Level up! 5G and the cloud gaming revolution
In this blog Craig Melson from techUK examines how 5G is the last piece of the puzzle for cloud-based videogame streaming
Gaming is the world's most valuable form of entertainment and it isn’t even close. Gaming earned $116bn in 2017, compared to $105bn for TV, $41bn for films and $17bn for music. This is growing at way over 10% per annum and there are multiple factors for this (the biggest probably being the £50 unit price of AAA games), but two vital ones are 1) better broadband for consumers and 2) the rise of smartphones.
Faster more reliable internet has allowed people to play online in vast numbers and have a great user experience, with online games having a scale the Counter Strike players of old could only dream of. Smartphones have also become ubiquitous and may not look like it, but they have the specs and performance equal to many budget PCs and the last generation of consoles, creating a vast army of casual gamers who haven't considered themselves as gamers before.
The next big innovation is cloud streaming of games, something the imminent arrival of 5G is going to play a massive role in delivering. It may sound like an obvious next step (given what has happened with music, TV and films), but it is extremely difficult to reliably stream games to browsers or apps. Unlike music or video, games require people to input and you need a high speed two way, very low latency connection if you want 'console quality' gaming that looks and feels just as good as playing on a PS4. This is even more the case for next generation entertainment services such as virtual and mixed reality experiences.
The incumbent platforms like Xbox, Nintendo, PlayStation and Steam have trialled streaming services, but have not quite cracked it. Google are trying to with Stadia and it will be interesting to see how they get on (as will be the impact on the business models of developer and publishers).
The building blocks are already there for the tech and infrastructure. As mentioned above, most decent smartphones (plus tablets and handheld platforms like the Switch) have the hardware to run a game via a browser and the cloud services are equipped for mass cloud gaming, we just need the ubiquitous low latency, high speed connectivity to be there and this is 5G. The final challenge is for the network operators, publishers and platforms to build a compelling business case with a sustainable financial model to stream and deliver games (whoever cracks this gets a lot of cash) and we look forward to seeing how this pans out.
You'll read a lot this week on the latency improvements 5G will enable and I won't labour just how revolutionary this will be, but for gaming this means a much smoother experience and is a big step forward for cloud-based videogame streaming.