next year.
Finally, there is another trend that could undoubtedly be the most likely to transform the sector in depth in the years to come: streaming, and the ever-increasing share of services in the activity of video game players.
Of course, this is done through the “stores” that are at the heart of the new generation consoles and that allow publishers to provide us with DLC. But also social sharing solutions and interactions with platforms such as Twitch, which are attracting ever larger audiences.
Video games are just one link in a complex chain that every publisher must master in order to make its ecosystem flourish, from television to smartphones to the good old PC. From “Companion” applications to tablet derivatives and “Cross Platform” games, the boundaries between the different devices are gradually disappearing to make room for complementarities.
So, we wonder how this mutation could stop and not end up changing the way we play a video game, which hasn’t changed much since the 80s. If in the days of the NES you loaded cartridges to enjoy a game that depended on the power of the console, when video games became mobile, so did the NES.
For its part, the PC has above all brought the ability to free itself from the notion of “console” by facilitating the evolution of components, and at the same time visual quality. Each game was able to take advantage of the new capabilities offered by the latest graphics cards, which evolve at the rate of a few months, compared to a few years for the PlayStation, Xbox and other Wiis. But here again, the medium was at the centre, with changes over the years: floppy disks, CDs and then DVDs.
The famous Steam “Sales” …
The first major digital change in the video game industry thus came from this transition towards the end of the medium, accelerated by the emergence of platforms such as Steam, Origin and Gog. Limiting in passing the problem of DRMs that were rotting the lives of players until a few years ago, this trend has nevertheless been slowed down by several aspects.
The impossibility of reselling a security to a third party is one, as is the affection that some people have for the object. But the main problem is the still high prices charged for physical versions outside the promotional periods, or long after release. In this respect, the video game market has not managed to do better than other industries affected by the dematerialization phenomenon, from books to films and series.
However, it is now quite common to buy a game online, download it and play it. Of course, you have to be patient or have a very high-speed line to enjoy games that sometimes require several dozen GB, but the lack of physical support is no longer considered a problem as such.
So the other half of the path remains to be done, namely to separate the two main functions of a device dedicated to video games: the display of the computing capacity. This is already being done in many businesses, with thin clients that can display complex 3D models that are left to be processed by a dedicated server within the company.
This means that when you display a route on your smartphone or ask your PDA a question, the bulk of the work is done by servers thousands of miles away. When you play a video over your network, your NAS processes it so that your TV can play it smoothly. Why not do the same for video games, and deport the graphics processing power?
For a long time, some have hoped to see external graphics card solutions come onto the market. This could have made it possible to use mobile, lightweight, stand-alone devices to play the latest tracks when you get home. But it didn’t work. Various attempts have been made, none of them really convinced, for different reasons.
Latest External GPU Solution Shown by MSI at Computex
NVIDIA, on the other hand, decided to take the problem in hand a few years ago. Whether or not you like its products and its tendency towards closed solutions, you can only note that the brand has the merit of thinking about the problems of its sector in a fairly broad way.
In addition to CUDA, which allowed the power of GPUs to be harnessed for heavy and complex processing to be supported on the CPUs of the day, or the attempt to accelerate PhysX physics calculations (which didn’t really meet with the same success), there have been a few good ideas specific to the gaming world lately, often taken up by others later on.
These include G-Sync, which provides a better match between GPU processing and on-screen display, ShadowPlay, which makes it easy to save and share games, and GeForce Experience, which offers simplified management of game settings and driver updates, among other things.
In early 2013, the company announced its first Shield console, only available across the Atlantic. With her, we discovered what some had been waiting for months: Game Stream. You could then use a PC as a local server with some graphics power to play a game with good quality from a mobile device.
This was made possible by the emergence of Wi-Fi 802.11ac and its very good speeds, but the Shield Portable could be connected to a Full HD TV, a classic network port and even a Bluetooth controller. We know what’s next, since the Shield range has been extended with the arrival of tablets and then the Android TV console.
The Game Stream functionality has been strengthened and improved. It is now possible to use it in 4K, to simplify the connection through a Google account, to enjoy it even through a mobile network, etc…
Others have also been on the field in their turn, including Steam. While delaying the arrival of its linux-based gaming OS and Steam Machines, which are only now coming to market, the publisher announced its own local streaming solution one year after NVIDIA, in January 2014.
Compatible with GeForce and Radeon, and not requiring a Shield series device to operate, it opened this possibility to many gamers. A simple mini PC connected to the TV could act as a broadcaster, while waiting for the Steam Link, now available for 54.99 euros. While the package is somewhat less compelling and less well integrated than NVIDIA’s solution, it has the merit of being there.
Console manufacturers have not been totally overwhelmed by this trend. This makes it possible to enjoy “Remote Play” on PlayStation 4. This allows the display to be moved to a PS Vita or a PlayStation TV, and may soon be available on Mac and PC.
