Back in 1972, the Magnavox Odyssey console represented the start of a major shift in video gaming. As the first recognized home gaming device, it meant that there was no longer a need for people to visit the arcade to play their favorite games. The venerable Pong could now be played in a living room. Of course, this also began the decline in arcades, a venue type that doesn’t really exist in modern malls anymore.
Despite that early development, the idea of getting rid of consoles and physical games in favor of a new way of playing has been around for decades now. In modern times, concept devices like Sony’s PSP Go! attempted to dispense with the PSP’s disc-based UMD games altogether, replacing them with download-only titles. Predictably, this was a bit of a disaster, perhaps because it fell a few years short of the always-online hardware generation.
More recently, Google took a swing at a similar concept with its cloud-based Stadia device. Following a rocky start, this also failed. The console never found an audience among gamers, and whatever fanbase it had managed to build up was destroyed by Google’s treatment of Stadia in its final days. Developers weren’t informed, partners were abandoned, and all the remaining plastic went to landfills.
Still, the idea of a reduced hardware gaming device persists, most recently due to the reveal of an Xbox streaming device by company head Phil Spencer. Featuring both TV streaming capabilities and a cloud gaming service, this Xbox prototype is the latest thing to be touted as the assassin that will finally kill consoles for good. Problem is, it’s still a prototype that isn’t yet fit for the market.
Why are gaming companies so keen to see the back of hardware, though?
Streaming of all varieties is in vogue. In addition to Twitch and TV platforms like Hulu and Netflix, the idea has penetrated all the way through to the casino industry, where live dealers on webcam attempt to provide players with a more immersive experience. The PlayStar casino online in New Jersey has 23 different rooms that fit into this category, as casinos seek to stay in step with other entertainment niches.
The major reason why traditional gaming companies want to see hardware go the way of Google Stadia though is control. Streamed content effectively eliminates the second-hand market and gives developers and publishers a much stronger hold on how their content is being used. This applies to streaming, ownership, updates, copyright, and all sorts of other things the industry has to grapple with each day.
Unfortunately, as evidenced by Stadia, gamers don’t seem to want this outcome just yet. Sure, an Xbox streaming platform would provide an inexpensive way to play games but it will almost invariably come with the ties of a subscription, which will eliminate part of the audience that doesn’t appreciate being tied to a contract. Getting the point across that this new Xbox is friendly to non-gamers too may also be a bit of a feat.
Overall, the Xbox streaming platform is a nice idea but it’s still a $100 console for people to just watch TV on. So, who exactly is it for?