Original Xbox creator Seamus Blackley recently made an appearance on the Xbox Expansion Podcast, where he had some interesting thoughts to share on the future of games consoles, and whether the cloud will eventually take over.
Blackley was answering a question about how well he thinks Phil Spencer is running Xbox at the moment, pointing out that the team is navigating an important time "as the meaning of compute changes", calling it "super challenging".
Here's a bit more of what he had to say about this:
"Nintendo is the easiest case, but what Xbox and PlayStation mean - as businesses built on shipping advanced hardware that runs bespoke games - is really in question. It's difficult to see what the path forward is."
"Are we going to have local compute anymore? Meaning, are you going to have a device... or are you going to have merely a player for services that are computed elsewhere, from data which is stored elsewhere? We already do a lot of that."
Of course, Xbox is already focusing intensely on the cloud with its Xbox Cloud Gaming venture, while Blackley pointed out that Sony is also going down that path, albeit "a little more conservatively" at the moment.
This is key, he says, as Microsoft and Sony need to make sure they're not entirely dependent on consoles:
"Games have always followed the general trend in compute... what it means is, wherever computers go, games will follow the computers there. So, if the computing industry decides that they're going in some direction for some reason (and part of that reason is going to be games because it's such a big, important influence), then the nature of the business of games is going to have to follow suit."
"You have to make sure your business isn't dependent on anything that's going to vanish. That doesn't mean it's going to vanish, it doesn't mean that consoles are going to be over, but *if* they are, you've got to be ready for that."
As Blackley stated, there's no suggestion from him that consoles are definitely going to "vanish" anytime soon, but rather Microsoft and Sony (and potentially Nintendo as well) need to at least be prepared in case that were to happen.
Back in 2020, Xbox boss Phil Spencer answered a question about whether the Xbox Series X and S would be the last dedicated consoles from Microsoft, stating that he didn't believe that would be the case. He said he felt there would be "a world where people want to play on a television" for a long time yet, and promised that the company was "committed to that and we will deliver great console experiences".
What do you think's going to happen with consoles in the future? Let us know down below.
Funny how he's talking about things vanishing when streaming services seems to be the alternative, something where media is known to vanish, where you have no control over what is offered.
I don't think streaming services will replace consoles as video games are just too complex for it to work like it does for TV/movies and music. At best streaming could maybe an alternative for GamePass, just playing subscription service games, but even then I don't see myself streaming games anytime soon, and that really comes down to the infrastructure limitations in my area, like my ISP would need to completely upgrade our communications in order for this situation to improve for me.
I think it can be easy to look past how big this is for a lot of people. I mean Google has just recently tried and failed to make a successful gaming platform centered around streaming, and although Microsoft has had some success with their cloud, Xbox and PC gaming is still by far their largest markets. I just really don't think streaming is the future of gaming, I think some big tech corporations really want it to be, but the world just isn't ready for that yet, we aren't all big city dwellers after all, and a lot of ISP's like to impose things like data caps.
Heck I know that if games go all streaming, that would be when I would lost all interest in them. That, and I think a lot of people have been experiencing a streaming service overload lately, and all the competition there has resulted with too many competing services where everything just gets too stretched out. It's clearly a market with some issues and a lot of growing up to do. If I would need to subscribe to a bunch of services to play the games I want, that would largely defeat the benefits, and you know if video game streaming ever takes off every major IP holder is going to have their own service.
I sure hope that consoles will go away and cloud gaming becomes the norm. I don't think people realise just how much money we spend on overpriced consoles (which are also hard to find) as well as individual games. Not to mention that we're at a point with gaming where each generation feels less and less distinguishable. I have a Series X and it doesn't feel any different from my Xbox One. It's more powerful sure, but games don't feel as significantly different as e.g. the jump from PS1 to PS2. So what's the point in constant hardware upgrades. I think it would be much better to have a smart TV with an Xbox app so that you can play new games through the cloud for years to come without having to upgrade to new hardware. It just makes more sense, it's more financially viable and convenient for the consumer.
I find it hard to believe that Microsoft or Sony will continue to produce game consoles after the (next) tenth console generation. These manufacturers typically take a loss on console sales, Netflix and the like have normalized media as a service, internet speeds have and continue to improve in the most populated areas, game-streaming services aren't hampered by size limitations they way console gaming is, game-streaming services can reach a larger number of consumers due to availability on more devices, and smart phone gaming in particular has become the most dominant form of gaming... all of which adds up to a strong business argument for shifting toward a game-streaming service.
Presumably Nintendo will be in a position to (successfully) produce game consoles for longer, but due to the costs involved, limited consumer exposure, and increasing size of games I can't imagine they'll be making consoles after the 11th console generation at the latest anyhow.
Given how well streaming actually works when you have a decent (100mb+) connection it may well end up being the future of gaming. I’d be quite happy now to pay for a streaming-only Gamepass option and play all my games via browser on my iPad; its a very convenient way of playing console games when you travel a lot.
