Sony are ahead of the game here, and Microsoft and Nintendo must act fast to catch up.
You know, I’m really not a fan of PlayStation Now. A lot of that probably has to do with my distaste for how the service has been offered as a replacement for proper backwards compatibility, but I am also not a fan of game streaming- too many issues exist for that idea to work right now, and the infrastructure isn’t in place yet. That said, even I would be hard pressed to deny that eventually, one day, in the far future, all gaming will probably be cloud based- so I can hardly blame Sony for wanting to get a headstart while they can and prepare for that nebulous future.
There is further potential in the idea, too- PlayStation Now is theoretically hardware agnostic (and has been offered on Android phones and Samsung TVs already, with a recent rumor also pegging it for a PC release soon), which means that by offering people the ability to play these older PlayStation games without having to invest in dedicated proprietary hardware, Sony are theoretically winning more converts for their current generation systems. This is a strategy not unlike Nintendo’s with their smartphone games, actually (and we already know that it has been very successful for them).
Given all this, PlayStation Now, warts and all, must be admitted to be a rather prescient strategy- and it is one that I whole heartedly think Nintendo and Microsoft should look at embracing and emulating. For both companies, it will be a way to potentially attract more people into their ecosystem in the here and now, while also hedging their bets for the hypothetical cloud only future that is sure to come eventually.
"PlayStation Now, warts and all, must be admitted to be a rather prescient strategy- and it is one that I whole heartedly think Nintendo and Microsoft should look at embracing and emulating."
Take Nintendo, for example- is there any reason that they could not potentially offer a Virtual Console subscription service on PC, say, for $10 a month, and offer full access to NES and SNES games (at least the ones that would be supported on the service), playable via streaming? More than enough demand exists for old Nintendo games- it’s one of the reasons why Virtual Console has been so successful on Nintendo’s consoles and handhelds. By offering their old games on neutral platforms like PC (and smartphones) this way, Nintendo could kill three birds with one stone- they could earn extra revenue from their old games, which no longer by themselves add much, if any, value to their current hardware; they would potentially expand the number of people exposed to Nintendo’s games, and thus the number of people who could eventually purchase Nintendo hardware to play more of them; finally, they would be investing in cloud infrastructure, which will have the twofold benefit of improving their network and services backend in the here and now, while also giving them something to build off of should gaming ever truly move fully into the cloud.
From a usability perspective, too, a Nintendo Virtual Console offering NES and SNES games would be far better than PlayStation Now- unlike PS3 games, which can be dozens of GBs in file size, and therefore require a lot of bandwidth (and, by extension, come with the threat of a lot of latency), NES and SNES games are tiny- we’re talking maybe a few MBs at best. Not only would something like this not require a lot of bandwidth, it would also be accessible to a lot more people with poor internet connections that PlayStation Now cannot reach.
In other words, there is simply no reason that Nintendo have not yet begun to look at opportunities in cloud gaming- indeed, a Virtual Console subscription service would be another line of steady revenue for them, and for the company which is looking at diversifying its revenue streams as much as possible, that can only be a good thing.
"A Virtual Console subscription service would be another line of steady revenue for Nintendo, and for the company which is looking at diversifying its revenue streams as much as possible, that can only be a good thing."
A case for Nintendo offering a PlayStation Now service is relatively easier to make- but what about Microsoft? Why would Microsoft want to offer a cloud gaming service? How would they make it usable, given that Microsoft’s oldest console, the original Xbox, has pretty big file sizes for its games?
For starters, one must remember a few things- Microsoft, as a whole, is a company that is moving towards a hardware agnostic future. Not even that- they are categorically making the move away to a platform agnostic future, and under Satya Nadella, their current CEO, their mantra is very literally ‘cloud first.’ Let us also not ignore that, long before Phil Spencer took on the Xbox One, and tried to turn the console around, Microsoft had intended for the console to be the standard bearer of cloud gaming.
Given all of this, the question isn’t why Microsoft would not have a cloud gaming service- the question is, how do they not have one in place already? It makes complete, total, and absolute sense for Microsoft from all perspectives. It furthers their strategy of moving towards the cloud, it furthers their shift towards a hardware agnostic future, it potentially shows off the utility of their Azure cloud offerings, and it even lies in line with their vision for the future of gaming.
But Microsoft are probably spooked by the backlash against the original Xbox One concept, which was predicated on the cloud- so that’s fine, we get that. And they probably feel that their current take on backwards compatibility with the Xbox 360, which has won them so much goodwill and accolades, is superior to a cloud service. We get that- that’s all well and good. But what about the original Xbox? What about Microsoft’s old PC games? Why are Midtown Madness, Knights of the Old Republic, Conker Live and Reloaded, Halo: Combat Evolved, and Zoo Tycoon not offered via a cloud streaming service, for smartphones, PCs, and even Xbox?
"There is no reason for Microsoft to not jump in with a cloud offering of their own."
This would allow Microsoft to monetize these old games that are all now out of print, and are earning them little to no money. It would act as a flagship offering for their cloud services. And it would also act as a very powerful demonstration of their cloud and network capabilities. And of course, they would attract more people into the larger Microsoft ecosystem, too. There is no reason for Microsoft to not jump in with a cloud offering of their own.
It comes down to the cloud being important- whether or not you like it, whether it is now or thirty years in the future, cloud gaming is ultimately the future. And unless Microsoft and Nintendo act to capitalize on the opportunity soon, they will be left behind in this new frontier, with only Sony having had the foresight to invest in this field ahead of time.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.