It’s no secret that console makers are trying to push the platform into a new evolutionary stage. From Nintendo blurring the lines between on TV and handheld play, to Microsoft and Sony creating modular half-steps this generation, it’s obvious the traditional state of things has been disrupted. Meanwhile, several companies are working on making game streaming, something that has struggled to take, more of a viable option. If rumors about Microsoft’s plans for the next generation Xbox are even remotely true, we could be seeing a combination of modular consoles and streaming, and that might just be the right decision to make.
Let’s start with a brief summary of the rumor. Boiling it down to the basics, the rumor is that Microsoft will be dropping two different Xbox consoles. One will be the usual box with all the guts and power inside, with the hardcore consumer in mind. This will be the big boy, the 4K box, the one that will set people back a few hundred bucks. You don’t really need a rumor to know this is happening. The other half of the equation is a streaming box. This is a console unit that will have very little on the inside in terms of horsepower, that will be entirely based on a streaming platform still under development. This will effectively, again according to the rumor, cut the cost of the box down to under $200.
If this works, and Sony doesn’t do something similar, Microsoft could easily sneak right by and land into a pile of success. The fact is, while high-speed internet is still an ongoing process, game streaming is starting to work. People that do have high-speed internet can use services like the (still in beta) Nvidia GeForce NOW platform to play games with very little input latency, and super high visual settings. Similar rumors are swirling around Google, and EA has its own streaming platform as well. With companies of that size dumping resources in, it’s only natural that the technology will continue to close the gap that scares people away now.
If the next Xbox launches two options, with the streaming box being much cheaper, that opens the door for early adopters to jump in and try it out without too much to worry about. If the box is only in the neighborhood of $150, people who can already access and afford high-speed connections needed to sustain game streaming won’t have to think too hard about trying it out. If the cost to buy in is low, that must mean the cost of manufacture is low, and Microsoft likely won’t lose nearly as much (if any) on the streaming boxes as it will the traditional consoles. With the power of Microsoft branding behind it, this could be the move that pushes streaming out of the niche of third-party services, and right into the mainstream proving grounds.
If it works, and works in tandem with services like Xbox Game Pass, we could end up with a platform that not only puts Microsoft in a better position to curate and develop its own ecosystem, but also put consumers in a spot that saves a ton of overhead costs on console gaming. If you’re paying less than two hundred bucks to get in, then only another ten a month to gain access to first party games on day one and supplemental content from third parties, that’s going to be the most affordable console gaming has ever been, for those that have the internet access. From there, it will be all about pushing high-speed internet into more homes, and while things like the death of net neutrality are a concern, I can see a world in which Microsoft helps push that along somehow. It could also be a world in which the major competitors in the gaming space become Microsoft and Google, instead of Microsoft and Sony. That’s pushing it though, as Sony has plenty of brand power of its own, and even if it’s just pushing out the usual powerhouse box, as long as the economy stays where it is (or grows), there’s not going to be many issues with selling hardware.
What do you all think? Could the dual option platform be a real thing that’s coming from Xbox? Could Sony be planning something similar with the streaming tech it already has? Will Google come in and make things even more complicated? Does Nintendo care at all? There are a lot of questions to be answered as we head towards the next generations, which are only made more mysterious by the things that have already happened this generation. I’m certainly curious to see how it all plays out, and if streaming works, you can bet I’ll hop on the cheaper box.