Given the sorts of announcements that came up in 2019, people might be wondering what gaming’s future will look like. Google is preparing Stadia, a streaming service that will run on pretty much anything that can manage Google Chrome. Apple is going to have Apple Arcade, a subscription service that covers iOS and Mac. EA Access and UPlay+ are coming to pretty much every platform. Microsoft has a plan that bundles Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Games Pass together. This might inspire the same sort of fear that the digital revolution in the seventh console generation did. But, for now, there’s nothing to fear.
Lots of elements are working against streaming becoming the “norm” and any other option being some sort of fringe choice. A big one is how many different streaming services there are. It inspires a sort of exhaustion. People probably aren’t going to be paying to have PlayStation Now, Xbox Games Pass, EA Access, UPlay+, and Apple Arcade all at the same time. It isn’t feasible. Going with one or two seems most likely. Which means that, Google Stadia aside, we probably won’t be seeing too many streaming exclusives. People are always going to want digital or physical copies for games that aren’t on a service they own.
Even if someone does decide to go all out and splurge on everything, it won’t cover absolutely everything. Many of these programs have rotating libraries. Games aren’t always present there. (Especially if third-parties are on a first-party service like PlayStation Now and Xbox Games Pass.) Companies are going to have that backup so if something you like leaves, you can still get it and have access to it.
Speaking of access, data caps and bad internet are both very much a thing. People in major cities in regions like North America, Europe, and Japan may take the internet service they have for granted. There are areas that still rely on dial-up, after all. Also, even if you do have good internet speeds and service, you might be saddled with a company like Comcast that inflicts data caps on how much you can or can’t download each month without extra fees. The early estimates say Google Stadia can use 1TB of data in around 65 hours. That comes out to around 15GB of data each hour. People won’t be able to handle that.
But the biggest thing that should assuage any concerns about an all-streaming future is money. As in, companies like it. Not every one has a streaming service or will make one. Plus, even ones that do will want to make extra money if they can. While eventually physical copies could become incredible scarce or limited edition items, purchasing a full digital copy of a game will always be a thing. The people making them will want to count on those solid purchases, rather than hoping people keep subscribing to services and dealing with splitting the profits with whatever company owns the service.
New technologies may make people worry about what could be. But, when it comes to streaming, things will be okay. We are in no position for an all streaming future anytime soon. Even if we did get to that sort of point, odds are we would also always have digital purchases to rely on too.