Whilst it might be easy to think that the gaming streaming market might end up like the video one (ie everything fractured to studio platform instead of aggregated on Netflix) it is a lot harder to set up a gaming streaming service than a video one. Stadia works really well on Android via the native app but try it via a browser on iOS and it is nowhere near as good as xCloud. If Google can’t make it work there is no chance Sega etc will be.
Companies are however gearing up for this future. Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision was a protectionist stance designed to make sure a company like Amazon didn’t siphon off those franchises or Activision didn’t try to start their own service. Sony will no doubt be eyeing up another potential acquisition, in all probability Square Enix.
IMO, consoles are not going away, especially not Xbox. The server racks themselves are Xboxes, and mass producing them for consumers lowers the cost of maintaining the data center.
What I see changing is generations. Backwards compatibility is going to be more and more important, and so will be multi-gen crossover (next gen games that run on older gen) as well as scalability.
Whenever we get a Series X2, I expect XSX to be supported for years by many if not most games. Basically, consoles will sooner or later become more like windows in that they are more like a joint platform than whole different devices that shoe-horn backwards compatibility.
Would not be shocked if 10 years from now some games still can run on Xbox One, even if more simplistic games only.
I can see his point as it becomes increasingly more difficult to build a system in terms of millions of units, each with their own CPU/GPU/RAM/Storage etc at a 'competitive' console price point and if you go to high on Hardware costs, you have to offer a tangible upgrade over alternatives.
We already see issues with 'distribution' of games - Games either too big to fit all on Disc and/or take hours to download/install. With high speed SSD's costing a LOT of money per TB, you can't store a lot of games and certainly not going to get lots of Storage capacity moving forwards either.
It's not too much of a shift to go from 'streaming' data from a HDD/SDD or RAM to streaming Data over the internet. There is no way a game like Flight Sim could exist in its current scale without streaming that world data and weather from the cloud and its playable on a Mobile phone too.
There will come a point when Hardware will either be incapable of matching streaming quality to be 'affordable' OR too expensive for the Majority of gamers for very little difference and some games will still be reliant on Cloud too as aspects will be streamed in (like MSFS).
A good example of the future could be like comparing 'Doom' on Switch to Cloud - the Native Switch port is scaled down to run natively, low res, low visual settings, downgraded assets to save space, RAM etc and capped to 30fps. If you play on Cloud, you get a much better Visual presentation - Series X visuals supersampled down to 1080p and running at a locked 60fps with less input lag due to cloud optimisation and higher frame rates. Point is, in the Mobile/portable space, Cloud gaming surpasses what the hardware can do locally and as costs rise, increased demand for raw materials (everything has a Silicon chip, copper wires etc these days), etc all detrimentally affect the long term sustainability and environmental impact (shipping, manufacturing etc all have a big carbon footprint) - MS are aiming to be Carbon Neutral (if they aren't already).
Point is, if you can invest in 100's of dedicated servers, upgrading and maintaining as required, its far more sustainable and environmentally better than R&D brand new Hardware every few years (either slim/lower cost versions of the current gen, or the new gen) and making 'millions'.
Consoles will exist - just like you can still buy cheap Record decks, Bluray players etc but you don't see decent Hifi systems anymore because the majority don't access music that way nowadays - they have 'cheap' options for nostalgia/intro level or if you are a serious audiophile, you can buy extremely high end separates to build your own 'hifi' system. So I expect there will be cheap consoles for Nostalgia that cannot run the latest AAA games locally or you can buy 'separates' and build your own 'PC' powerful enough to run these at a reasonable standard - still having to play 'some' games via the Cloud because you couldn't fit 4000TB's of Data on your PC - like Flight Sim has
"You will own nothing & be happy".
Ive always been wary of cloud gaming. I want a library of games under my control, not a lisence to play whatever games someone else has randomly selected.
Besides, cloud is most useful when your on the move, and im not doing a lot of that these days. 😂
I believe owning nothing and having subpar experiences that witness disconnections and lag are what companies want, obviously, as it’s getting rid of the console equitation.
However, saying we have next to no jitter, incredibly low ping to most data centres, and 1GB broadband, we still don’t find it anywhere close to console service in our household.
GamePass streaming along with Sony’s offering is by far the worst, as in, we have a superior connection compared to what is likely the majority of their subscribers, yet it’s still 1080p at best, and that 1080p image isn’t resolved remotely well.
As there’s very clear and visible pixel breakdown on anything other than a mobile sized screen.
The delay is also a significant problem in say an FPS or anything for that matter that requires well timed movements. Not to mention even in games that aren’t movement heavy, the brain trying to adjust constantly gives me a headache.
Granted, it’s not the worst experience, but it’s far from anything close to having the console a few feet away.
Rendering the frames quick enough, and resolving them in a decent enough quality clearly isn’t what Xcloud backend is capable of doing reliably to everyone yet.
