There’s no “I” in stream

Let’s get the important bit out of the way first. Yes the title is a desperate and terrible pun, and no, it doesn’t tell people what the piece is about. I like writing these sorts of godawful jokes, and it’s a habit that’s only gotten worse since people started paying me to write them. I was going to go with ‘stream if you wanna go faster’, but that would make even less sense.

Anyway.

Recent rumours suggest that Microsoft is developing a streaming-only console, something that Microsoft mouthpieces are doing little to deny, and much to encourage (with all the subtlety of a particularly smug sledgehammer). Although the rumours say that this will be released as well as a traditional Xbone successor rather than instead of one, it’s not difficult to envision a scenario where Microsoft discontinue the disc-reliant hardware as quickly as they can.

But,” I hear you cry, “a huge platform holder like Microsoft wouldn’t make such a dangerous and unpopular decision!”. To which I reply “TV, TV, TV”. And also point you in the direction of the pre-release talk of it being literally impossible for the Xbone to function without Kinect. Oh, and also that DRM thing.

Whether you realise it or not, both Sony and Microsoft have taken us all one step closer to accepting a future without physical games. Every single PS4 game, every single Xbone game, must be installed in full before it can be played. One advantage that discs used to have over digital – instant launch, or installation of only the minimum number of files – is gone. And why? Well, at least loading screens are a thing of the past now. Er, okay, so maybe compulsory installation means games no longer have frame rate issues? Hmm. So then, compulsory installations allow bigger and more complex worlds for us to play in… right? Look at GTA V! That world is amazing, and wouldn’t have been possible on PS3 or Xbox 360 because – wait, what? Oh, um, never mind then.

To get back on the Microsoft track, there are signs that we’re in the middle of the company’s streaming console trials right now. Think about it. Giving away every first-party game for free with Xbox Game Pass doesn’t make much sense… for the console currently on shelves. What looks like little more than an enormous gamble is, in fact, more likely to be testing the waters for the popular ‘Netflix of games’ idea. Exactly what this looks like in the next generation remains to be seen.

The horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible Xbone dashboard – full of never-healing scabs where the pus of advertising is forever seeping through – is likely indicative of what we can expect from a streaming-only console. Apart from that, there’s not much we can say about what the machine and its service will look like. It’s worth remembering however that this will not be the first ambitious streaming service.

Remember OnLive? Don’t worry if the answer is ‘no’, very few people do, even though it only (officially) died three years ago. The short story for those who need it: OnLive was a service where, either through a free app or a relatively cheap device that connected to your TV or monitor by HDMI, you were able to pay to instantly stream games. The fact that it was doomed was apparent long before the bulk of the assets were bought up by Sony in 2015 (for, we can currently assume, PlayStation Now).

In all fairness, OnLive is not directly comparable to whatever Microsoft has planned. The former always struggled to offer a large and up to date catalogue, and was susceptible to severe latency issues that Microsoft – in theory, at least – has the knowledge and the money to bypass. To OnLive’s credit, however, it was the first platform to support and encourage screenshots and video clips that could be captured (and shared) at the touch of a button, as well as gameplay spectating. I would say ‘correct me if I’m wrong’, but only about six people are going to read this, and it’s statistically unlikely that any of them will have in-depth knowledge regarding precedents for social videogame features.

If there’s one lesson that we can take from OnLive, it’s that we have no ownership of digital titles, and this goes quadruple when it comes to streaming. When the OnLive service imploded, every single person who had paid to play – be that for the PlayPack (think Xbox Game Pass) or for individual games – lost access to everything that they had paid for. Indeed, contained within the small print of the contract one would agree to when buying access to an individual game via the service, access was only guaranteed for a few years. When OnLive died, nobody was able to claim any money back. Again, I would say correct me if I’m wrong, but… you get the idea.

Even ignoring issues such as resale value, and the price fixing inherent in a monopolistic marketplace, putting your eggs in a streaming basket could easily prove disastrous in the long term. I’m sure you’re aware of examples of games being suddenly and inexplicably pulled from digital stores. What if this happens to a game you’ve paid for, but do not have a physical copy of? Then there’s the fact that being able to play your games at all will be dependent on the strength and reliability of your internet connection, and I’m sure you don’t need my help in identifying the problems there.

So, yeah, this was basically me moaning about the fact that I have no interest in a streaming console. Maybe you’re interested, and if so, best of luck to you. But there’s no ‘I’ in ‘stream’. There is a ‘me’ anagrammatically, but shut up. What are you going to do with the rest of the letters?

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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