Video-game battle moves into the cloud

Google's Stadia platform, launching in November, disrupts the gaming industry by allowing users to avoid consoles and game software on disc or download.
Google's Stadia platform, launching in November, disrupts the gaming industry by allowing users to avoid consoles and game software on disc or download.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SAN FRANCISCO • The sky, or rather the cloud, is now the limit.

The knock-down, drag-out battle in the video-game world heads to the cloud as a premier industry event looks to adapt to a consumer shift to streaming services.

New blockbuster titles will be on centre stage as usual at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) opening in Los Angeles tomorrow, but the big question for the sector will be how consumers play.

E3 opens with gamers gradually moving away from traditional console play and Google seeking to capitalise on that trend with a new Netflix-style service allowing people to play cloud-powered games on any connected device.

Adapting to the new trends will be critical for players in the massive video-game industry, which last year generated more than US$135 billion (S$184 billion) globally and US$43.4 billion in the United States.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, which runs E3, more than 164 million adults in the US play video games and three out of four US households have at least one video-game player.

Xbox-maker Microsoft was set to hold a keenly anticipated press event over the weekend, where it was likely to say more about Project xCloud, a streaming video-game service it recently began letting employees test outside the office.

"Microsoft will play a major role at this E3 as it lays out its vision for a hybrid future of getting people access to content wherever, whenever," NPD video-game analyst Mat Piscatella said.

Major games expected to be shown off at E3 include new instalments of Call Of Duty, Apex Legends, Fifa, Pokemon and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon.

At least some of those titles will be available later this year on Google Stadia, which has inked a deal with French video-game giant Ubisoft.

"Streaming is going to be what we think about at E3," said Mr Yves Guillemot, co-founder and chief executive of Ubisoft.

"It is really fantastic. It is a way to reach more players."

Streaming games from the cloud could make console-quality play possible on all kinds of Internet-linked devices, and let the massive power of data centres be used to ramp up features, graphics, effects and the number of simultaneous players, he noted.

Microsoft and Sony last month announced an alliance to improve their platforms for streaming entertainment from the cloud.

Sony, whose PlayStation consoles are a key force in the industry, will not be holding an E3 event this year, but Microsoft may provide more insight into its collaboration with its Japan-based console rival.

Microsoft's Azure cloud-computing platform will be used by the companies to support game and digital content streaming services, according to the two firms.

Google last Thursday released new details about Stadia, which will be available in 14 countries, starting in November.

For the launch, it will sell its "founders edition bundle" hardware pack for US$129, with a monthly subscription price of US$9.99.

The Stadia tech platform aims to connect people for interactive play on PCs, tablets, smartphones and other devices.

The new platform disrupts the gaming industry by allowing users to avoid consoles and game software on disc or download.

Subscribers will have access to free games and can buy blockbuster titles too. The first free title will be shooter game Destiny 2 from developer Bungie.

Stadia will launch in the US, Britain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden.

Mr Piscatella expects a few surprises at Xbox and Ubisoft press events being held before E3 opens its show floor as the industry gears up for the cloud and new-generation consoles.

"We'll get peeks at products and concepts that won't really potentially impact the market meaningfully until perhaps mid-2020 or later," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2019, with the headline 'Video-game battle moves into the cloud'. Print Edition | Subscribe