In the months before the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launched, countless pundits and analysts declared that the era of home consoles was coming to an end. With the cloud, there’d be no need for unsightly black boxes sitting beneath our TVs, taking up space and sucking up power. And yet, seven years later, Microsoft and Sony are both gearing up to launch new consoles, and rather than replace them, the cloud might extend their lifespan.
Speaking with Insomniac Games CEO Ted Price in a recent episode of The AIAS Game Maker’s Notebook, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer discussed a wide variety of topics. The one we’re going to focus on is how the cloud will affect not only the upcoming Xbox Series X, but the future of gaming in the decades to come.
Spencer made an interesting point about how streaming music and video services have changed the market:
When I think about video and music, those streaming services have liberated that content to all the media devices around me. I now have way more devices than ever to watch TV. It hasn’t lessened the number of devices – it actually increased it.
Think about how many devices you own on which you can watch Netflix or Disney+ or YouTube TV. Think about how many devices in your home can play your favorite music from Spotify or Pandora or Apple Music. As Spencer sees it, the games industry will react similarly, and “as games are able to run in multiple contexts, you’re going to see a lot of different devices grow up to support different use scenarios.”
In fact, Spencer has already seen evidence of this during the xCloud preview, as he says that previewers are sending him “pictures of their Android tablets that they’ve mounted in certain places and have certain controls set up.” Gamers are buying new hardware just to have more options when it comes to playing Xbox games.
The cloud may very well replace the home console one day, but Spencer is convinced that Xbox will, if anything, get an assist from the cloud this generation, and perhaps the next as well. He believes that he will have a “have a game console plugged into [his] television for the next decade plus.”
That’s not to say he hasn’t thought about a hardware-less future though, as he discusses below:
Once you kind of get through the pragmatics of ‘ok, how do i make this playable on that screen?’ Then you get to the promise that you start talking about, of ‘Well, wait a minute. Now, if my game isn’t just dependent on this one piece of hardware that someone maybe bought five years ago that’s in the home, but actually something that a large cloud provider is updating on the back end and is scalable, then what can I do with our games?’
At the end of the day, Spencer doesn’t care where you play your games, as long as you’re playing them. If you want to buy Halo Infinite on from Xbox.com and play it exclusively on your smartphone, you will have that option (although maybe not right away, as xCloud is still in development). The point is, as excited as Spencer is about cloud gaming, he sees it as “a means to an end” rather than the culmination of the gaming industry.