A few years ago, the gaming industry predicted the world domination of console-less or ‘cloud’ gaming. Since the launch of Steam in the early 2000’s as a platform for delivering patches and updates, it had become clear that online platforms were a fast and convenient way to deliver gaming content to consumers. As the power and speed of consumer internet connections increased, it seemed that very soon the entire gaming experience could be delivered online.
Whilst this has already come true for some regions, in the UK there’s a different story, with platforms such as Xbox and PlayStation still holding strong, and new consoles being released by both industry juggernauts later this year. Consoles have even been holding onto their space in gamers pockets next to their mobile phones, with the advent of the portable Nintendo Switch in 2017. In fact, when we looked into The State of Online Gaming this year, we found that the majority of global gamers surveyed (56 per cent) said they would NOT subscribe to a live streaming console-less gaming service when available in their area.
So, what is holding back the online gaming wave?
The early industry test case of Google Stadia has shown that when gamer’s reactions to a new platform are lukewarm, brand reputation and equity are at stake. One of the main outtakes from the initial consumer response was that the new platform was playable enough, but simply didn’t quite live up to their audience’s expectations when it came to quality. It will come as no surprise that performance issues and delays are a major turn off for British players when it comes to online gaming platforms, with 16 per cent saying concerns about this topic are the reason they wouldn’t sign up to an online service.
With a new breed of gamers emerging, a higher standard of low-latency, high performance and immersive gameplay is emerging. Gen Z have been on the block for a few years now, and their spending power is expected to grow and perhaps outstrip that of the millennial generation. From our research, UK gamers spend 1.73 hours watching online gaming – which rises to over 4 hours for global gamers between the ages of 18 and 25. Half (51 per cent) of gamers globally are now watching other people play online weekly. These figures are encouraging for the online gaming industry, however this shift in viewing habits has already caused the industry some growing pains.
Typically, audiences of these kinds are highly transient. The technological challenge for online gaming platforms therefore becomes how to provide plenty of capacity for unpredictable peak gaming hours, while still using their network effectively. In addition, content remains relevant for shorter periods of time, increasing the overall volume of content to be distributed and shortening distribution time frame.
Keeping up and staying competitive
With the goal of attracting a young global audience comes the pressure to deliver fast, seamless and low-latency video quality. To answer these challenges, many are turning to content delivery providers which can offer proprietary networks which can build out capacity within their existing data centre footprint, offering platforms a flexible yet low-waste way to stream online gaming services to fans.
Online gaming is also a more global activity than ever before. New game releases are causing serious hype among gamers, and there is a need to deliver content simultaneously across many geographies, which can differ in their delivery infrastructures and local content requirements. To achieve a seamless experience for gamers connecting from all over the world, online gaming services will need to ensure they have a resilient multi-vendor strategy which can offer global reach with the local data centre footprint to bring content delivery closer to gamers wherever they are, and prevent lag or download delays being introduced at the last mile.
Multiplayer video games have increased in popularity, and e-sports tournaments are becoming ever more mainstream. In fact, 46 per cent of UK gamers say they would quit their job, if they could support themselves as a professional video game player. With pro ambitions, come pro expectations. In a context where every marginal gain in reaction time is crucial, gamers simply won’t put up with lag or loss in video quality which may harm their competitive edge. This means streaming platforms are under pressure to deliver near-real-time video delivery at very high resolution and quality to help gamers maintain their competitive edge.
As for the wider gaming community (including novices and non-professional experts), in the UK 65 per cent of British gamers told us that the cost of such services is too high. However, at the same time it has become clear from the launch of services such as Stadia that gamers will only see online gaming platforms as representing good value when they have a large and varied library of high-quality content to stream. For new services to make the cut and earn their subscription dollars each month, this means content is king. The State of Online Gaming found that Casual Single-Player games and First-person shooter games remain the first and second most popular type of video game for gamers in the UK. New online services will need to tailor their offers of high-quality games and deliver with seamless pixel-prefect video to prevent consumers from logging off.
What’s next for online gaming?
We know this space won’t stay empty for long – with Amazon rumoured to be launching its own online gaming service in 2021 and Facebook having just recently launched the Facebook Gaming app (reportedly earlier than originally planned). But as the online gaming industry prepares to overtake the console, the reality remains that they will be held to the same standards of video quality and game responsiveness as they have come to enjoy through our favourite offline platforms. Whatever innovative trend might come next for the online gaming industry, the support of a resilient, low-latency content infrastructure that can deliver both performance and speed is going to be essential.
Steve Miller-Jones, VP edge strategy and solution architecture, Limelight Networks