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Microsoft and Google Are Winning the Early Battles of the Game Streaming War

Danika Miller

Danika Miller

Internet & Entertainment Writer

5 min. read

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This week marked a true beginning to the great video game streaming war.

The gaming industry’s premiere E3 conference took place, with sides continuing to declare their cause, new players stepping onto the battlefield, and interesting alliances forming.

We’ve witnessed a similar war for dominance in the TV streaming world. In the beginning, consumers had just a few choices and it was mostly supplementing an existing cable package. Now, streaming services are completely replacing traditional cable television for an increasing number of TV watchers. Individual networks and brands like Apple and DC Comics are offering their own platforms, and larger services like Netflix and Hulu continue their massive investment in original content in a bid to secure their more established positions. The market is flooded with options all vying for subscribers.

Game streaming resembles the video streaming structure we’ve become used to — an online library of games available to play across devices for a monthly subscription price. You’ll likely need a device or controller, similar to how you may need an Amazon Fire TV Stick or Roku.

The services will have some overlap in the games they offer, as well as exclusive titles. And in the same way TV streaming has made it easy to view older classics like “Seinfeld” and “Indiana Jones” without keeping your VCR around, video game streaming will make nostalgia gaming easier than ever. Backwards compatibility can be a challenge when an N64 cartridge literally can’t fit into a Nintendo Switch. But with a completely digital library, it’ll be much easier for developers to upload classics.

Two major players have made their first moves toward the battlefield — Microsoft’s Xbox and Google Stadia. Apple has announced a similar subscription idea, but with a mobile-game focus and availability for Apple devices exclusively.

There’s a lot we still don’t know about the exact form game streaming will take as the movement faces different obstacles than TV streaming. Playing a video game online requires a pretty strong internet connection that can handle uploading and downloading data without latency, or lag time, issues. And you’ll need a generous data allotment on your internet package to support game streaming — it’s looking like Google Stadia would use up to 1 TB (the common monthly data cap) in just 65 hours of 4K streaming.

Two major players have made their first moves toward the battlefield — Microsoft’s Xbox and Google Stadia. Apple has announced a similar subscription idea, but with a mobile-game focus and availability for Apple devices exclusively.

Consumers have also voiced concerns about the streaming library rotation where, similar to services like Netflix, titles come and go each month. What happens to your game progress if a title is suddenly off the roster? Whatever the answers are, we know this new venture won’t work exactly like TV streaming services.

Xbox has been toying with streaming content for a while with Xbox Game Pass, which lets you play over 100 games on the Xbox for $15 per month. At E3, Microsoft officially announced Project xCloud, touting its ability to turn your Xbox into your own cloud server. It’s a service that will let you take your Xbox library (and 3,500+ games available for streaming) with you across other devices like computers and phones. Public testing starts this fall and Microsoft hasn’t released any details about pricing or official launch. In early May, unlikely allies Sony and Microsoft announced they are potentially partnering to “explore joint development of future cloud solutions.” Details are pretty vague but it could result in a peace treaty between two of the industry’s biggest rivals.

Google is a surprising contender, as the company hasn’t invested in the console gaming space before. It’s going to market with a game streaming service called Google Stadia, for a starting cost of $10 per month. It’ll have a rotating selection of free games and others for purchase. Stadia’s big draw is its low upfront cost. You don’t need to invest in a console (which can cost as much as $500) or extensive accessories. A Chromecast Ultra and controller are all you need to get started, and you can already preorder a package for its release this fall.

If you already own an Xbox and have built out a library of games, it’s unlikely you’ll defect to Google. Google Stadia is targeting more casual gamers instead and will appeal to those who haven’t already invested in one ecosystem. Beginners could feel more comfortable trying their hand at gaming for the first time within Google’s orbit, based on general familiarity with the company and its lock on so much of the internet. In Google’s own words, “We want to make gaming more accessible for everyone.”

In the meantime, you’ll have to stick with the tried and true consoles to get your Mario Kart fix.

Image: Xbox video game controller display at annual E3 Event Showcases Video Game Industry’s Latest Products on June 12, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Martin Garcia/ESPAT Media/Getty Images)