There’s something comforting about console gaming. Although the systems have gotten better and formats have changed, the machines themselves work pretty much the same way with every generation—you buy the games (either as a physical disk or cartridge, or through a digital marketplace), install them, update them, and play. You have an actual box, dedicated controllers, and probably a library of games you actually own and can use forever even without an Internet connection, if you wish. And with each succeeding generation, you also get more power; the recently announced next iterations of the Sony PlayStation and Xbox promise 8K resolution and historically high frame rates.
The media has been predicting the death of video game consoles since about 2012. And it’s true that cloud-based mobile gaming—high-octane content live-streamed to our devices in an instant through services like Google Stadia—is coming on up. Our music and our movies long ago became tied to streaming services like Spotify and Netflix, decimating our CD and DVD shelves. So why not expect the same to happen to our video games, especially when you can already buy and play games on your phone for $1 while console games cost $60?
The prognosis for cloud gaming is indeed good: Zion Market Research reports that the cloud gaming market is expected to grow around 27 percent through 2026, to an expected annual revenue of almost $7 billion. In the meantime, 83 percent of computer and video games were sold in digital form in 2018, compared to 17 percent in a physical form. As a result, the death of the next console generation was predicted by industry-watchers long before we had any news that Xbox Series X was coming.
But does the rise of cloud gaming automatically mean the death of consoles? Okay, yes, it’s likely—eventually. Microsoft is testing its xCloud service and Sony is investing in PSNow—moves that show that the big gaming companies are already planning for a digital future. Even today’s physical games are now enhanced with DLC and subscription services, allowing for continuing revenue streams that manifest digitally.
But instead of one technology destroying another, it’s very possible that this is a case in which a rising tide lifts all boats—at least, for a little while longer. After all, the gaming audience seems large and diverse, with a Pew Research study finding recently that 6 in 10 Americans enjoy video game time across all age ranges. In fact, adventure, shooter, RPG, sports, racing, and sim game players made up less than half of people who play video games, yet many of these are what Limelight Networks called dedicated gamers—and these gamers are the ones that buoy console sales.
Cloud gaming is seriously convenient in many ways, from eliminating the need for updates to seamless streaming on multiple devices. But there are drawbacks as well, including data caps and a dependence on Internet providers. In this moment, though, cloud gaming can’t always match the power, versatility or party aspect that a console offers—although it probably won’t be long until that is the case.
Given that, it may be too early to declare the demise of console systems. There’s just something solid and safe about them. Plus, having more options for new gaming experiences available for play is good and healthy. There just might be room for everyone, using different platforms for different situations. Bring on the next console generation—let’s enjoy it while it lasts!