For its part, Microsoft has recently introduced the possibility of doing the same with PCs running Windows 10. So you can control your console remotely from such a machine. A way to be able to play between two work sessions without having to change rooms for example. Be careful though, in all these cases (except Game Stream), you must be located on the same local network for it to work.
So there were only a few steps left to go through to complete this phase of evolution. Although it is now possible to operate PCs and consoles as local servers, it was still necessary to be able to put them “in the Cloud”.
As with SVOD offers, the speed of Internet connections is no longer a real problem, especially with the emergence of H.265. The question of latency, however, has found technical answers, even if some purists will no doubt still find fault with it. The advantages are numerous, however, from the absence of configuration (drivers, operating system, etc.) to instant launch, not to mention the fact that you don’t need a powerful PC or a latest-generation console to enjoy high-end graphics.
But again, from idea to practice, things can take time. This has led to a number of mistakes in recent years in this area. First of all, the ISPs’ offers which proposed sometimes expensive packages, with catalogues that were not always up to scratch and an ergnomia that could be largely improved, not to mention the results that were not always up to standard. Some, such as Bouygues Telecom, have since stopped charging.
For its part, Sony bought the company Gaikai and recovered patents at the closing of OnLive to set up its PlayStation Now. This allows you to play about 150 PS3 games on PS4 via streaming. Initially offered only on the other side of the Atlantic, it has recently been launched in the United Kingdom.
Its monthly fee is thus $19.99, or 12.99 pounds. Recently, it has also become possible to subscribe to a year-round subscription for $99.99. It is also possible to rent some titles from a catalogue of nearly 400 for periods ranging from a few hours to 3 months, for rates ranging from about $2 to $15.
In short, there’s nothing very exciting to get your teeth into, especially in France.
At the end of September, NVIDIA unveiled its Shield Android TV console, as well as the final version of its game streaming service: GeForce Now. For almost a year, the manufacturer had been offering such a solution free of charge to customers who had a Shield (Portable or Tablet).
It was recently accessible in France, thanks in particular to the arrival of servers in Europe. Tested under the name GRID, it was finally officialized, as was its business model. Simply put, GeForce Now is like a Spotify of gaming, offering both a €9.99 monthly subscription offer (first three months are free) and final purchase.
An interesting offer, first of all because of its pricing, as NVIDIA is known for offering solutions that are often more expensive than average. But also because of its design, since you can access both the latest releases, as well as a catalog that contains about fifty titles, including some from major licenses such as Batman, LEGO, Street Fighter, etc..
If you choose to make a final purchase, you will be able to both play directly via GeForce Now and enjoy a classic version through a key that will be emailed to you. As we will soon have the opportunity to detail in a test of this solution, the whole is rather convincing, even on ADSL connections with limited speed.
And while GeForce Now currently only works on Shield devices, like Game Stream, it’s all about giving them an edge over the competition. However, we can imagine that it wouldn’t be too difficult for NVIDIA to offer a Windows client (among other things) in order to rapidly grow its customer base.
The manufacturer is therefore also changing and becoming a real service operator. With the Shield range, he was a full-fledged product manufacturer, responsible both for after-sales service (the Shield range having already had its share of problems) and for the software evolution offered to his customers.
Like others, it now offers a complete ecosystem. A change that has gone almost unnoticed but which will undoubtedly determine the future of society. Because it no longer wants to simply create chips for others: it also wants to be a full-fledged player in its sector, just as Apple has become a giant in online music and VOD while designing its devices under iOS.
NVIDIA’s core markets will indeed evolve significantly in the face of the changes ahead. Just as the PC has slowed down in the face of the rise of mobile phones, graphics cards for gamers can quickly decline if streaming solutions become more widespread. Of course, there is the possibility to sell more and more products for servers, but will that be enough?
NVIDIA has not been able to find any real growth drivers in the mobile market, a competitive market where the company has already lost some ground. In the field of high-end all-connected products, such as the solutions embedded in the cars of tomorrow, Tegra will still have to prove itself to convince and become a real alternative capable of draining hundreds of millions of dollars in turnover.
In the cultural field, giants have built themselves on their digital services. NVIDIA understands that the revolution in the gaming industry is still in its infancy, but that it can happen very quickly, allowing even the most agile gamers to make their mark.
The company hopes to take advantage of its leadership position in PC gaming and its lead in implementing solutions like GeForce Now to keep a piece of the pie. And who knows, maybe tomorrow we’ll find ourselves alongside Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Sony, Ubisoft or Valve in the big league, capable of offering multi-platform gaming solutions in the all-digital age.
However, there is still a major difference between all these players and the San José company: they all have their own studios and very successful licences that allow them to have content that favours their services. What’s the next step?