As with all services, it’s going to depend on where the data centre is, just as much as one’s home connection. So clearly the data centre near the midlands in the UK is non existent, or oversupplying.
Compare this to Stadia, I had my daughter up and running in seconds quicker than Xcloud, it displayed Destiny 2 in 4K and HDR, and 60FPS.
Not only that, I had a go and couldn’t even notice a delay for all but about 5 seconds out of over 2 hours worth of gameplay.
It looked and played better than the Xbox Series S we have. So yeah, that was astounding.
So clearly Google have both far superior technology. Plus likely a data centre a lot closer or easier hogged with traffic.
I mean Stadia pushed 4 times the resolution, 60 frames a second and high dynamic range information, all without my noticing a lag.
So, when people say Cloud gaming is the future, that’s fine, if I get to own games, as I don’t currently in a Cloud ecosystem. Then if that is assured, Xbox can’t provide what Google already is.
So if anyone is the future of cloud gaming, it sure as ***** ain’t going to be Xbox. Not when they’re already this far behind.
But then Stadia doesn’t have the brand awareness, and will likely die off as we all suspect.
At which point, I’ll wait for another company to come along that knows a whole lot more about what players expect from cloud gaming. As Xbox doesn’t have a clue.
I can’t wait to be proven wrong by them, I like their brand, but the cloud ain’t even close to console gaming yet … unless you use Stadia and it already is ahead of one Xbox console in performance anyway.
if theres no console or physical platforms in the future i will stop gaming on new gen i personnally still need a console in my life streaming or cloud gaming are great but should never become the only option available they don't event support 4k yet and even if you have a solid experience on cloud gaming theres still alot of work ahead to reach a standard of quality acceptable to just have cloud gaming, cloud gaming is great but should always be optionial not forced or the only option so if the future of gaming is 100% in the cloud i will not follow i still need to download my games.
i would add the day we will be able to play pc gamepass through xbox xcloud anywhere that my friend will be useful, phil spencer always talking about the limitation of being on a plastic box why the hell he do not bring pc gamepass everywhere through the power of xcloud it would be a great start. now sony pony legion will have a reason to cry 😊👌
Today’s consoles are good and it would be no hardship to continue playing them. If a new generation appears of course I’ll buy the better machines but until that happens I’ll happily keep playing what I have.
I played cloud versions of games that weren’t available natively before and if that’s the only way to play what I want to play I’ll do so again in the future. However I suspect it will be a very long time before a significant number of games that can only be played on the server and can’t be scaled down to the current premium consoles.
@SplooshDmg I suspect performance per watt will improve for the 40 series cards. Whilst you can always get more performance with higher power consumption (and Nvidia probably will) it isn’t required for performance increases. A new console coming out in five years time won’t need to consume more than 200 watts to have better performance than the current generation.
Building a PC last year has really changed my perspective on consoles. I love having multiple launchers on one platform competing for my money. Not only are Steam, GOG, Epic, etc competing with each other's sales there are also 3rd parties selling game codes for even less. If there was a physical or used digital market on PC I would already be 100% converted. As xbox and Sony continue to embrace the PC platform it just becomes even more attractive over the console life.
The console war is more fun as a PC person too. Instead of arguing about plastic box a and plastic box b you can argue about who built a more powerful, more beautiful, cooler (temp-wise) machine.
The future of consoles — and dedicated gaming hardware — seems brighter than ever. It was bold in the early 00s when Nintendo chose to sell an underpowered console with gimmicks but they’ve been doing that successfully for almost two decades now.
It’s either a console or a pc. I live in the country. Average internet. Not gonna be streaming games anytime soon.
@SplooshDmg i’m assuming you haven’t checked each other’s locations. @BartoxTharglod It’s from New Zealand so it’s understandable that he doesn’t understand about under voting graphics cards in hot climates.
You can look out of your windows and one can say it’s summer and the other winter and both are true. The same thing applies to energy prices and temperatures outside.
Why do we want streaming? It's not good enough.
Lag is awful, and the damn pixelation when things get hairy.
Stop giving companies all the power. If it's not broke don't fix it.
I tried streaming StarWars Squadrons to my tablet (wifi AC 5Ghz) just from my Xbox (1GB Ethernet to modem) and the lag made ship battles next to impossible. I haven’t even bothered with Cloud gaming.
I’ll stick to consoles thx. There doesn’t need “to be a way forward” if the thing you have works brilliantly. This always smells a bit like MS wanting to admit defeat with Xbox and go to a paid streaming service, and not for any actual benefit for gamers.
Used to be a PC gamer. Bought a PS2 in 2006 and never got back to PC gaming. I'd like to have a console at all times. It's just a different experience, different UI etc. Streaming will be big in a few years and as much as I see its advantages, I'm stocking up on consoles for the future. Currently I have an XSX, PS5, PS3, PS Vita and a Switch. I think I can sleep in peace and not be too concerned about the digital only age if and when it becomes a reality.
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