OPNION: When the PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles were first launched in 2020, there was speculation that this might be the last generation of consoles.
The launch of Google Stadia was the main driving force for this line of thinking, as cloud streaming technology has proven that it’s possible to play AAA games via the cloud without any high-powered hardware. Why do you need to buy an expensive console when you can simply start playing through an app with a high speed internet connection?
Of course, Google has now confirmed that it will shut down Stadia, with consumer interest in the platform failing to reach the heights the company had expected. You might expect Stadia’s death to eliminate any lingering doubts about the future of physical consoles, however I’m more convinced than ever that cloud consoles are the future.
It’s not because any existing cloud platform currently offers a high enough experience to replace consoles – I still think we’re a few years away from that. Instead, I started to get familiar with the idea of cloud gaming because physical consoles started showing many limitations.
I own both a PS5 and an Xbox Series S, and I have to say I was amazed by both consoles. There wasn’t a huge graphics boost for this generation, especially when compared to previous generation leaps like between PS1 and PS2, or even Xbox 360 to Xbox One.
This is no small matter at Sony or Microsoft, as it is a predicament facing the entire gaming industry. Consoles are now capable of playing games in 4K, and there isn’t much room for improvement in terms of image resolution. Sure, 8K sounds exciting on paper, but you’ll only see the benefits of the extra pixels if you have a huge TV.
We’re also seeing a drop in generational performance improvements, not just for consoles, but for PCs as well. This may explain why the PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles don’t feel as powerful as previous models.
Recent games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Gotham Knights have also shown that it can be difficult to take full advantage of most high-end consoles when you also have to ensure that the game can run on a wide variety of platforms. This is especially difficult if developers want to play their games on the Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck for the widest possible player base.
There are a lot of other pain points for physical consoles, too. One of my biggest complaints is the ever-increasing size of game files. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has a file size of 102GB on PS5, and takes up a significant portion of the usable 667GB on the console’s default SSD. Not only does this require you to free up drive space to start the game, but it also means that you may have to wait a long time for it to download depending on your internet connection.
And who can forget about never-ending software updates? If you are one of those people who does not like to leave your console on standby, you will likely encounter a huge queue of downloads every time you boot the system. Games are getting more complex as well, so I see this issue getting worse.
Can a next-gen PS6 or Xbox solve all of the above problems? I doubtful. And if the following consoles can’t provide a significantly improved experience over current platforms, it will be hard to justify spending another high fee.
But what about cloud gaming? Platforms like Stadia, Game Pass Ultimate, and GeForce Now have proven to be able to fix many of the issues currently afflicting physical consoles. The only performance hitch is the speed of your internet connection, and the average UK broadband is well above the recommended speed.
If you subscribe to Nvidia’s top-of-the-line GeForce Now, you’ll be able to play 4K games at up to 120fps with ray tracing activated, no matter what type of PC you have. At £89.99 per six months, it’s arguably too expensive for the average gamer, but it still shows how cloud gaming is able to provide a top-tier gaming experience without the need for powerful hardware.
Since you are streaming a game through the cloud, you don’t have to worry about future downloads, installations and updates. They are all sorted in the background instead for a smoother experience.
And with Xbox teasing its own Keystone streaming device (even if it’s still years away from its release), it seems pretty clear that Microsoft is ready to go all-cloud gaming.
None of this should come as a huge surprise. We’ve already seen this shift happen in other industries, including music and television. I don’t remember the last time I bought a CD or Blu-ray, although there were reservations about streaming when Spotify and Netflix first came out.
It is naive to think that games will not follow the same path. It will likely take a little longer for the consoles to be abandoned in favor of streaming applications since the cloud streaming technology required is more complex and demanding on your broadband connection. But cloud gaming has become the norm and it’s a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.
Will I be sad to see the death of the physical console? Of course I will! I cherish the memories of receiving a PlayStation One at Christmas, and I can’t imagine that installing the cloud streaming app would repeat that joy. But if cloud streaming technology can give us more advanced games in the future, I’m willing to ditch physical consoles and finally switch to the cloud.
Ctrl + Alt + Delete is our weekly computing-focused opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals, and more. You can find it in Trusted Comments every Saturday afternoon.